What does a healthy relationship need?

So, this is always a good one for me as a therapist.

I have lost count of the number of clients who ask me, what does a healthy relationship look like?

It is something we're all striving for, but of course, details will vary from person to person about what makes a good partnership. For the most part, though communication is key. Without communication, you have nothing.

It sounds simple, if the only problem is communication, then we should be able to fix that. Right?

Yet sadly we struggle, why? Well because the level of our communication is generally learned and is likely to be particular to us.

When we become a couple, we generally meet where we are at, we know what we know and act how we act, with no reason to do differently.

In other words, your life experience has got you to where you are today.

If you have grown up in a family where you come home from school, everyone runs in the kitchen grabs their meal, and goes to their room, and that is the only interaction you have. This likely is how you will be when you are with your partner.

If your partners' experience is the opposite and they had a family that sat around the dinner table and talked, that is what your partner will expect.

So, your communication will be completely different and is likely to cause issues.

If you have issues you all shout and scream, run to your room slam the doors and withdraw, sulk, and eventually, you resurface to all ignore what happened.

These are the communication behaviours you will bring into adulthood and future relationships.

So, let us go further. Let us say you are the child who comes home from school and you go to your room however you have had an issue at school, you ask mum if she has a minute, or ask when is dad home, neither are available to talk now or are too busy, you are likely to believe, no one listens to you, no one is, there for you and so you may learn to not share your issues, but more damaging withdraw from big issues in your life believing you are not important.

If you come from a house that uses shouting and screaming, you are likely to use this technique in communications in adult life.

So, we started this by asking what does a healthy relationship look like?

Perhaps now we can see how this can be difficult.

We can put up profiles that describe our personality on dating sites, we can show our most attractive pictures, we can check out profiles of people who look compatible.

However, the most important aspect of a relationship is communication. Yet we have nothing that tells anyone what our communication style is, everything else on paper can make us look compatible.

So, what can we do about this? Well, we can ask questions, why are we shy/nervous about asking questions?

When I have said to clients “did you ask about her/his childhood?” Invariably they say no I liked her/him I didn’t want her/him to think I was being too nosey.

When I say  “did you ask how they resolved arguments in their family?” they would say no that’s too rude, I like her/him I don’t want to scare them off.

So ok, well look where we are now, in couple therapy 2 kids and a mortgage down the line and you don’t communicate very well. I wonder if you wish you had been a little nosy and possibly a little as you say rude.

45% of couples reasoning, given for divorce is ‘unreasonable behaviour’. (This could include physical violence, verbal abuse, and/or addiction.)

However, it also includes, "she/he wouldn’t talk to me, she/he kept ignoring me", "she /he would storm out and leave home for 2/3 days and not tell me where they had been, I've had enough I want a divorce."

In my opinion, if we are going to put ourselves out there on the internet and decide huge life-affirming decision based on what someone has written in a profile and a picture where they have posed to look hot, or even a zoom call, where they are charming, I think we need to also be prepared to ask the hard questions.

I believe the hardest and most important question is how do/did your family communicate?

How did/do your family resolve conflict?

How do/did your family do emotion?

if we struggle to communicate at the beginning we will struggle in the relationship, for sure. 

A healthy relationship is one where those in the relationship communicate effectively, respectfully and of course lovingly. 

A relationship that communicates effectively is wonderful, intimate, loving, sensual and fun.