They say the perfect relationship doesn’t exist, and maybe they’re right. But happy and healthy ones do. Maybe they’re not flawless, but they’re meaningful. And strong relationships share certain characteristics and positive qualities that make them so.
What Makes a Relationship Great?
Here are 17 things all strong relationships have in common:
1. Love, of course.
“When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement and acceptance.”
Bring a little love into your life and the lives of others, and watch it work miracles.
2. You’re devoted to each other.
“So if, God help us, we are ever tempted / to ditch our marriage when it’s lost its glow, / let’s give the thing our finest spit and polish— / and, having learned our lesson, not let go.”
—Melissa Balmain, Love Poem
3. You’re both kind to each other.
How kind should you be? As kind as you possibly can.
Who should you be kind to? To everyone you come in contact with.
A kind word goes a long way. Perhaps somebody is having a bad day and you don’t know it. They are really feeling down and you offer a kind word. Maybe it’s just a friendly, “Hello, how are you today?” Maybe it’s just taking a minute or two to listen to what somebody has to say. But your few moments of attention could turn somebody’s day around. You might even help make them feel more worthwhile and important—and make your relationship stronger.
4. You and your partner appreciate each other.
“Do unto others as you would have done unto you” might sound like common sense—until you reflect on your own daily interactions. You’ll find that the idea of taking a moment to sincerely appreciate where your counterpart is coming from isn’t actually all that common.
5. Couples in a strong relationship pay attention to each other.
Treat your spouse (or your family and friends) like you do the dog, only better. Greet them at the door, always be happy to see them, go for walks every day, reward good behavior several times a day with a treat, give lots of physical affection and don’t hold grudges.
6. Both of you have a sense of selflessness.
Learn to approach work, life and people with a voracious thirst for social chemicals (obtained naturally of course!). Find a reality where connection, compassion, empathy and love dominate. Where we connect first and do business second. Where we approach each person we come across—including in the workplace—with a wild sense of curiosity, an unreasonable benefit of the doubt and the thought of I love you in our hearts and minds.
7. Couples in strong relationship share a common purpose.
The most meaningful relationships are those that are held together by a common purpose and vision for what it can accomplish. When people have a common purpose, they feel bound together, like they are part of a team. So even when you might be disappointed in the person you are in a relationship with, if there is a purpose there, such as raising the children, you are much more likely to stick it out. Purpose creates bonds, and when you are seeking it out, the relationship gets better and stronger.
8. You’re open with your partner.
Communication and openness with your partner is important. It allows your partner to be aware of how you are feeling and what you are thinking, and vice versa. The best way to be open with your partner is to tell them how you are feeling as soon as that feeling arises. Don’t wait to see if it goes away. Talk about it and communicate with each other so you can start working on solving that problem. Waiting to see if the problem will fix itself is the worst idea.
9. You understand each other’s love language.
“Love is a way of life. Love is a part of who you are so that when a person encounters you, they’re going to feel love,” says relationship expert Gary Chapman. “The reality is many times people may reciprocate, but that is not the objective. The objective is to enhance others’ lives.”
Make that your objective with your spouse, and you might just find yourselves living happily ever after.
10. A strong relationship is adaptable.
Developing your adaptability allows you to understand how different types of people would like to be treated. It does not mean imitating the other person’s behavior, but it does mean adjusting your behavior to be more in line with the other person’s preferences. The effectively adaptable person meets both the other person’s needs and their own. They know how to negotiate relationships in a way that allows everyone to win. With adaptability you are practicing the spirit of the Golden Rule and can treat the other person the way they want to be treated.
11. Couples in strong relationships have integrity.
For some people, disappointing others is a regular occurrence, and apologizing—for running late, for forgetting to do the thing they said they would—has become a recurring theme. They have become desensitized to the pain of causing someone disappointment and are able to rattle off an “I’m sorry” in a way that doesn’t carry any real remorse. And the reason is ultimately a lack of integrity. If this is you, then it’s time for a change. It’s time to step up, stop repeating the same mistakes and build your integrity.
12. You both have empathy.
Empathy is one of the most important characteristics for relationships, whether at work or with family members or friends. “If you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes, even if you don’t agree, then you can often see the issue from their perspective. This will then open the door for collaboration and communication,” says Gail Gross, Ph.D., a family, relationship and child development expert. “If you are busy defending yourself, then you can’t hear what the other person has to say.”
13. You’re able to forgive your partner.
Holding on to baggage weighs heavily on any relationship. Resentment, disappointment and frustration, when left unresolved, erode trust and drain our spirit. You know you have a great relationship when you are able to express how you feel and let it go. Forgive shortcoming and failings. Support one another. Learn from the experiences you face, and move on.
14. You and your partner take ownership of your relationship.
Realize that this is your life, and no one but you is going to take responsibility for the results that you are getting. Honestly assess where you are. Do you like it? If you are in a relationship, how is it going? Are you satisfied with where the two of you are? Your level of intimacy, connection and fulfillment? Talk about your relationship and plan to make it even better going forward.
15. Alone time makes for a strong relationship.
There is absolutely no need to feel guilty about spending time alone. Independence and quality relaxation are good for couples, no matter how close their connection. After taking the time to do things that make them feel refreshed, both partners will come back feeling renewed and lucky to be in a balanced and healthy relationship.
16. Couples in strong relationships have fun together.
All good familial and spousal relationships have some element of fun that brings enjoyment to the relationship. Oftentimes, however, this key element can be easily forgotten or neglected. The fun things we did initially in a new relationship can, after a while, be taken for granted or simply fall by the wayside, and we stop creating that fun and joy. So remember to consciously craft fun situations and moments, for these are the glue that hold our memories together and make our lives sweet.
17. A great relationship is warm.
Love is so many things: gentle, liberating, warm. It’s the binding that seals our very existence. Love keeps us whole and encourages us to share the adoration we feel for others, and even to cherish ourselves.
This article was published in February 2017 and has been updated. Photo by NDAB Creativity/Shutterstock