Dr. Suzanne Nixon

| 07/05/2017

10 Characteristics of a Healthy Relationship

10 Characteristics of a Healthy Relationship

What is a healthy relationship? We are excited to have Dr. Suzanne Nixon, a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, share her thoughts on the topic.

As a marriage and relationship therapist for over twenty years, I have worked with hundreds of couples who are either married, engaged or partnered. My treasured role is to help couples work out their conflicts, issues or negative patterns, and to teach them how to create and maintain a healthy relationship.

Truth be told though, even though clients come in with the intent to create a healthy relationship, many don’t know what a healthy relationship is. Why? I believe this is due to three main factors: (1) the lack of a positive relationship role model (2) exposure to more unhealthy relationships than healthy ones (3) lack of knowledge.

Before I describe the main characteristics of a healthy relationship, let me begin by saying, there are no perfect relationships and no perfect partners. We are all imperfectly perfect, and that goes for our relationships as well. So, don’t expect perfection from your partner, or your relationship. But do expect a commitment from both of you to do your best to make your relationship a healthy one.

10 Characteristics of a Healthy Relationship

1. You genuinely like your partner

Liking proceeds love. Liking is a type of attraction you have towards a person and consists of certain qualities, attributes, and behaviors of that person. When you like someone you want to be around them, want to spend time together and have conversations. You experience your shared time as enjoyable and pleasurable. It simply feels good inside you. Like, is the foundational principle of a solid friendship, essential to an intimate relationship.

2. You show up, are present and spend time together

Showing up means being present, not absent, in the relationship. You decided to give up your single life for a life in partnership. That means a solid chunk of your time is being together with your partner on a regular basis. This can include the simple and ordinary day to day routines, like having morning coffee together, hanging out in the kitchen while preparing dinner, or reading together in bed, to having a date night or a planned activity like an evening walk. The “presence” part of it, means really being there in your listening, talking and participation. Sure, your mind may drift time to time, however, when you notice your thoughts going elsewhere, you bring your attention back to yourself and back to being present with your partner in that moment….and you want to.

3. You are respectful towards one another

Respect is an attitude and a behavior. It is an attitude of honoring and valuing your partner for who they are and consists of behaviors that show understanding, kindness, and acceptance, in the home and outside the home. It includes respecting their body, personal space, feelings, thoughts, limitations and vulnerabilities, and avoiding behaviors that ridicule, tease or directly or indirectly harm. In social situations, it means being mannerly, considerate, caring and cooperative. When you respect your partner, your intention is to do good by them, and harm is out of the equation.

4. You take responsibility for your feelings, thoughts and actively communicate.

Being responsible in a relationship begins by identifying your feelings and thoughts and communicating them to your partner. Whether it is the good, the bad or the ugly, let your partner know how you feel and what you’re thinking. Engage in an honest, respectful, conversation where the intent is to be understood…not to be right or wrong or to prove something. If you cannot honestly talk about your feelings and thoughts with your partner or fear you will be judged or ridiculed if you do, your relationship is in trouble.

5. You are transparent with all things. Simple as that!

There is a phrase in the world of family therapy, “secrets kill”, which refers to the fact that over time secrets in a marriage and family system, negatively impact the members of a partnership and family. Having secrets or deliberately “not disclosing or telling the truth” is a relationship no, no. It breaks trust and raises suspicion. In a marriage, spouses should work cooperatively, and share knowledge about finances, work, friendships, and in nearly all cases, passwords, and this includes Facebook.

6. You make decisions jointly

You are in partnership or marriage, and major decisions need to be made jointly. One person having unilateral decision making speaks to a power differential in the relationship. That destroys equanimity in the relationship, a basic tenant to the health and success of a relationship.

7. You have each other’s back

We all need one person in our lives to have our backs, and it should be our partners. They are the person we can trust to be there for us, stand up for us and protect us. We need to feel safe and secure in our relationship, not skeptical that our partner may not have our back and bail out on us when things get dicey.

8. You have the ability to work out conflicts

Every healthy marriage/partnership has conflicts. We are all uniquely different and because of that will have different viewpoints on issues or situations. Sometimes we may feel mad. Sometimes we may argue. What is important is when in conflict, you communicate, listen, deal with it, and don’t go to bed angry. Understanding one another’s viewpoints and compromising are key to dealing with and resolving conflict.

9. You know “love” is a verb

When did “love” become just a “talking noun”? It’s easy to say I love you, or more commonly expressed as “love ya”. Words, words, words, are just that, words. You’ve gotta have behaviors behind the words, or there is no meat in your “I love you”. And what are loving behaviors? Ones that demonstratively show you are thinking of your partner in a respectful, caring way. That means bringing her coffee in the morning, or picking up his dry cleaning in the afternoon and knowing and speaking your partner’s love language. Buy the book…it has been on the National Bestsellers List for years.

10. You understand you are responsible for your own happiness

No one person can fulfill our “happiness bucket”. The “other person”, our partner, cannot be the source of all our happiness, well-being and fulfillment. We must find peace and happiness within, and bring that to the relationship. We must have friendships, interests and hobbies that we engage in that bring us a sense of joy and feed our individualism. No one person has it all, no matter what fairy tale you wish to believe.

Dr. Suzanne Nixon is a licensed marriage and family therapist and professional counselor in the state of Virginia. She has maintained a private practice for nearly 30 years, and is passionate about helping individuals and couples heal and grow. Couples can achieve relationship well-being with the right intention and support. Learn more about Dr. Nixon at


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