5 Experts Tell us What They Think a Healthy Relationship Looks Like

Finding good therapy isn’t always easy, so we’ve removed the middleman.

Finding good therapy is not always easy.

There’s a lot of nonsense online about forming a good relationship: are you a “high value” partner (not the real thing), Are you “working hard to get” (no), are your relationship the “perfect” one you see on relationship-talk (even they’re not perfect IRL).


But if you are young, and looking for relationship advice, finding it in real life may not be so easy. Couple counseling probably feels overwhelming in your teens and 20s, and therapy can feel like an unnecessary luxury. Even if you prefer to sit on a long sofa in a white room and thoughtfully share your innermost thoughts, getting an appointment to get high-level consultations is not always possible due to cost and availability. ..

But the advice that a relationship professional can give is probably still what you need to listen to.

So we are here to cut the middle male.

VICE spoke to 5 relationship and mental health experts about what a healthy relationship really is, and what it might look like, and here’s what he says.

Matt Hammond

Ph.D. scholar and social psychology researcher.

“One hallmark of healthy relationships is that people provide support and management in a responsive rather than defensive manner.

When someone needs support, it is normal for us to offer support the way we want to support when we are sad or angry, which is a defensive reaction focused on our own feelings. Sometimes we try to make problems ‘permanent’ for others, at the cost of ignoring the expression of that person’s feelings, hinting that their feelings need to be recognized and validated.

Research shows that healthy support is responsive. Responsive support means focusing on what the person requests, not what you think they need – empathizing with their feelings when they express feelings or ask for advice; or giving advice

Responsive conflict is another feature of healthy relationships. Every relationship faces challenges which means people end up on different sides of important issues. Instead of trying to avoid issues or provide constant but passive criticism, it is often beneficial to be direct and assertive about major problems.

One way to approach conflict responsibly is to work with someone to set aside time to address a problem directly. Research recommends discussing issues from a third-person perspective that seeks the best outcome for both you and your relationship rather than defensively arguing each side of an issue against the other.

Larissa Donaldson

Relationship counselor

“Building a healthy relationship requires courage, dedication, and commitment. This includes practicing trust, being vulnerable, and sharing the deepest parts of yourself every day. This means communicating honestly about how we feel, our needs, and our ability to meet our partner’s needs, when our limits are exceeded and when we feel anxious or fearful.

It means respecting your partner’s boundaries. Healthy relationships come from working on ourselves so that we can be safe in relationships – learning about our childhood and how it can affect how we connect intimately and then taking responsibility and Action for our own healing.

This means learning and practicing what is necessary for each person to feel safe emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and physically.

Healing damage when boundaries are crossed and conflicts occur is critical to maintaining a healthy relationship. It seems to be really honest with yourself by listening to your partner’s experience, taking immediate responsibility for any harm you have caused, and communicating clearly when you have been harmed.

A sense of supported self-worth is important in the relationship. Respecting, supporting, and encouraging each other to live in a way that aligns with each individual’s values helps them become the best version of themselves available.”

Eleanor Butterworth

Specializing in relationships and family and sexual violence.

“When I think of a healthy relationship I think of a sense of place and flexibility between people; a place to explore, to grow apart and together, to change things and discover what works for both people. Works. This is how it looks in practice.”Relationships change my relationship, but there are certain areas that provide the foundation for a healthy relationship.

First, start with a healthy relationship with yourself. The way we feel and behave has a big impact on our relationships with others, so thinking about the way we talk to ourselves, the way we respond to our mistakes, and the way we treat ourselves is important. Accept yourself and take care of him. Doing it well with others is often the first building block. It helps create an atmosphere of love and care that is important in relationships.

Then there is equality. Equality is really important in a healthy relationship and doesn’t mean I empty the dishwasher half the time and you empty it half the time (although that kind of division may be part of it), but this same value refers to each other, what we bring to each relationship, and each person’s hopes and dreams are known and prioritized.

Different cultures, ages, genders, and sexualities can have different ways of establishing ‘who does what’ in a relationship, so when we think about equality we think about equal rights, and about voices that negotiate roles and hold equal values. Our contribution helps create an atmosphere of respect that is really important in relationships.

Healthy communication and conflict are another important basis. A healthy relationship is not one where there is zero conflict, but it is the nature of the conflict that determines how healthy the relationship is. In a healthy couple we ‘Fair Fair’, so we do not resort to harming our partner (physically or emotionally), ourselves, or our property.

The goal of conflict when healthy couples struggle is to understand each other more, not win, and we have lines that will never cross no matter how hot we feel. We can also talk about things that matter to us, even if sometimes it sounds a little strange, so we can talk about our sex life, and we can share things that we like a little. We know that we will be heard and not judged. It helps create an atmosphere of trust and communication that is important for a healthy relationship.

In the end, most relationships will not always be 100% healthy in all areas. Our communication can slip, or we can start to underestimate our partner when we are going through a particularly busy time, so a healthy relationship is not where we put it out of the park, but rather a healthy relationship we can get into. Go back together, talk about what needs changing, and reset to move forward together.

Heath Hutton

“Healthy relationships are based on a genuine and long-term desire to support each other so that you can become the best people. They are based on respect, effective communication, trying to understand rather than criticize, trusting each other, and sharing power and decision-making in the relationship. When you are in a healthy relationship, you should notice that you feel supported and loved, and cared for by the other person.

Healthy relationships allow for difference and conflict but these are negotiated with respect and effective problem-solving strategies that do not involve criticism or humiliation, coercion, or violence.

These relationships inevitably involve breakdowns or cracks when difficult events occur that affect the relationship, but healthy relationships work to repair these breakdowns so that growth occurs and they become stronger. Healthy relationships are not the absence of debate or disagreement. If arguments and disagreements do not exist, this can sometimes indicate that one’s true feelings are not being communicated or that one is letting one’s values diminish.

Some people fall into relationships with past negative experiences of relationships or their childhood trauma. These things can be worked out in relationships but should not make anyone feel responsible for helping their partner overcome or move on from it. Help? Yes! Responsibility? No.

People in healthy relationships are also able to see how their ‘stuff’ is affecting relationships and take positive action to resolve it themselves. People are responsible for their own behavior and are also responsible for figuring out strategies to use when they ‘flood’ or upset their relationships.

In terms of physical and sexual intimacy, healthy relationships involve a lot of communication. Coming to a shared understanding of each other’s needs and desires – is important. Very often, people do not discuss this until they have drunk some drinks. Healthy relationships can bring up this topic and discuss it as part of strengthening the relationship.

These healthy relationships include agreements about what sexual intimacy looks and feels like, what it involves when it occurs, where it occurs, and how often it occurs. These decisions need to be taken together – and these decisions can change if someone changes their mind. Healthy relationships do not involve pressure to do sexual things.

Once a friend used the analogy of partners going on vacation trips to clarify the need for communication about sex and intimacy. You need to understand each other’s needs and desires. How do they want to travel? Bus, plane, train, biking? How fast do they want to get there? Do they want to get somewhere or just want to see where the trip goes? Do they want to stop along the way and see some different places? Or do they want to reach the destination directly as soon as possible? What happens if a person decides halfway through the trip they don’t want to go anymore?

For most of our lives, growing up, we have been told by the media, TV, and movies that talking about a shared understanding of sex before having sex is not sexy. Healthy relationships involve talking about what each partner wants and wants for physical and sexual intimacy and then developing a shared commitment to meeting each other’s needs and desires. Healthy relationships involve consent and consent for everything. This includes checking regularly before, during, and after sex whether things are okay and whether the other person is enjoying it. Healthy relationships involve meeting everyone’s sexual needs.”

Maria Milmine

Mental health consultant

“I think there are many different ingredients that contribute to a healthy relationship. One scenario I often encounter during my work is how lonely and frustrating it can be when you are unable to communicate your need or want. Often people are afraid that this can hurt the feelings of others or cause an unwanted reaction.

First, one person cannot possibly satisfy all the needs of another person. No person is an island and relationships should not be either. We need each other, and feeling adoption and support from a wider group of people can reduce the pressure of feeling fully responsible for another person’s well-being.

Secondly, recognizing and communicating your wants and needs is a skill that can grow and develop. Are you capable of making your decisions and feel comfortable communicating them? What do you want your relationship to look and feel like? What values will it include?

For example, these values may include; respect, honesty, openness, trust, cooperation, equality, fun, adventure, and engagement. If so, how would ‘we’ work to nurture those things? How will you manage to get through the conflict, or simply disagree? What does it feel and look like when I am respected? How do we repair or rebuild trust when it is broken?

You can think about these types of questions separately and together. When we are not able to ask these types of questions, it leaves much room for the impression that after all we readers do not mind.

These are meta-conversations that you can start practicing as you design your relationship or do a little research. A sign of a healthy relationship is one that has room to enjoy working on the relationship as well as being in it.

Is there such a thing as a perfect relationship? No. All healthy relationships require work.

Own the Feels has been brought to you by #LoveBetter, a campaign financed by the Ministry of Social Development.

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