Everyone wants a love to end all loves but what are the ingredients of loving healthy relationships?
Mamamia asked the clinical director at Relationships Australia NSW (RANSW), Elisabeth Shaw, what it takes to build a thriving relationship that’s built on trust. Here, the clinical and counselling psychologist told us her top tips.
Your strengths are encouraged and fostered.
Shaw says loving healthy relationships allow room for both people to grow.
“A good partner celebrates who you are and is supportive of opportunities coming your way. A good partner can admire your progress, rather than feel threatened by it. Of course, opportunities can lead to relationship negotiations, as some successes could have implications for both people. Getting that great interstate job, for example, is going to affect the relationship, so these things are in balance with couple goals,” she added.
You always feel safe in loving healthy relationships.
"That doesn’t mean you are always free from anxiety, as being in love renders us vulnerable, and that can be scary at times," Shaw says, adding that healthy relationships are free from unfounded jealousy, intimidation, threats to health and wellbeing, and physical or sexual bullying.
"You should not feel lessened, or your confidence eroded by being in a relationship. These would all be signs that the relationship is not a good one.
"However having a feeling of being a bit on the edge of your seat - with excitement, not trepidation - is positive anxiety," says Shaw. It is part of the excitement of starting a healthy relationship.
Healthy relationships encourage each other to be better and to succeed with personal and couple goals.
The relationship counsellor says: "One person’s success does not diminish the others, although these things don’t always happen at the same time."
Healthy relationships have some goals and values in common.
"Of course being in a relationship means good discussions about goals, which ones meld together, which are separate, which will enhance everyone’s experience and which might cause difficulty," says Shaw. "For example, if one wants children and the other doesn’t, then that can get more difficult."
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"It is important not to assume you can 'have it all' or that your goals are so much better and the other will 'come round to my way of thinking'. Instead, being honest about what is important and having the conversation is critical. Too many people give up their goals in service of a relationship, and can later feel resentful."
When you have had disagreements, you feel respected for your views and are given a good hearing.
"It is important that your partner gives you room to express ideas and is interested and respectful, even if your views are wildly divergent," says Shaw. "Disagreeing can be interesting and lead to growth, so nothing wrong with that," she adds.
If you feel put down for your ideas, or find yourself offering up fewer opinions because of the flak you get, then that is not a healthy relationship.
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Goals and values largely line up.
"Common interests can be good, but are not as essential," says Shaw.
"It is often said that shared interests are crucial in a relationship. Of course having some shared interests is useful and fun. However, a relationship that allows for separate as well and common interests is important.
"Exploring the other’s interests can open new doors for you, but it is ok if the activity just isn’t your thing. What can be more important is to have alignment around goals and values, as a difference in those areas can cause more conflict and can signal that you may not be on the same relationship page."
You value and foster couple time as well as individual time, couple and individual friends and interests.
Shaw says healthy relationships allow for separateness as well as togetherness.
"Having separate friends should not be a threat to the relationship, and having some space and different input can bring fresh stories and news to the relationship.
"You can’t assume that your friends will get along with your partner as much as you do, nor vice versa. Rather than that being a threat, it should be all part of respecting the person’s history, connections and needs before they met you.
"It may also be that you just needing solitary time, or your regular yoga class, rather than time with friends. All these things feed you, and so feed the relationship. A partner can’t meet all our needs."
In healthy relationships, each of you is accountable.
Shaw says we must be accountable for our own emotional baggage, that is, "the legacies we all have from family and past relationships. Our insecurities can pop up in our new relationship and need to be thoughtfully and responsibly managed."
She adds, "We all have baggage. It is better to own up to it and to deal with it than deny it or try to pretend it doesn’t exist. Knowing yourself well, and managing your baggage responsibly is crucial for relationship success."
Shaw also says that "having a partner who gives us feedback and helps us work through past legacies and hurts can be great, and a good relationship can allow for this potential to occur. However, we can’t expect our partners to be a receptacle for all our problems, or put up with bad behaviour, or blaming them for everything.
"It is better to see that we all have a part to play in relationship problems and communication difficulties. Being able to reflect on yourself without defensiveness will allow growth on a personal level."
Healthy relationships are well supported by others, such as friends and family.
"It is helpful if your key friends and supports get on with and like your partner. Again, they don’t have to love them, but it does help," Shaw explains.
"If good friends and family have reservations, it is worth listening and working out 'whose problem is this?' Ideally, they are in your corner and if they see you being mistreated, it is worth taking that into account."
If you have gotten to the bottom of this list and found these things are not present in a relationship, it is best to talk with someone "about building couple capacity and connection through a skilled counsellor," Shaw says.
Elisabeth Shaw is the clinical director at Relationships Australia NSW (RANSW). More information can on RANSW can be found here.