Sometime in my early 20s, I was coming out of a bad relationship. It wasn’t abusive, but neither of us were good partners. And of course, at that time, we wholly blamed each other. We couldn’t see the parts that we both played and the behavior we both displayed that made it a pretty toxic relationship for both of us. I was venting about this relationship to a friend, and they asked me what I wanted out of a partner. I had no idea. So they suggested I write a list of exactly what I wanted. And I did.
Fast forward to today. I’ve been married for nearly 4 years. We’ve been together for almost 9. We’ve had our disagreements and hardships, just like any relationship has. But I am extremely happy. My wife is my best friend and I know that I am hers. And, incidentally, she has almost none of the personality traits I initially listed over 10 years ago.
If you listen to our podcast, More To The Story, you may have heard our episode on Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships. I recorded it in January of 2019 with my friend Stephenie from Women’s Crisis Center in Northern Kentucky. I knew she’d be wonderful guest because we actually teach a 4-session Healthy Relationships class together to men in an addiction rehabilitation facility. One of the very first exercises on day #1 is to construct a list of traits we want in a partner – the very activity that was recommended to me years ago. They comprise a nearly exhaustive list, filling up an entire whiteboard. Then we teach that every single trait on the list is considered a “negotiable” trait, except for three – trust, communication, and respect. Fortunately, these three are usually already in the list they’ve generated.
We teach that these three traits are the three foundational traits of any relationship. When I think of all of the traits I wrote down on my own list so many years ago, I think these three might be the only that remained, for which I am exceptionally grateful. My wife isn’t a musician like I am, which I insisted that I wanted. She isn’t the extrovert I knew was right for me. We have two dogs that she tolerates because she knows I love them. But I was certain that I needed to end up with another dog lover. I didn’t. None of these things happened, but I ended up with something much, much better. My list was important at that time, but it wasn’t static. But the trust, communication, and respect that I ended up finding in my partner made me more than okay with negotiating some of the other traits I’d written, because I ended up in a healthier relationship than I could have ever imagined.
The anecdote above is just my experience. We turned a similar question to our volunteer team. We asked them “What does a healthy relationship look like to you?” Here’s what they said.
“A healthy relationship to me is one of mutual respect and understanding. Each person can aptly put themselves in the shoes of their partner and not take things personally. There is the utmost support where the couple betters each other.” – Stephanie
“A heathy relationship is one that is established on a strong foundation of respect, love, honesty, and loyalty. Maintaining a strong communication and respecting and supporting each others’ views and ideas. The ability to bring out the best in one another and growing into better people together.” – Kia
“Having a healthy relationship means that your partner is supportive of the things that you do. In addition to that, they are willing to listen to you when there’s something on your mind and they understand that it’s okay to spend time apart.” – Ashley
“To me, a healthy relationship is one in which two people build each other up, and are mutually respectful and supportive. It takes continual time, effort, and communication, on both parts. But the work you pour into it is so worth it, because it will make you feel safe, valued, and cherished.” – Zoe
“A healthy relationship is patience and understanding. Respecting what you partner may want or need and not pressuring them. It is about being supportive of your significant other in whatever they are doing or what they are going through. A healthy relationship is showing compassion and honesty. It also means doing things the other person enjoys that you may not and vice versa. It is having tiny spats but knowing in the end that that’s okay because you both love each other and that’s enough and no silly argument will break that. It is being able to agree on the music in the car or what movie/show to watch. But really it is spending hours watching your SO playing Red Dead and being ok with it.” – Kristin
“A healthy relationship for me is one where above all else both people respect each other and support each other to grow as people. A relationship should allow people to grow and become better together as well as separately.” – Tyler
“A healthy relationship is one where both parties are supported. Each person feels safe and loved.” – Jacqui
“A healthy relationship for me is caring and honesty with your partner.” – Jennifer
“To me a healthy relationship involves two people who start each day by choosing to love, respect, and be kind to each other through the easy, good days and the hard, not-so-good days.” – Juliana
“Respect, honesty, and kindness.” – Sheena
“Respect, patience, and honesty.” – Marie
“Communication, respect, and loving each other.” – Jordan
Honestly, love, compassion, trust, and loyalty.” – Dustin
“Loyalty, honesty, caring for each other, and always wanting to be together/wanting to make each other happy.” – Alyssa
“Honesty, caring, love, respectful, and trust.” – Justin
Please know that if you are in a relationship that you aren’t sure is healthy, or if you just want to look more into it, here are a couple places that can help you. You’re always welcome to share a story on our page, but if you are looking for a deeper look, here are a few great resources.