We talk a lot about staying healthy. To be able to do that, we need the right kind of food and nourishment, regular exercise, enough rest and so on. Just as our bodies need all of this to stay healthy, our relationships, too, need constant care if they are to last and make us happy. This brings us to a pertinent question: how to build a healthy relationship and maintain it.
Just like there is no magic potion for good health, there isn’t one for building a relationship with someone either. It needs constant work, conscious effort and commitment to start a healthy dating relationship or make an unhealthy relationship healthy. But before we get into how to build a healthy relationship, we need to understand what it looks like. A healthy relationship is one filled with mutual respect, clear communication and positive energy. While that is something to aspire to, the reality is that in an increasingly busy world where work, children and varying routines eat into our time, it’s easy to let your relationship fall by the wayside.
This brings us back to the point of relationships needing constant work, effort, care and commitment from both partners to thrive and reach their full potential. But what do effort and work look like? What do care and commitment translate to everyday actions? Clinical psychologist Kranti Sihotra Momin (Masters in Psychology), who is an experienced CBT practitioner and specializes in various domains of relationship counseling, talks us through 12 simple tips on how to build healthy relationships.
What Is A Healthy Relationship Like?
A healthy relationship is one where both partners can wholly be themselves. To ensure a healthy relationship, it is imperative to build trust, make time for dates and intimacy, and give each other space when needed. To build a good relationship with your partner, you also need to have a good relationship with yourself.
Working on your own insecurities and traits that might damage your relationship make for healthy relationship characteristics. Think of it like nightly skincare. You need to invest in it, but you wake up refreshed and glowing each day. That’s the meaning of healthy relationships. Whether you’re trying to make an unhealthy relationship healthy or start a healthy dating relationship, the journey begins with you. Building a healthy relationship requires you to look inward, introspect, identify your own emotional baggage and unhealthy coping mechanisms or emotions stemming from it, and equip yourself to deal with these in a better, more holistic manner.
“Creating healthy bonds is a process. We need to remember that while people may appear confident and connected, most of us have the shared concern of getting along with others. Healthy relationships can be learned and practiced, and, like all skills, keep getting better with practice,” says Kranti.
Related Reading: 23 Signs Of An Unhealthy Relationship
12 Simple Tips To Build Healthy Relationships
Giving your relationship the care it needs doesn’t always have to be about the big gestures. Sometimes, it’s all about making a ritual out of small, everyday actions that tell your partner how much you value them. Making it a habit to say thank you when your partner does something for you, expressing gratitude and showing appreciation for your significant other may seem like small things but these are among the uncommon tips for building a healthy relationship that can stand you in good stead.
The same holds for making an effort to adopt healthy conflict resolution strategies to work through your differences, learning to manage uncomfortable emotions like anger without letting them damage your bond, and prioritizing respect for your partner above all else. All of this may make it seem as if it takes a herculean effort to build a relationship with someone, but that’s not really the case.
We’ve rounded up some healthy relationship tips for couples that can be easily incorporated into your life. Ready to learn how to build healthy relationships? Read on.
1. Check in with your partner
When was the last time you sat down and asked your partner how they were doing? Or how they’re feeling about things? Having a conversation about what’s going on in their heads and hearts is essential to ensure a healthy relationship. But again, it’s tough to find time for this regularly.
“We try and make this a weekly relationship ritual,” says Aline, who’s been married to her husband Peter for 7 years. Aline and Peter both work in investment banking, and it’s rare that they find an hour together to talk to each other. “Our conversations were all about groceries, who was picking up the kids, which one of us would be home later, etc. We suddenly realized it had been nearly 6 months since we’d actually talked to each other,” Aline says.
Since then, the couple sets aside one day a week just to catch up with each other. “We talk about work pressures, what we’re reading, a cute dress I bought – all sorts of things. We also bring up things that are bothering us, so they don’t pile up and explode later,” Aline adds.
When you’re thinking about how to build healthy relationships, remember that your feelings are important, and your partner’s feelings, too, are valid. A routine check-in gives you the time to really be together and make sure you’re on the same page about what’s important. This is definitely one of the top healthy relationship tips for couples.
2. Don’t fight dirty
Notice we’re not saying don’t fight. That’s not practical in any relationship. In fact, if you’re never fighting at all, you’re probably bottling up a few years’ worth of petty resentments and anger. But there’s fighting, and then there’s dirty fighting. Fighting dirty is when you deliberately set out to say hurtful things to your partner, when you use your knowledge of their deepest insecurities and fears to make your point and come out on top.
Say, for instance, you’ve had a fight about your partner not making time for the kids. You’ve yelled at them and maybe brought up how they’re a terrible parent. Maybe you’ve even gone so far as to bring up their parents and upbringing. And for the next few days, you keep making subtle digs at them in front of the kids.
That’s fighting dirty, and it’s never going to help. You can tell them everything they’re wrong about without making them feel terrible about all their life choices. Also, it’s important at some point, once you’ve calmed down, to think about whether you have anything to do with whatever mess caused the fight.
Related Reading: 12 Reasons Arguments In A Relationship Can Be Healthy
This brings us to a question we think couples should use as a guiding light for navigating their relationships: what should a healthy relationship have? Respect, empathy, and compassion are among some of the key ingredients that help you build a relationship with someone. If you have these or work on cultivating them, the problem of fighting dirty will resolve itself.
If you’re going to build healthy relationships with others, try and fight fair as far as possible. If you find yourselves stooping to dirty fights and name-calling, maybe it’s time to consider anger management classes. “Always fight fair,” says Kranti, “Remember, conflict arises in the happiest of relationships. Conflict is a sign that you disagree about something, not that you don’t like each other at all. Try and calm yourself before talking. The conversation will be more productive if you have it when your emotions have simmered down a little, so you don’t say something you may regret later.”
She also recommends using ‘I’ statements so you can share how you feel without blame-shifting. “For instance,” she says, “try saying, “When you don’t call me, I start to feel like you don’t care” instead of “You never call me when you’re away. I guess I’m the only one who cares about this relationship”. The key is to attack the problem, not the person.”
3. Prioritize your relationship
Wondering how to build healthy relationships? One of the major healthy relationship tips for couples is to prioritize your relationship. What does that mean, though? Simply speaking, there will need to be times when your relationship takes precedence over everything else.
“My wife, Sienna, is a partner in a law firm, which obviously means she works crazy hours. There are stretches of time where we barely see each other and I’ll admit, sometimes I wonder if I even come close to what her career means to her,” says Emily. But, a couple of years after they got married, Emily’s father fell seriously ill and was hospitalized for two weeks.
“I was distraught and worried about how I would have to handle my own work and house in between hospital runs. But Sienna showed up for me, and how. She was in the middle of a big case but she would relieve me of hospital duty whenever I needed. She made sure I ate well and got enough rest. She would talk to the doctors and get clarity on things,” Emily says.
Showing up for your partner and building an interdependent relationship is the best, most loving thing you can do, and definitely helps build a good relationship with your partner. Don’t wait for something as catastrophic as illness or tragedy, there are a million ways you can show up for them every day. Even making their morning tea or coffee for them is a start.
4. Take time for self-care
Now, this may seem like one of the uncommon tips for building a healthy relationship but if you analyze closely, it’s really not. You know how they say that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Well, it’s true. If you’re exhausted and constantly putting everybody else’s needs before your own, you’re going to burn out. Not only that, you’ll start growing resentful of your partner’s expectations, even if they’re reasonable.
Maintaining healthy relationship boundaries will mean occasionally saying ‘no’ and taking time off for yourself. Go for a walk, soak in the tub with a book, go treat yourself to a massage or an extra-large hot chocolate with whipped cream. Self-care looks different for everyone, so do what you need to do.
Self-care and self-love are healthy relationship characteristics for sure. When you’re happy and fulfilled, when your body and mind are at peace, you’ll be able to offer more as a partner. Take care of your own health, make sure you’re getting enough sleep, figure out your stressbusters and stick to them. You’ll see your relationship blossoming alongside you.
5. Have realistic expectations
No doubt you had your visions of the perfect partner. What they would look like, what they would say to you, how they would propose, and how your life would be a series of perfect, utopian days forever after. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t quite work that way. And, let’s face it, perfect people would be rather boring to spend a lifetime with. Some quirks and differences add spice to life, and to the relationship.
Take a long, hard look at your partner and acknowledge that like you, they too are human and therefore flawed. Be honest with yourself about your expectations and where they stem from. Are you looking at too many Instagram accounts of couples on Grecian beaches and basing your expectations on those? Are you disappointed that your partner doesn’t wear a suit like James Bond, and prefers sweatpants?
Related Reading: Why Does Love Have To Be Perfect All The Time
If you’re looking at how to build healthy relationships, focus on your partner’s good points and remember why you fell in love with them in the first place. Don’t lower your expectations to the point where you’re setting for someone you don’t want, but be realistic. If you keep expecting perfection, you’re always going to be disappointed. Keep it real, and ensure the relationship you have puts a smile on your face at least a few times a week. That’s really one of the best healthy relationship tips for couples.
“Recognize that some problems are not easily solved,” advises Kranti. “Even if you’ve been together for years, you’re still different people, with unique values and beliefs. Now, communication can go a long way toward helping you understand each other and address your relationship concerns, but we all have deep-rooted habits and issues that may not change significantly.
“A healthy relationship is one where you give yourself permission to figure out what you can accept, or when a relationship is no longer healthy for you.” Realistic expectation setting and learning how not to sweat the small stuff are the most vital among the different ways to build healthy relationships.
6. Communicate with honesty
What should a healthy relationship have? Lots and lots of open, honest, transparent communication. And what does that entail? Asking for what you want, being straightforward when you’re upset or when you disagree – it all sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Why then do so many of us find relationship communication so hard, especially when it requires us to be vulnerable with our partners?
Sometimes, it could be that we’re afraid to open up for fear the person we love so much will hurt us. Or, we’ve been conditioned to believe that asking for what we want, or disagreeing with a partner makes us difficult to love. But how unhealthy is it to constantly be dishonest with ourselves, and with someone we’re sharing a life with?
Be honest with your partner. If you feel household chores are not being divided equally between you, say so. If you feel your needs in the bedroom are not being met, tell them what you want and what makes you feel good. Invite them to open up to you as well.
“Keep your language clear and specific,” says Kranti. “Also, be sure to talk about things as they happen, and not get bogged down in matters of the past. Frequent and regular communication keeps things from going unsaid and festering. Also, avoid using words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ and address one issue at a time.”
Open communication doesn’t mean you keep telling them all the things they’re doing wrong. It just means you talk to each other with as little ego as is humanly possible and without fear of being misunderstood. Honest communication is akin to vulnerability, which builds trust. What could be better or healthier for a relationship?
7. Be kind
We know, we know, could we be any vaguer! But bear with us. We’ve talked about realistic expectations, think of this as the next step. There are going to be times your partner messes up or doesn’t match up to your expectations. How do you react?
Do you immediately go off on a tirade about how they’re always disappointing you? Or do you tell them it’s all right and they’ll do better next time? Do you offer support and encouragement as much as possible to one another, or is your first instinct to tear each other down?
Here’s the thing. In a healthy relationship, you value your partner’s opinions and thoughts over anyone else’s. You always want to be seen as valuable in their eyes. And they feel the same about you. So, when they make a mistake or things don’t go right, it’s your reaction that affects them the most.
Related Reading: 8 Keys To Staying In Love Forever
So, as far as possible, be kind. Lift each other up, and be affirming of them and of your relationship. Pay them compliments for no reason at all, especially if they’ve had a bad day. Be their anchor, their safe space, and you’ll be able to have a healthy relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend. How to build healthy relationships is all about that underrated quality of ‘being nice.’
Kranti also advises taking responsibility for your own mistakes as an act of kindness. “Apologize sincerely if you have done something wrong; it goes a long way toward setting things right again,” she says. A little kindness goes a long way when you’re trying to lay the foundation of a healthy relationship or make an unhealthy relationship healthy.
8. Choose each other every day
Long-term relationships can be tough to sustain and the health of your relationship can often start to suffer. There may even be the temptation to have an extramarital affair or flirt with other people. Being attracted to other people is natural enough, it’s whether or not you act on it that can make or break your relationship. If you’ve decided to build healthy relationships with others, especially a romantic partner, it’s important to earn and maintain their trust.
Choosing each other every day means you’re saying your partner, with all their annoying quirks and eccentricities, is the one you want in your life. Choosing each other every day means no matter how many distractions or temptations come your way, you will not betray or hurt them. You will put each other’s happiness first because that’s what is important to you.
This tip becomes especially important for long-distance relationships since physical time spent together is very little. Choosing each other and remaining committed, therefore, is difficult in these circumstances, but remains important. Honoring your commitment to each other is the healthiest thing you can do for your relationship.
9. Offer each other space
By space, we’re talking about all kinds. Physical, mental, emotional, whatever you or your partner need at the time. There will be times when they will need you around to fix things, or just to listen. But there will also be times when they’re overwhelmed and just need to be on their own.
Don’t take this personally, or assume it’s a rejection. Give them all the space they need. In fact, keep these spaces sacred for each other. You could each have a corner with a favorite chair and an especially soothing cup of tea in your favorite mug. These are the spaces you inhabit when you just need a little time away from the world. As a partner, respect your significant other’s space; in fact, go the extra mile and make their space a little cozier and quieter if you can.
Related Reading: How To Tell Your Partner You Need Space When You’re Upset
Don’t keep hovering when they’ve communicated that they need some alone time. Make sure they know you’re around if they need you, and then take yourself off. They know where to find you, and nothing says I love you like willingly offering someone their own space. It’s a major factor in how to build healthy relationships.
10. Don’t compare
When you think about what should a healthy relationship have, it’s equally important to think of the flip side and recognize what a healthy relationship should absolutely not have. One such thing you should consciously steer clear of is the comparison trap. Realistically speaking, you will compare, it’s almost inevitable.
There will always be couples who seem better off, happier, making more money, living in nicer houses, raising better-behaved kids – the list goes on and on. Listen, no one is perfect. Didn’t we tell you about realistic expectations? And by comparing your partner and your relationship to others, you’re setting yourself up for unnecessary bitterness and insecurity. Who needs all that? Certainly not a healthy relationship.
There are always ways to make your relationship better and happier, and you can choose healthier, more positive ways of doing this than constantly comparing it to other people’s. Live your life, have fun in your relationship, and be the best partner you can possibly be.
11. Make time for intimacy
Be it regular dates or sex, don’t assume a relationship can carry on without these intimacies. You might not have the same degree of sexual passion you had at the beginning of the relationship but that doesn’t mean you can’t spice up your relationship in the bedroom. When we told you it takes consistent and conscious effort to build a relationship with someone, we meant effort in every sphere – and that includes your intimate, romantic life.
When you feel your relationship is getting caught in the rut or things are becoming too predictable and run of the mill, take the initiative to shake things up (don’t wait for your partner to make the first move or take a step back because if they don’t care, why should you). Plan a romantic evening out. Pick your favorite restaurant, dress up, wear that perfume you know drives your partner crazy. Pull out all the stops and flirt with each other like crazy. Buy new lingerie and put on a show for your partner. Make it a night to remember.
Apart from this, be physically and verbally affectionate as often as you can. Kiss each other goodbye when you’re going to work. Hold hands after dinner when you’re lounging on the couch. Cuddle often and make it count. Send text messages telling your partner how great they look in that red shirt they wore to work. Like we said, it’s the small, everyday things that show you how to build healthy relationships.
Related Reading: The Dynamics And Importance Of Sex In A Relationship
12. Get to know your partner
How to have a healthy relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Become an expert on them! We mean it, get to know them so well, you could ace a test about them. Now you may be thinking, ‘I’m in a relationship with them. Of course, I know them!’ You’d be surprised at how many small but important details slip through the cracks because we haven’t had the time, or haven’t been paying attention. And if you think you know them, ask questions to know them better!
“My wife’s been buying me round-neck t-shirts for years,” says Brian. “It’s actually funny because I almost only wear t-shirts with collars. Somehow, she got it into her head that I’m a ‘casual’ kind of guy and so I would wear round necks. I wore them once or twice and then just stopped.”
“My husband assumes I love flowers,” laments Susan. “I mean, I like them, but they mess up the house and it drives me crazy. But because women usually like flowers, he buys them for me. He means well, but it’s such a sign that he doesn’t know me!”
God is in the details, and so is the health of your relationship! How does your partner take their coffee? What’s their tell when they’re trying to hide something from you? Would they like to live near the ocean someday, or do they prefer the mountains? You need to know. Also, don’t forget that people’s preferences and opinions change over time. Get to know your partner as frequently as you can, and you’ll be amazed at how much they can still surprise you.
Building a healthy relationship needs to be a collaboration between partners. It’s also an ongoing process so don’t treat it like a 14-day exercise program and then give up because you’re too tired and don’t have the time. Focus on the little things you can do, and make sure you do them. It really is that simple.
“The best tip I have to build a healthy relationship is to be yourself,” Kranti says, “It’s much easier and more fun to be authentic than to pretend to be something or someone else. Healthy relationships are made of real people.”