Why you deserve a healthy relationship.

Woman and man grasping hands

You shouldn’t settle for anything less than a healthy relationship with your partner.

Our lives are full of all kinds of relationships—not just with romantic partners, but with family and friends, and even with coworkers and neighbors. It’s important to cultivate healthy relationships in all aspects of our life. But romantic relationships deserve special attention because of the closeness and intimacy that comes from bringing someone so deeply into your life.

We all know what romance looks like on TV, or in books, or in love songs. But in life, these bonds are much more complicated. Sometimes a relationship doesn’t look like what we expected, and we’re left wondering if the fault lies with us for expecting too much. And sometimes we learn the wrong lessons from pop culture, and feel confused about what to look for. We want love and happiness. How do we know if we’re on the right track?

1. Communication.

You and your partner may have different expectations about how often you talk on the phone or text, but guess what? You should talk about them! Good communication is crucial to a relationship. Not just on practical matters (although that’s important), but about feelings and expectations. Having a healthy conversation up front about your needs and desires—and listening to your partner’s in turn—can forestall arguments later down the road. No matter is too small to have a conversation about.

When good communication is not present, it can really harm our relationships. Have you ever tried to tell someone about your day and watched as their eyes glaze over? When your partner does something that irritates you, do you keep quiet because you don’t want to think you’re nagging them? Does talking about the rough spots in your relationship make you feel guilty for even mentioning them?

Talking about your day is not trivial. Swallowing frustrations until they fester will not help you understand each other. Holding back your feelings because you’re afraid of judgment or rejection will not lead to greater acceptance.

2. Trust.

Trust takes time to grow. You need to know a lot about a person to know if they are truly trustworthy, and that’s perfectly fine. Part of trusting another person is about being vulnerable before them. That means trusting them to listen and respond in a loving way to your hopes and dreams, faults, fears, and failures. In a healthy relationship, you and your partner should be able to share these things with each other without fear of judgment.

Many of us think of trust as a matter of not keeping secrets. But real trust is more than that. It’s trusting your partner, even when there’s something they want to keep private. We all have aspects of our lives that we like to keep to ourselves. That may mean our journal entries, text conversations we have with our friends, or emails we share with our colleagues at work. You can share as much about them as you like, but your partner does not have a right to demand to see them.

As much as your partner may be curious about what you write about in your diary, those thoughts are your own. Your partner should be respectful of those things you want to keep to yourself. Most importantly, jealousy has no part in a healthy relationship. If your partner uses jealousy as an excuse to disrespect your privacy, it is a sign of manipulation and control.

Respect comes in many forms. It can mean honoring boundaries by not pushing for intimacy faster than you’re comfortable with. Or it can mean thanking you for contributions you make to the relationship, or acknowledging your talents.

Disrespect in a relationship can undermine your confidence in yourself and cause you to compromise your values. If your partner is committed to a healthy relationship, they will never pressure you into doing something you feel is not right. Instead, they will encourage you to make decisions according to your own conscience.

4. Support.

Your goals and dreams are important. They are a part of your life, and something that drives you and gives you inspiration. But working toward them can be difficult, particularly when the other burdens of life are dragging you down. Along the way, you may come to doubt yourself.

There are enough people who will undermine you in this life. Your partner shouldn’t be one of them. A supportive partner believes in us, reminds us of our goals, and helps us stay on track.

5. Love.

There are all kinds of love. Romantic love is one, but there are also camaraderie, affection, and friendship. Your relationship should have all of them. And, as with everything else we’ve mentioned, the love you share should be mutual.

You can’t build a strong foundation on a one-sided relationship. It doesn’t matter how much you love the person you’re with—if they don’t listen to you, trust you, support you, and respect you, then whatever love they have to offer isn’t enough to nourish your soul.

We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

If you think about it, you’ll notice that all of the attributes we listed require both parties to make them work. You deserve every one of these attributes from your partner. And your partner deserves them from you. Without mutual effort, none of them can exist in a healthy way.

If you find you struggle to trust your partner, ask yourself: why? Has your partner done something to undermine your trust? Or is there something in yourself that refuses to trust others? If you do not feel supported by your partner, ask yourself what would make you feel supported. Then, talk to you partner about how you feel and offer ways they could support you in the future.

Finally, what would make you believe that you didn’t deserve these things? That your partner didn’t need to respect you, or trust you, or listen to you, or that you did not need to respect, trust, or listen to them? Many of us learn these lessons when we’re young, or through our experiences in life. And some of us derive so much of our sense of self-worth from our romantic partners that we stop believing we deserve more.

It’s important to recognize that many of us learned unhealthy relationship habits from others, and we should be gracious with our partners when confronting them when we feel that these attributes are missing. Communicating openly will help you both learn new, healthy habits, and it can be long and hard process. However, if you’re partner continues to disrespect and mistreat you, it may be time to move on.

The truth is that it is healthy to expect these things from those close to us. Not just from our partners, but from our family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and communities. When we settle for less, we don’t just disrespect ourselves, we pass that on to those around us. We allow those who love and admire us believe that they, too, should accept unhealthy relationships in their lives. And we make ourselves less capable of offering healthy love to others.

And we all deserve more than that.

Iris Proctor
Iris is the director of ArborWoman.