What Makes a Relationship Work? 6 No-Fail Signs of a Strong Bond, According to a Psychotherapist

a woman giving a man a kiss on the chin

Falling in love is great, but what about your happily ever after? In order to go the distance with your significant other, it’s crucial to ask the question: What makes a relationship work? Because to be perfectly honest, the things that may be catalysts at the beginning of your journey (physical attraction, small talk, similar interests) nine times out of 10 are not the things that keep you together long-term. A truly loving relationship requires many things, one of which is a great partnership.

This requires selflessness, putting someone else first, which is just one surefire sign of a healthy pair. But the truth of the matter is that a relationship is hard work, and you can always find ways to improve your connection. “Relationships that work are the ones that are worked on,” says Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and emotional fitness expert. So if you aren’t well-versed in all of these key areas, all you might need is to exert a bit of effort. Below, we’ve rounded up the six signs that you’re in a successful relationship.

Meet the Expert

Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D, is a licensed psychotherapist and world renowned author who works in the media and entertainment industry. He received the Peter Markin Merit Award from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists for his humanitarian efforts.  

1. You’re Always Honest

Life’s tough, and one perk of being part of a pair is that you don’t have to do it alone. “Having a partner you can trust creates a buffer between you and the difficulties of the world,” says Goldsmith. You need someone you can tell your deepest, darkest secrets to. You also should feel like you can be open and upfront with that person too, no matter how difficult the topic or situation may be. And the feeling should go both ways.

2. You Communicate Well

We’ve already touched on some common communication problems in relationships (you don’t ask interesting questions, you’re not really listening, etc.). Psychotherapist and author Deborah Sandella, Ph.D., RN, has told us it’s all about tapping into your S.O.’s emotions and having you both feel like you’re understood. “In the end, we want to be seen and heard," says Sandella. The good news is only one person needs to be an expert communicator in the relationship—so you can take matters into your own hands.

a couple kissing on the Brooklyn bridge

3. You Have Your Own Lives

Some of the most successful relationships I’ve seen involve two people who are happy in their own lives and even happier when they’re together. By having fulfilling jobs, friends, and passions, and pursuing them alone, you still have a significant sense of self. When you don’t have your own activities and revolve your life around your partner, you’ll put too much pressure on them and your relationship. “Interdependence means having time to yourself as well as time together,” says Goldsmith. "The key is finding the right balance.” With a little bit of trial and error, we guarantee you’ll find it.

4. You Have Similar Life Goals

If you want to live on different coasts, can’t agree on having children, and prioritize opposite things, it probably won’t work out. “You both know what you want out of life, what your common goals are, what you wish to accomplish in life, and are firmly committed to achieving these together,” says Abigail Brenner, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist, about couples who are successful. As a personal anecdote, I had one friend who couldn’t make it work with her long-term boyfriend because he wanted different things and wasn’t upfront about it from the beginning. As soon as she met the right guy who prioritized staying close by their families, buying a house, and traveling (the same goals as hers), she knew she had found her husband.

a couple laughing in a kitchen
Monica Wang

5. You Spend Quality Time Together

The couple that spends real time together has the ability to improve their connection on a deeper level (and we’re not talking about laying on the couch while on your phones). “Engaging in leisure activities with a partner is theorized to increase communication, define roles, and increase marital satisfaction when leisure satisfaction is high or when partners are positive and have strong social skills,” one study found. And when you enjoy spending time together, you want to be around that person even more (a surefire sign you’re with the right person).

6. You Stay Positive

Life has this ability to throw a wrench into your plans every once in a while, so positivity is key. “You can control your behaviors and even your moods when necessary, and having a loving partner who is willing to be there for you, even when you are struggling, can’t help but make your relationship more positive,” says Goldsmith. It’s all about helping the other person look on the bright side of things when it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And if that’s not love, we’re not sure what is.

Now that you know what makes a relationship work, you can evaluate these qualities with your partner and decide which areas might need a little bit more attention. And have fun with it—it shouldn’t be a chore.

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