Most of us have read enough and been through enough to know the signs to look out for that indicate a relationship’s gone toxic. We pretty instinctively recognize a dating red flag when it pops up on the first meeting with someone, and consciously try to avoid the codependency that comes with losing our identity to our partner.
But how do we know if our relationship is, well, just actually working? They say when you know, you know – but sometimes it’s nice to have reassurance you’re on the right track.
Read on for 11 signs you’re actually in a really healthy adult relationship — and some tips on how to keep it that way…
1. You like doing things together
This might seem obvious, but if you’re in a relationship with someone, you should actually enjoy being with each other. You don’t have to like all the same things, but having shared interests is essential. Whether it’s watching sports, hiking, or just sitting next to each other reading quietly, you genuinely like hanging out together.
2. You can relax with each other
You don’t have to let it all hang out all the time, never dressing up or trying to make a good impression, but you’re not always on your best behavior either, constantly trying to look perfect and say the right thing, all the while wondering if your partner is silently judging you. You’re secure enough to be yourself, and you know your S.O. loves you just as you are.
3. You know how to fight fair
Fights are part of any healthy relationship; the key is knowing how to fight. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work author, Dr. John Gottman says it’s all about how you approach those inevitable conflicts when they arise.
According to Gottman, the first three minutes of a fight are crucial, as they set the tone for how the rest of the discussion will go, and should ideally be a ‘soft startup,’ which means you don’t begin an argument by attacking your partner.
Fighting can feel upsetting and awful, but if you and your partner are able to have constructive arguments that end with both of you feeling heard and loved, you’re doing great. And wouldn’t it be sad if neither of you cared enough to fight about anything, ever?
4. You both admit when you’re wrong — and say you’re sorry
Love definitely does mean having to say you’re sorry. Part of knowing how to fight is being able to admit when you screwed up — and apologize for it.
After a fight, both partners should be willing to own up and accept their share of responsibility for what happened. It shouldn’t always be the same person apologizing. No one is right all the time, or wrong all the time. (Besides, most of the time fights aren’t about right or wrong anyway.)
Couples who aren’t afraid to say, “I messed up, and I’m sorry” after the dust has settled on an argument are doing something right.
5. Three words: lots of sex
Let’s just admit it: if you’re not doing it, it’s not working. And if it’s not good, why bother? Therapist and author of The Sex-Starved Marriage, Michele Weiner-Davis, says good sex “offers couples opportunities to give and receive physical pleasure, to connect emotionally and spiritually. It builds closeness, intimacy and a sense of partnership. It defines their relationship as different from all others. In short, sex is a powerful tie that binds.”
The definition of ‘lots’ will vary from couple to couple, but here’s something to keep in mind: therapists define a sexless marriage as one in which couples have sex less than 10 times a year, which is slightly less than once a month.
6. You celebrate each other’s successes
Sure, you’re there for each other when things go wrong — but how do you respond when things are going great for your partner? Experts say that’s often more important to a relationship.
UC Santa Barbara associate professor of psychology, Dr. Shelly Gable conducted an experiment in which she asked couples to talk about negative and positive things that had happened to them recently, then categorized their partner’s response on a scale of most destructive to most helpful. Gable found praise for positive things made the most impact on people, even more than sympathy for sad stuff. The worst reaction was passivity, no matter what people were responding to.
Being happy and enthusiastic about your partner’s success is a recipe for a healthy, happy relationship.
7. You laugh together
Have you ever fallen in love with someone who didn’t make you laugh? Nope? There’s a reason for that. Getting each other’s sense of humor, cracking each other up, being playful together — all these things are clues that your relationship is firing on all cylinders. Plus, having a sense of humor makes life a lot more fun, and sharing it with your partner is key.
When the laughter starts to die out of your relationship, it’s a surefire sign the spark has faded.
8. You can have comfortable silences
When you can be quiet together and neither of you is simmering with resentment or desperately wondering how to break the silence, it’s a beautiful thing.
You don’t have to talk all the time when you’re in a healthy relationship. You can let conversation ebb and flow, work or read side by side comfortably, and not get scared that something is wrong.
9. You spend time apart and are really okay with it
In a healthy relationship, both partners have their own interests and strong independent friendships outside the relationship. You’re not attached at the hip, going everywhere together and replacing all of each others’ friends. You don’t even have to live together.
Out of sight isn’t out of mind, necessarily — or at least, not for long. Rather, a little bit of absence really can make the heart go fonder. Plus, when you come back together again, you’ll have more to talk about (see #11, below).
10. You’re not worried about the future
We’ve all had those relationships where we’re constantly trying to figure out where we stand and where the relationship is headed. But in a healthy relationship, you’re not always wondering what’s coming next.
That doesn’t mean you never think about the future, but you’re content to be in the moment, not worrying whether you should break up with your partner or whether you’re meant to be together forever.
11. And you can still surprise each other
Relationships can get boring after a while if you don’t continue to actively work on them; you’ve heard all each other’s stories 37 times before, know what your S.O. likes to do on a Friday night after work, can reliably get each other off in bed and still squeeze in a chapter of your book before you go to sleep.
But the best relationships still have that element of surprise, and that keeps things interesting.
Psychologist and marriage counselor Esther Perel says introducing new and unexpected elements into your relationship not only infuses it with passion but also triggers the same rush of feelings you had when you were first falling in love, which is why that ‘in love’ feeling never completely goes away in the healthiest relationships.