In my work with couples, I help them create thriving relationships.
A thriving relationship is a strong connection and an unshakeable bond. I encourage you to make thriving relationships your ultimate goal, and it’s possible for you!
These 15 elements are key markers I have seen in healthy relationships. In unhealthy relationships, at least one of these key elements is noticeably missing, leaving room to build more trust, communication and connection.
My research into the elements of thriving healthy relationships is rooted in the PACT couples therapy model developed by Stan Tatkin. Stan Tatkin PsyD, MFT is a teacher, clinician, researcher, and developer of the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy® (PACT).
Use this guide to identify areas for growth within your relationship…
We’ve heard it before and we’ll hear it again: Relationships are built on trust.
Thriving relationships have trust, period. You have chosen to trust your partner, and they have chosen to put their trust in you. This is important, because this sacred container of trust and faith in the other person’s treatment of you is paramount to your own mental and emotional health.
When you’re in a secure and thriving relationship, trust is built on healthy communication. We’ll cover communication in more depth in a moment, but know that trust and communication actually go hand in hand. You really cannot have one without the other!
Imagine this: You can trust your partner because your words are safe with them. If something is bothering you, you can safely bring it up without them exploding or using your concerns against you. You can trust that they are listening to you and that they won’t share your words in a public or embarrassing way.
Imagine this, too: You pass by your partner’s unlocked phone sitting on the table. You don’t even feel tempted to look through it in some effort to catch them doing something bad. Why? Because you trust them. Their promises to you are valuable and are proven with their actions!
If trust has been broken in your relationship, read my blog post here: 4 Steps to Rebuild the Trust – How to come back better than before.
The great thing about trust is that we get to let our nervous systems relax and regulate themselves. This creates space for creativity, honesty, expression and love. We are at our personal best when we can trust the people around us! We get to shine and our strengths are on full display because we feel comfortable sharing ourselves with the world.
When trust is violated, the opposite is true. The moment we begin to feel unsafe emotionally in our relationship, the regulation of our nervous system begins to degrade…or it downright tanks. You might feel frazzled, you don’t have balanced emotions, and it’s difficult to create new things or feel focused. When we don’t have much trust in our lives, you can see evidence in our mental, emotional and even physical health. We bloom in healthy relationships and if trust is never established (or if it is repeatedly broken over time), I’m going to give you a sad fact: You’re worse off than if you were alone. This is why it feels like such a relief to leave relationships that don’t have trust!
In order to create thriving relationships, you need to develop tools that help you trust others, and ensure that your partner feels safe communicating with you.
2. Healthy Communication
Healthy communication is the ability to express what you want and what you don’t want.
When your relationship is thriving, you can talk about anything and everything! (This is why trust is so important). I notice it again and again: Individuals who are in healthy and happy partnerships have probably gone to therapy to work on their own communication and feel confident expressing their feelings. They can also trust that their partner will advocate for themself and tell them if they’re concerned.
If you’re in a thriving relationship, you are comfortable receiving feedback and addressing issues if your partner brings them up. You don’t get defensive or unleash years of rage onto them. You also don’t become passive aggressive or bring up concerns from previous conflicts.
Healthy communication includes being able to say that you’re sorry and expressing care for their feelings. It means that you don’t allow problems to fester for weeks, months or years without airing them out and coming to a resolution. It’s strongly linked with presence, which we’ll be covering next…
In a thriving relationship, you’re fully present.
You live in the moment with your partner, actively engaging with them in small but impactful ways! The best relationships consist of individuals who commit to being present for one anothers’ moment-to-moment state of mind.
Presence means noticing when the other person is upset or frustrated. It means using those opportunities for healthy communication. Being present is NOT being codependent! I don’t mean that you should rely on them for all your emotional needs – I just mean that being present means being in sync with one another in a healthy interdependent way.
Presence also means being present for the FUN of partnership! Presence means smiling at one another, catching their eye at a party from across the room, and laughing together. This is the element we often fantasize about, and one that we can sometimes allow to slip away when we’re stressed or busy. But this is a MAJOR element of a healthy, happy and long-lasting relationship.
When you’re living in the present day-to-day with your partner, it’s really important to cultivate little moments of humor and hilarity. It makes life richer, more fun and ultimately it makes your connection stronger. When you’re parenting together or if you run a business collaboratively, humor is EXTRA important because you can dispel tension, dissipate stress and make your bond very powerful.
Humor in a thriving relationship is not passive aggressive and does not cause hurt and pain. It’s not at someone’s expense and it’s not gossip. When I refer to humor, I mean that you can poke fun at the ridiculousness of a situation or laugh together at how monotonous something is. You might laugh at the hilarity of your child’s baseball game together, for example, because it looks like just a bunch of toddlers running in different directions.
Availability is simple but super important. How available are you and your partner for one another?
In a thriving relationship, you commit to being there for one another. You show up to calm them down, to encourage them, to answer their calls or reassure them that things will be okay. In great relationships, both individuals make sure that their partner gets their time and energy.
Okay, I’ll be honest. Logistics aren’t the most fun and amazing aspect of partnership…but they are SO influential. Communication about logistics is present in every great thriving partnership I’ve ever seen. In a healthy relationship, you need logistics.
What do I mean? Well, basically you need to plan life’s little details together. You meet every week and deal with the boring stuff so that you actually get to enjoy your life! It can look like you and your partner telling one another what events are coming up, coordinating childcare efforts, making space for date night, and planning fun activities. Doing this will actually end up saving you time. You’ll also conveniently avoid miscommunications, misunderstandings and therefore, conflict. Trust me, you need this.
Let’s talk about appreciation. Or praise, encouragement, or celebration…whatever you call it, this is a big one!
Appreciation is another thing that we forget sometimes. We get used to our partner’s strengths and abilities and we forget to tell them what we love about them! But truly healthy connections are built on appreciation.
If this doesn’t come naturally to you, I want to help you out. Look at your partner with fresh eyes and actively notice what they’re excellent at, the efforts they make, and who they are as a person. Notice the beautiful parts of them and how they show up for others. Now, I want to share some examples of this.
“This dinner is really amazing. I really like how flavorful the sauce is…you are such an incredible cook!”
“I love how you handled that situation. You’re so confident and capable. Your communication is so powerful!”
“I love the lamp you chose! I can’t wait to see it in the space.”
“They would be silly not to hire you. You’re so qualified and talented. I know you can do this!”
We naturally question our own abilities and competency. But this is where a thriving relationship comes in: To nourish us and remind us of who we are and what we’re capable of!
In a thriving relationship, you’re working to create something inspiring together!
Perhaps you both want to start a family. You have ideas of how you’ll parent together, and the type of people you’ll raise. Maybe you want to build or decorate a home together, start a business and/or travel! Whatever your dreams are, healthy relationships have shared dreams and goals. When you’re thriving together, you can envision yourselves working towards a common goal.
If you’re in a happy partnership, you know the secret: While collaboration can be a pain in the ass sometimes, it’s actually BETTER and way more fulfilling…because what you create together is a mixture of both of you.
In the process of creating things as a team, you get to celebrate one another’s strengths. Your shared vision is also what will keep your relationship exciting. It’s ideal that you’re always working towards something together!
9. Fun and Adventure
In a thriving relationship, you treat your partnership like it’s important! You have things on the calendar to look forward to. Enduring relationships are FUN.
Having fun means having a little escapism from the monotony of day-to-day living, work or even parenting. It means just the two of you get to connect away from reality a little bit. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. Adventurous moments can happen by going on a different hike every week, or by doing an activity together like kayaking or taking a walk or making a special recipe together. It can be built into our weekly or monthly routines.
It can also be a getaway from life! You can seek adventure by renting a hotel room in the city for a weekend, staying in a cabin in the woods, taking a road trip, or vacationing somewhere beautiful.
Adventure is important. It helps us break up routine and avoid falling into relationship ruts.
Let’s talk about transparency. Transparency means telling your partner everything that matters. It’s a healthy way to communicate and build trust.
It doesn’t mean that you have to tell them every detail. But it means that when something important happens, they will never hear it from someone else, scaring them and eroding their trust. This sounds simple, but it’s a skill and people in thriving relationships communicate with transparency every day!
Thriving relationships are safe spaces.
They are literally safe but they are also emotionally safe. Taking care of your partner’s sense of safety and security is so important! What does this look like? It means not pushing them to be in social situations that make them overly uncomfortable, not embarrassing them or putting them in a bad position in front of others, and not airing their personal details publicly. Safety in a relationship is essential for trust and healthy communication.
Your personal relationships should be Dialectic: As in, you recognize that relationships oscillate back and forth between growth and integration, weirdness and normality.
You need to embrace change within your partnership.
If you are together for a long time, your relationship will have natural phases. Certain phases will be very comfortable, and some will challenge and inspire you. It’s important that you acknowledge those phases as normal. For example, we are often taught that we need to be in the honeymoon stage always and forever, and that comfort is a threat. However, comfort – and stability – need to be embraced. What I’m saying is, if it freaks you out that things are relaxing in your relationship, please go to therapy because you don’t need to sabotage it! (And while you’re at it, check out my blog post: How Not to Ruin your Relationship). Especially when we grew up in unstable or stressful homes, we recognize chaos as normal. But you need a healthy balance of safety and excitement in a thriving relationship – so embrace the changes!
While we can survive alone, we thrive when we’re experiencing a state of interdependence.
A healthy, thriving relationship holds space for both the integrity of the individual and the collective partnership at the same time. How do we live our daily lives together? How can we create opportunities for ourselves to rely on one another in a healthy way? This is a great time to talk about working within our strengths. When we recognize that none of us are great at everything, we acknowledge that our relationship can become a working system where we both get to do what we’re good at, and then appreciate one another for it.
This one sounds weird, but hear me out: Are you being a leader in your relationship?
No, I’m not asking you to LEAD the other person or boss them around! And no, I’m not saying that one person has to follow. In fact, the opposite it true.
Both people in a thriving relationship see themselves as a leader within their partnership. By that I mean that both individuals have accountability and show up ready to be their best selves and experience personal growth while with the other person! Instead of doing half and expecting the other person to do half, you both do the most. And trust me, it shows when you do!
If you want to improve and strengthen your partnership, think: What can I do to enhance it? How can I play a stronger role in its functioning? Am I showing up as my best self? Am I communicating, showing up and being transparent?
It’s essential that no one feels like a victim in their relationship and instead takes on a leadership role. Sure, it’s easier to complain to your friends. It’s easier to be passive aggressive, snarky or annoyed. But that doesn’t fix anything and that is not thriving…at best, it’s just surviving and getting by. Instead of airing your grievances to your family and friends or strangers on a bus, do the productive things: Go to therapy, journal, join a counseling group, go on a retreat, communicate and ask for what you want.
Last but not least, your thriving relationship needs multiplicity! Multiplicity sounds complicated but it’s super simple: It means that you both get to grow, change and be complex creatures within your relationship. It’s so powerful.
People in a thriving relationship embrace multiplicity. You acknowledge that you will both become many versions of yourselves over time. You must love and connect with the different versions of your partner in order to grow together! You get to relax into the reality that you each get to expand into the fullest versions of yourselves. It’s important that you don’t put the other person in a box. Loving the person they were when you met is major…but so it loving them as they are, always.
Welcome to the richness, messiness, and complexity of being connected to another person.
So, what do you think?
Do you have a thriving relationship? Or could your relationship use some growth and development?
This is a great way to acknowledge areas for growth within your partnership. After all, you’re taking on that relationship leadership role, right?!
No matter what stage of relationship you’re in, I hope this inspires you to infuse your relationship with healthy communication, transparency and appreciation. Here’s to thriving –