Relationships should make you feel good about yourself, your partner, and the relationship itself most of the time. Human beings are a social species that rely on a network of relationships to survive and thrive. Just as we have a basic need for food and shelter, we are also wired to connect. Strong, healthy relationships are the key to maintaining and improving your overall physical and mental well-being throughout your life.
"Our overall health, happiness, and life satisfaction hinge on the quality of our relationships," says behavioral scientist Logan Ury. "In their book, The Case for Marriage, journalist Maggie Gallagher and sociologist Linda J. Waite explain that positive relationships have a tremendous impact on the happiness, physical and mental health, life expectancy, wealth, and well-being of children."
Meet the Expert
Logan Ury is Hinge’s director of relationship science and a behavioral scientist who focuses on dating and relationships. Previously, she studied psychology at Harvard and then ran Google’s behavioral science team, the Irrational Lab. She is also a dating coach, matchmaker, and the author of the book How to Not Die Alone—a step-by-step guide on making better decisions in romantic relationships based on behavioral science.
Studies show that positive relationships reduce the production of cortisol, a stress hormone, while also giving a person a sense of well-being and purpose, which can add years to your life. Research also suggests that people in committed romantic relationships have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
So, what does a positive relationship look like? Read on for seven characteristics of positive relationships, plus expert insight from Ury on how to strengthen your own romantic relationship.
Characteristics of Positive Relationships
They bring the best out of you.
"You like the person you are when you’re around them because you feel comfortable, confident, and happy in their presence," says Ury.
Relationships not only help us feel good, but they can also help us be good. Everyone is on their own journey of personal growth, and while it is ultimately up to each person to take the necessary steps to improve, the best relationships encourage and support one another toward these individual goals. A strong sense of self is the foundation for strong, healthy relationships with others.
You can fight well.
All couples fight, but not all couples know how to fight in a healthy way. "Problems will inevitably arise in a relationship," acknowledges Ury. "It’s not about not fighting, it’s about learning how to fight well. Successful couples have the tools to navigate challenging situations."
Fighting with your partner doesn’t have to be a battle of words with one loser and one winner. If you can’t fight fair (no name-calling, insults, or eye rolls), you’re not ready to have a discussion yet. Take a breather—whether that’s 30 minutes or a few days—and come back when you’re both ready to calmly discuss the matter at hand and what you need from your partner. Fighting respectfully is something everyone should learn if they want to maintain positive relationships.
You keep your individual identity.
Before you found a partner, you had a life, friends, and hobbies that you enjoyed. In fact, your partner probably fell in love with you because they loved your unique perspective on life, how you treated your friends, and those interesting hobbies. But when you enter into a new relationship, it’s inevitable that some of that "me" time becomes "we" time. How can you be in a relationship with someone else without losing yourself? Maintaining those individual interests when you’re in a relationship enables a stronger sense of self, which makes you more capable of more intimacy, love, and passion in a relationship.
Keep up the friendships that were important to you when you were single, and encourage your partner to do the same. Your individuality is what makes you interesting, and it will keep your relationship interesting, too.
You take turns supporting each other.
All relationships move through a number of natural changes over time. One partner may lose a parent or a job, which can affect how they show up in the relationship. Recognizing these changing seasons of life and showing compassion is key to moving forward together, stronger.
"Neither of you always has to be 'the strong one' or the caretaker. Ideally, you support each other, allowing time and space for each person to be vulnerable," offers Ury.
You listen to each other.
This one is easier said than done. "It’s not just about waiting for your turn to talk, or giving unsolicited advice," explains Ury. "Strong relationships involve holding space for each other and truly listening."
If you want to be a better listener, try summarizing what your partner has just told you and then ask to make sure it’s an accurate reflection of their experience. An example of this would be: "It sounds like you’re feeling frustrated because you think I’m not doing my share of the household chores. Am I hearing that correctly?"
You help each other achieve your dreams.
"A great partner sees you not just for who you are now but for who you could be and who you want to be," explains Ury. "They support you and inspire you to achieve your dreams."
Some people are afraid to pursue a relationship because they fear it may take them off their course or delay their dreams. The best relationships will actually fuel the fire inside of you, taking you to new heights you never could’ve gone alone. Positive relationships will push you and better you because they see something inside you that you can’t see yourself. As the proverb goes, "If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together."
You grow together.
"Relationships are not static," adds Ury. "They will need to change over time as the people in them grow and change, too. What do you need from your partner now? What does your partner need from you?"
The person you marry will not be the same person in 10 or 20 years, and neither will you. Each person’s active participation in the relationship is crucial for longevity, but it requires a constant reinvestment of time, energy, and love. Establish monthly or annual check-ins to make sure that you’re on the same page and the relationship is serving both of you. This allows you to course-correct before contempt and resentment push you apart irreparably.
"Great relationships are built, not discovered," Ury stresses. "It’s all about putting in the work to build a great relationship, and then keeping it great."
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Psychological Science. "Purpose in Life as a Predictor of Mortality Across Adulthood." May 8, 2014
American Psychologist. "Intimate relationships, individual adjustment, and coronary heart disease: Implications of overlapping associations in psychosocial risk." 2017.