Writer Nick Hornby once said, “It’s no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently or if your favorite films wouldn’t even speak to each other if they met at a party.”
I’m not a therapist or relationship expert, but after nearly a decade of marriage, I’m not convinced that your taste in movies or music is necessarily a sign of a healthy relationship or determines whether or not you and your significant other are destined for happily-ever-after.
My marriage isn’t perfect, but it’s satisfying and happy and it’s taught me a few things about what keeps long-term partnerships working—in other words, what makes healthy relationships healthy.
Thankfully, those things have nothing to do with musical preferences or I would have taken my country albums and left my Beatles-loving husband long ago.
Instead, we’ve figured out how to compromise on music, and other things, and settle in for the long haul.
Here are a few of those things that I’ve learned do seem to say something about the strength of your union, and can be considered signs of a happy, healthy relationship.
You Speak Your Mind.
Relationships thrive when couples can express themselves freely and honestly. That means no topic is off-limits, and you both feel heard. Consistent communication is vital to building a lasting life together.
You Have Your Own Space.
Just because you’re in love doesn’t mean you have to spend every moment together. Taking time to pursue your own interests and friendships keeps your relationship fresh and gives you both the opportunity to grow as individuals—even while you’re growing as a couple.
Disagreements are normal, so if you aren’t fighting, chances are you’re holding back. But when people in healthy relationships fight, they fight productively and fairly. That means avoiding name-calling or put-downs. It also means striving to understand your partner instead of trying to score points. And when you’re wrong? You apologize.
You Like Yourself and Your Partner as You Are Now.
Healthy relationships should be based in reality. Chances are your relationship won’t suddenly get better if you win the lottery, have a baby, or move into your dream house. So don’t base your partnership on the hope that it will change. You recognize that neither of you is perfect, and you accept and value each other for who you are right now—not who you might become.
You Make Decisions Jointly.
You don’t call all the shots—neither does your partner. From what movie to see to how many children to have, you make decisions together and listen to each other’s concerns and desires. Sure, this may mean you watch Transformers again on Saturday night—but on Sunday night, it’s your turn.
You Find Joy.
Healthy relationships are full of laughter and fun. This doesn’t mean you’re giddy every hour of the day—or that your partner doesn’t drive you up the wall sometimes—but it does mean that your life together is mostly happy in sometimes simple ways. (Making dinner, laughing at the same things, finishing each others’ sentences…)
You Find Balance.
Sometimes your partner needs to work longer hours while you play chauffeur and head chef. Or you must devote time to an elderly parent while your spouse tackles the chores. That’s life. What matters is that, in the long run, your trade-offs seem fair.
You Treat Each Other With Kindness.
Nothing is a stronger sign of a healthy relationship than treating the person you love with care, consideration, empathy, and appreciation. If you find yourself showing more respect to people you hardly know than you show your partner, take a step back and revisit your priorities.
You Trust Each Other.
Healthy relationships are built on trust and a commitment to communication without reservations or secrets. Want to know how much you trust each other now? Take this quiz from the University of California, Berkeley.
You Let Things Go.
Your partner will annoy you. You will annoy him or her, too. You will say things you don’t mean. You will behave inconsiderately. The important thing is how you deal with all this. So they forgot to pick up milk for the second time? Tell them you’re disappointed, of course—then let it go.
You Are Intimate.
Sex is an important part of healthy relationships, but it’s only one part, and it’s different than intimacy, which is less about physical satisfaction than about bonding, friendship, and familiarity. If you’re in a healthy relationship, you’ll feel connected—in and out of bed.
Your Relationship Is Your Safe Place.
Your relationship should be a safety net—a stable place to come home to at the end of the day. That doesn’t mean you don’t fight—it just means that when things are hard, you’d always rather see your partner than anyone else.
You Talk to Your Partner, Not to Other People.
When you have issues and concerns, you share them with your partner, not your coworkers at Happy Hour. You’ll always have your friends as a sounding board, of course, but not as a crutch to avoid hard conversations with your significant other.
You Say the Magic Words.
“I love you,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry.”