Healthy relationships don’t just happen; they take time, patience and two people who truly want to work together to create something meaningful.
What does it take to create and nurture a healthy relationship? That’s a question Angel and I get asked by readers and coaching clients on a daily basis. After a decade of coaching individuals and couples and researching how people build healthy, lasting relationships, we have learned a lot about what it takes.
Whether you’re working to improve your marriage, a dating relationship, or a friendship, there are lots of little things you can do to keep your relationship on track. And since we’ve recently covered some of these healthy relationship strategies here and here, today I want to take a look at the flipside – what people in healthy relationships don’t do:
- They don’t rush the present state of their relationships to get to better times ahead. – The thing about obsessing about a happy ending is that you forget to enjoy the journey along the way. Right now is life… don’t miss it! You need to enjoy the company you care to keep, today, while you’re still guaranteed a chance to do so.
- They don’t expect their relationships to solve all their problems. – While a healthy relationship can certainly bring joy, it’s not anyone else’s job to fill in your empty inner space. That’s your job and yours alone; and until you accept responsibility for your emptiness, pain, or boredom, problems will inevitably ensue and persist in the relationship.
- They don’t expect their relationships to be easy. – Long-tern relationships are amazing, but rarely easy. Resisting the hard times and seeing them as immediate evidence that something is wrong or that you’re with the wrong person only aggravates the difficulties. By contrast, finding the willingness to view the challenges as an opportunity to learn will give you the energy and strength you need to continue to move forward and grow your relationship to the next level.
- They don’t let fear overpower their love and trust. – You never lose by loving; you lose by holding back. No relationship is impossible until you refuse to give it a chance. Love means giving someone the chance to hurt you, but trusting them not to. Without this trust, a relationship cannot survive. You cannot just believe what you fear from others; you have to believe in the good faith of others. If you are ever going to have someone trust you, you must feel that you can trust them too. (Read The Mastery of Love.)
- They don’t keep secrets. – Trust is the foundation of a relationship, and when trust is broken it takes time and willingness on the part of both people involved to repair it and heal. All too often, I’ll hear a coaching client say something like, “I didn’t tell her but I didn’t lie about it, either.” This statement is a contradiction, as omissions are lies. If you’re covering up your tracks in any way, it’s only a matter of time before the truth is revealed and trust in the relationship is broken. Speak the truth, no matter what the consequences. Being honest is the only way to be at peace with yourself and others.
- They don’t fake their feelings. – Do not contrive to be a loving person: work to be a real person instead. Being real is being loving.
- They don’t hide who they are. – There’s nothing better for your happiness and your relationships than for you to be at your best, showing everyone in every way who you are and what you stand for.
- They don’t look to others for validation of their identity. – Never wait around for someone else to give you permission to be yourself. You don’t need anyone’s validation to be happy or to live a good life. That’s a state of mind only you can create, and then bring in to the relationship with you.
- They don’t hold hateful grudges. – It’s a good time, right now, for letting go. Let’s not drag angst into tomorrow. Let’s regroup, make amends where we can, and move on. Make peace with people as much as you are able. Even if forgiveness doesn’t equal reconciliation, lay down the sword and let it be. Life is too short.
- They don’t focus on the unchangeable past. – Sometimes happiness in relationships amounts to making peace with something that can’t be fixed. Sometimes you let it go, and sometimes you hold it broken. It amounts to forgiveness in any case.
- They don’t expect their loved ones to always be strong. – Sometimes people let us down because they can’t hold us up. “I can’t carry you” doesn’t mean, “I don’t love you.” It may simply mean, “I’m struggling too.”
- They don’t focus on people’s flaws. – Do your best to maintain sincere love in your heart for others. The more you see the good in them, the more good you will uncover in yourself.
- They don’t give out of obligation, or because they want to be paid back. – Do something special for someone you love, and for a stranger today. Do it because you can and because it makes the world a happier place. Always give more than you take. When you shift your attitude from “how can I gain” to “how can I give,” you’ll be amazed at the gifts you receive. Truth be told, the most successful people in the most successful relationships are looking for ways to help others. The most unsuccessful people are still asking, “What’s in it for me?”
- They don’t take their relationships for granted. – An incredible thing happens when you pay close attention. It’s by participating more in your relationships that you breathe life into them. So make time for those you care about. With our busy schedules we often forget to relax and enjoy the great company we have. In human relationships distance is not measured in miles, but in affection. Two people can be right next to each other, yet miles apart. So don’t ignore someone you care about, because lack of concern hurts more than angry words.
- They don’t just show up when times are good. – Be there through the good, bad, happy, and sad times… no matter what. Be willing to provide a listening ear, a hug, and emotional support in all circumstances. In a healthy relationship, both people can trust that they can count on each other, and are willing to be available not only when it’s convenient, but when they need each other the most.
- They don’t try to constantly “fix” the people they care about. – The art of caring for another is rooted in love and respect. It means listening to them wholeheartedly and letting them know by your complete presence that they are seen and valued. It’s not a space where you try to fix the other person. It’s about being witness to the totality of another human being. (Read The Gifts of Imperfection.)
- They don’t talk when they need to listen. – It takes some courage to stand up and speak; it takes even more courage to open your mind and listen. Pay attention and be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble. The people in your life often need a listening ear more than they need a rambling voice. And don’t listen with the intent to reply; hear what is being said with the intent to understand. You are as beautiful as the love you give, and you are as wise as the silence you leave behind.
- They don’t take everything personally. – If you take everything personally, you will remain offended for the rest of your life. What other people do is because of them, not you. Never permit the behavior of other people to tell you how you feel.
- They don’t neglect their own self-awareness. – When two people meet, the prize always goes to the one with the most self-insight. He or she will be calmer, more confident, and more at ease with the other.
- They don’t say “yes” when they need to say “no.” – You can’t always be agreeable; that’s how people take advantage of you. Sometimes you have to set clear boundaries.
- They don’t let people hold them back indefinitely. – Give people lots of chances, but realize that you can’t grow by hanging out with people who refuse to grow themselves. Try to spend less time with those who are stubborn and stuck in their comfort zones. And if someone doesn’t want to let you grow, it might be time to let them go. Your relationships should help you in the long run, not hurt you.
- They don’t resist or interfere with other people’s growth. – Healthy relationships move in the direction of personal growth: for the relationship and for each individual. A desire to impede the growth of the other for one’s comfort is an expression of fear. Even when one is concerned that the relationship may dissolve, they accept that their paths may diverge for the benefit of both. Mutual growth is put before personal gain.
- They don’t rebound and rush into replacement relationships. – If you painfully lose a valuable friend or lover, do not rush out at once for a replacement. Such hurried action prevents you from examining your heartache and breaking free of it. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- They don’t look at past relationships as failures. – Although not all relationships are meant to be, there are no failed relationships, because every person in your life has a lesson to teach. And the lessons you learn make future relationships that much stronger.
- They don’t let what’s behind them define them. – As long as you’re worried that you could replicate a hurtful relationship from the past, you won’t be free to create new, healthy bonds. Regardless of what fears you have, work to release them. Start by acknowledging that these fears are present, and then remind yourself that you’re not doomed to any particular fate. You’re the one running your life, and you have the power to create healthy relationships. If you find yourself veering off course, you can correct this. If you’ve made mistakes in your past, you can learn from them.
The floor is yours…
Which of these points resonate most with you? Which ones do you sometimes struggle with? And what else do people in healthy relationships NOT do? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights.
Photo by: Mo Riza
Susan Rae says
Number 4 – letting fear get in the way of love – is exactly what happened in my last relationship. I was so scared to open up and be vulnerable, that I destroyed a good thing. If only I had been reminded of this beforehand. It’s such simple wisdom that I totally overlooked and ignored. Thank you for this wonderful insight. It will help going forward. I am hopeful.
Above all, people in healthy relationships don’t neglect each other. I think the value of a relationship is deeply embedded in how you serve each other. I like a woman to inspire me, and be a source of inspiration to her as well. Also, a relationship is bound to confront both people with their subconscious. When you help and support each other to grow, I believe that is one of the biggest values any relationship has to offer.
Forgiveness does not always equal reconciliation. Good perspective.
Jeff Ray says
I think this is a really nice way to put the solutions to such a common relationship problems into simple words.
#18 – Taking everything personally was a big one for me. There was a time when I thought that my relationships were supposed to make my life perfect, but I have learned the hard way that this isn’t the case at all. It isn’t until we learn to keep ourselves happy that we begin to actually feel happy, regardless of what others do or don’t do.
Sandra Pawula says
Number 19 resonates with me: “They don’t neglect their own self-awareness.” That’s a vow my husband and I took at the start of our marriage. It’s never let us down!
Dear Marc and Angel!
Thank you so much for sending these great inspirational realistic pragmatic and relevant articles – they have helped me enormously on getting through my life with less pain love and understanding for me and others.
Please continue this outstanding work!
Number 25: I’ve just ended a relationship with someone I love dearly and care for deeply. The fact we fell apart due to different lifestyles and life-goals, despite strong mutual love and respect, scares the crap out of me. I feel like: “If this didn’t work, what will?”
Abdul Rauf says
As always, I have gone through your article and as always, I have got much wisdom from this. Last days, I have been too much bad in my relationship with my girlfriend, but I think I can do all the stuff, you have asked. But what if she cannot understand all the stuff?
It probably goes without saying but they do not try to control the other person. Ever. After 16 years of marriage, I am just now realizing just how controlling my spouse has been. Maybe each of these “tips” is a variation on that one.
Forgiveness does not always equal reconciliation because the heart will always be broken over certain happenings in your life. That is why your other point of “they don’t talk when they need to listen” is HUGE. I try to practice that daily, sometimes it is difficult!! Great Post!! 🙂
Your insights and wisdom are helpful and raise awareness. I would love to hear your analysis about how two strong individuals in relationship can refine and grow their partnership while at the same time evolving as individuals especially with each having their own unconscious motivations for growth and self-actualization which at any point in time is difficult to predict. Sometimes referred to as “growing apart”, this dynamic has to do with the paradox of two becoming one, relationship and life. What do you think mi amigos?
Keri C. says
I love this! So much wisdom and it is beautifully written. Thank you.
Wow… This is so amazing. We having been working with a couple of business partners who really are abusive. These points explain a lot of why they are the way they are and how we can be better ourselves.
#21 is a big one with our relationship with them and we might be leading to a break up. As we near this possibility, the pressure gets worse and worse.
#24 also stands out. We have learned so much working with these difficult people and are able to stand back every time we are attacked and see the truth behind it all… We do feel the hurt and anger for a while though but we refuse to attack back with any harsh words. It’s really tough. Thanks again for this great blog. You guys are awesome!
David Rapp says
@John: you are way over thinking things. If I asked you what percentage of self-actualization have you realized in the last 9 months, how would you answer me? What is present angle of you divergence, and is the slope within permitted tolerances based on pre-established guidelines? The bottom line question is:
the other person in the relationship is growing in multiple ways, just like me. Can we both grow separately and together at the same time? The only thing preventing it from occuring naturally is the limitations you project onto it.
1. I love the theme of listening in this post. I find the top two ways to kill a relationship fast are: stop talking and stop listening. I am guilty of both. Being truthful in speech is tough, being honest in listening is even tougher.
2. Sacrifice. The best definition I ever heard is this “Sacrifice is giving up something Good for something Better.” Hanging with the guys on weekends was fun, hanging out with my wife and son is FAR better. Spending Friday night at home is good, surprising everyone with a delivered dinner is better.
All of these spoke to me, but in particular those related to forgiveness and letting go of the past (#9 & #10). I recently read a quote that I loved: “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.”
Carl @ Kids Magician says
I agree a lot with point number 17, listening to your partner is important, and it’s not always has to be verbal either. Paying close attention to they feel is a good indicator of expression.
WOW – several of these resonate with me. Reading this list I am struck with the overall sense that each of us is responsible for ourselves in our relationships. And we can only be responsible for ourselves. It’s not healthy and it doesn’t work when one partner is not responsible for his/her own feelings, contributions, thoughts, actions, etc. in a relationship. I can speak from experience that counseling does help break through this, but again, one must be willing to be responsible!
This article can be read and interpreted in a broader sense. My relationship with my teenage son is increasingly troubled and as I read your article I realize how many of your comments apply to relationships of all types, not just romantic. Thank you for this timely article, I will read it often and hopefully strengthen a fragile relationship with my teenager and our family.
Your post prompted me to touch base with a very good friend whom I have been neglecting lately. We’re having lunch this weekend. Thanks 🙂
Joshua Tilghman says
Great list. Personally, not talking when it’s time to listen has been the greatest challenge for my wife and I. So I began practicing active listening and it’s been a great game changer for us. Making sure to repeat what you think the other person is saying gives them the chance to validate it, which also calms them down and lets them feel as if you are really listening.
I think people who love each other must not be clingy they should sometimes give each other space to do things separately.
I agree that listening is very important in any relationship. And when we speak, we should realize the power of our words and use them with the intent of love.
I have to smile a little after reading this one. I try hard to only listen, but i am a chatty Cathy with an opinion for almost everything. I want to help, always. I am still practicing the listening only… #25… Fear… The “what if”. The stupid what if. Its getting better but still working on that one. I think it’d be easier if i hadn’t made a mistake. My mistake wasn’t solely what dissolved my marriage of 20 yrs, but i felt bad about myself for a long time. I am not that person. Mistakes aren’t my style.
Amazing list. Points 10, 13, 17 really resonated with me cause I believe that these are the most ignored things in relationships.
Relationships need to be an anchor not a weight. People can pull up an anchor and take it with them to help them. A weight will just drag you down further while you are drowning.
You may have touched on this, but I want to add that people in healthy relationships don’t try to make the others do things their way, or think the way they think by way of belittling, judging, and dictating.
They don’t take their relationships for granted+ they don’t try to fix. These are the two biggest flaws I experienced in my relationships. Thanks for the advice. My challenge is to find a great woman first and then make it work. Any advice on finding the right person?
People in healthy relationships don’t tell the other what they want to hear and dangle the carrot of encouragement to have their own needs met, only to tell the other person that they are not seen as a long term partner, just as a helpful friend… (and then still want sex).
There are too many points that resonated with me to choose just one. I am just coming out of an abusive relationship where I was constantly criticized about my nails, my hair, my style of dress, my laugh and on and on. He was controlling and possessive and now that I have left for the final time, he continues to call, email, text with promises of financial security. This is after name calling and unpredictable outbursts of anger. My message here is that your articles have been so helpful in getting me to the emotional and physical place of safety I in now. Thank you.
I guess my real take away is that our past makes us who we are, but doesn’t have to define us after we have learned the lessons from it.
Mary Jane Allen says
No doubt about it – yes these are certainly things we don’t want to do IF we choose to have a successful relationship! 🙂
@Dewi – who asks for advice on finding the right person?
I would say: “Be the right person … and you’ll find the right person for you.”
Thank you Angel, Marc and all the people contributing here.
No. 16 They don’t try to constantly “fix” the people they care about…
I have been guilty of this and now understand that assuming someone needs fixing, is assuming some kind of superiority over them. I am trying to remember that my partner has all the same resources that I have to create a peaceful & successful life for himself and by trying to fix him I am showing mistrust in his capabilities.
At 56 years of marriage I can say with certainty that friction points will occasionally pop up. We both have learned to talk about out likes and dislikes in a calm courteous manner. It takes time to let these differences sink in and be accommodated. But, the really big item in all this process is that I know that my wife loves me and I surely love her. With this base of knowledge, we can carry on thru thick and thin and not sweat getting blindsided. Bottom line guys: She’s gotta love you or you are a dead duck. 🙂
I’ve been thinking I’ve not been in a healthy relationship for some time. There are things my spouse is guilty of – too many to list really – which has resulted in me being guilty of others!
The question I struggle with right now is what to do – he is not going to change and in most cases doesn’t feel he needs to.
This article really helps me to understand where we are breaking down…
Marc Chernoff says
@Abdul Rauf: Do your best to give her an opportunity to work on her shortcomings and communicate, communicate… communicate.
@John: I think both parties can have unique goals and passions, but the one person they can’t wait to share their ideas with is with their significant other. Growing apart doesn’t happen when your spouse is your biggest cheerleader and you communicate (listen) effectively. Check out this video blog post: 6 Questions that Will Save Your Relationships.
@Kelly: I haven’t read that one before, love it! And, oh so true. 🙂
@Dewi: We’re all seeking those special relationships that feel perfect for us, but if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to realize that there are no “perfect people” for you, just different flavors of imperfect ones. That’s because we are all imperfect in some way. You yourself are imperfect in many ways, and you seek out relationships with people who are imperfect in complementary ways.
It takes a lot of life experience to grow fully into yourself and realize your own imperfections; and it isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest imperfections, your unsolvable flaws – the ones that truly define who you are – that you are able to proficiently select harmonious relationships. Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for imperfect people who balance you out – the perfectly imperfect people for you.
@All: Don’t beat yourself up if you’re still working through these lessons; we’re all a work in progress. The first step is to begin with ourselves. As Selenga said, BE the right person. Relationships happen in all walks of life… make sure you’re in happy, healthy ones.
And, as always, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.
I am working on 3 and 21, currently as they resonate with me. Growing a relationship takes effort and time, and knowing what not to do is key. Great advice.
heather morgan says
To love is easy.. But to show what really love is a ‘bit difficult. Love means having more rooms of mistake for his/her imperfections and at the same time room to forgive and forget.
I agree with everything in this post. Expecting others to love you when you don’t love yourself is one of my main obstacles. I’m currently going through a breakup atm and it hurts. ‘what if..’ keeps repeating in my head. Thought it would last forever. Don’t want to move on.
Great article! For not only relationships but friendships. I have a few toxic friendships I need to work on. Thank you. But I am lucky and blessed to be in an amazing relationship. Our key is laughter. Gotta be able to laugh. My mom also gave me great advice about marriage: ‘she said I don’t always like your father. I don’t always like myself but I always love him. There will be times when you are out of sync with your partner and things are rocky for months maybe years. But a few years compared to fifty?’ Smart woman.
For me, long term relationships are simply not worth the continual work, effort and bother. This is from a “time, effort, money and emotional cost” versus how I benefit from relationships.
I think it’s also important for people to know when they’re just not “long term relationship” material.
I know for me it’s been very liberating to stop worrying about either maintaining an LTR or worrying about my next one. This has greatly reduced the amount of stress in my life.
You definately have to let go of the past to move forward. Being happy with your own life and not expecting someone to make it happy for you is so important i think.
I havent had lots of relationships in my life. But had three in three years. And i could start to see a destructive pattern, being observant of what you do to contribute to relationships whether it is a positive or a negative is a big learning curve. Especially if you learn from them as i did. The hard way but luckily not too late.
Relationships can bring a lot of love and joy and should never be seen as hard work. If you think of a relationship as hard work you shoulnt be in it. Sometimes after a lot of hurt from the past you have to just be truly you and allow yourself to be the person that you really are and not a scaredy cat, not easy but it is the best way.
Really good article and one that i shall keep a note of so that i can refer back to it. Thanks 🙂
Joe Nova says
Every single one of these resonates with me. For most of them, I’m saying, “Yep, right on, that’s how I operate.” With a few, I’m saying to myself, “Wow, yeah I screwed up on this one. I could do a lot better.” Great article. One of the best I’ve ever read. Resonates so true.
My sweet boyfriend sent me this article as we have been struggling with our relationship. This information will hopefully help us to grow as individuals and as a couple. I am motivated to work on many of these points which resonated with me because I so love my man with all my heart. Thank you!!!!!
Constance Driver says
How about ‘LIE’….. They definitely don’t LIE to each other!!!
I struggle with everything…it’s just hard to maintain a happy environment. I have a bad past,and there were times where I didn’t know what I want…so my partner thinks that I don’t love him…that i’m playing with his feelings.Truth is I love him and I just want us to work and make our relationship a success. I truly love him