What does it really mean to be in a healthy relationship? There's no denying that it's something most people with an S.O. strive for, but the lofty phrase can mean something different to every individual. "A 'healthy' relationship is equitable," says Denver-based psychotherapist Alysha Jeney, MA, MFT-C, and CEO and founder of The Modern Love Box. "It means you both are equally invested, committed, and respectful to each other's needs and requests. You have the same core values, goals, and ideals of a partnership."
So how do you form this kind of mutually supportive and respectful union? Ahead, Jeney weighs in on some of the most important aspects, from communication and intimacy to dating. Consider this a roadmap to building and fostering the relationship you deserve.
It's no secret that good communication is a pillar of any healthy relationship. According to Jeney, vulnerability is a key indicator that you and your S.O. have strong communication skills. "You are able to be vulnerable and feel validated by your partner," she explains. "Some red flags would be the opposite: You don't feel validated; you don't feel understood; you are afraid of conflict; you can't ask for what you need; you don't have emotional or deep conversations ever." In order to maintain healthy communication in a relationship, Jeney has a few recommendations.
1. Go to counseling. "Counseling can be a positive experience and can offer you both preventative tools to help you both understand each other better," she offers.
2. Designate time to talk. Jeney advises planning time to discuss certain topics with your S.O. Use this time to talk about anything from daily obligations to deeper emotional issues.
3. Work on listening skills. "Most of the time we are 'bad' at communicating because we are really bad at listening. Try reflecting what you heard your partner say [and] put yourself in their shoes." She advises using phrases like "I can imagine you feel…"
4. Think about self-awareness. "Check in with yourself. Do you know what you are feeling, what you need, and if you are projecting?" Checking in with yourself will better allow your partner to understand you, according to Jeney.
5. De-escalate and talk calmly. If you are vulnerable and get straight to the point without simply reacting, you can better communicate with your S.O.
Intimacy is also key in a healthy relationship, but this can mean something different to everyone. Although Jeney believes that sex is "extremely important" in a relationship, she doesn't subscribe to the ideology that there is a magic number for how often a happy couple should have sex. "I believe the needs of physical intimacy is different for everyone," she states. "I don't agree that the act of sex itself will change your level of happiness, especially as couples are craving other forms of vulnerability and intimacy in order to even enjoy sex to the fullest." While Jeney is clear that even in healthy relationships, people can experience a lack of desire for sex, there are steps you can take to maintain healthy intimacy in your relationship.
1. Talk about it. Jeney suggests asking questions like "What does intimacy mean to you?" or "How do you experience intimacy with me?"
2. Set expectations. "Talk about your expectations of yourself, as well as your expectations around quantity versus quality," says Jeney.
3. Find other forms of intimacy. Intimacy doesn't always have to take place in the bedroom. Think about how something as simple as dinner can be an intimate activity.
4. Seek balance. "You shouldn't want to be completely complacent at all times in your relationship for the rest of your life, but you should also feel a sense of gratitude for the normal complacency that is cultivated when two people feel a sense of comfort with each other," says Jeney. She recommends discussing what a healthy balance might look like in your relationship with your partner.
5. Enhance your intimacy. "Couples sometimes need the encouragement, designated time and space, and/or the tools to enhance parts of their intimacy," explains Jeney. She says this is the reason she and her husband/business partner created The Modern Love Box. "Our subscription box is filled with the inspiration, guides, and products to help you both enhance your connection and level of intimacy."
Even in long-term relationships, dating plays a vital role in not only maintaining romance but in connecting as a couple. "I think it's important to connect weekly. You don't necessarily have to go out on date nights, but rather set intentional time for each other," says Jeney. This quality time together can be whatever you and your partner want. Think about how you like to spend your time and what activities can continue to help you bond and connect. The most important thing to remember is to be true to yourself. According to Jeney, a common mistake couples make is not exposing their authentic selves to each other. When it comes to dating, pick activities that you genuinely enjoy together as a couple. Get inspired by a few ideas below.
1. Spend a day at the park or the beach with a picnic and each other's company.
2. Visit a local gallery or theater performance and discuss what you thought of the cultural experience.
3. Cook a meal together and make memories in the kitchen.
4. Look through family photo albums together and share stories about your pasts.
5. Open up a bottle of wine and talk about the highs and lows of your week.
For more relationship advice, shop a few books written by the experts below.
This post was originally published on January 16, 2018, and has since been updated.