Relationship check up: what is healthy?

Signs of a healthy relationship

28 October 2019

Dear Maddi,

What are signs of a healthy relationship and what are some signs of an unhealthy relationship? I recently just got into my first romantic relationship and could really use some guidance as a compass.

Looking for signs

This is an excellent question! Whether you are a rookie or a seasoned vet in romantic relationships, it is important to routinely examine what we need in a mutually safe and healthy relationship. It can be challenging to agree on the specific components that make relationships healthy or unhealthy because there are contextual, personal, and cultural factors that go into our perception of what makes a relationship work. One thing is certain, we all deserve to be in intimate partnerships where we feel respected, accepted, and safe to be ourselves.

Although the exact qualities we need in our relationships can vary, it may be helpful to create a list of examples that would help identify whether our relationship is healthy or not. My colleague recently shared an idea of using a traffic light to help evaluate whether a relationship is healthy (green), unhealthy (yellow), or abusive (red). Here are some ideas to get you started:

Healthy (GREEN)

Unhealthy (YELLOW)

Abusive (RED)

Enjoy each other's company and look forward to spending quality time together.

Open and honest communication about needs, preferences, and concerns.

Support each other's interests, relationships, and time alone.

Trust and safety in multiple domains (e.g. physical, emotional, intimacy, social).

Mutually caring, encouraging, and respectful behaviours.

Shared decision-making and role responsibility.

Non-coercive, consensual intimacy and sexual activity.

Encouragement and support to pursue personal goals.

Taking responsibility for one's own behaviours and not attempting to change the other person.

Increased time spent apart or not being prioritized as compared to other obligations.

Increased time together to the point of sacrificing other relationships or interests.

Activities done together tend to be limited to one partner's interest.

Withholding information or decisions that may be relevant to the relationship or partner.

Inconsiderate actions or behaviours.

Breaks in communication such as ignoring/shutting down, raising voice, or deflecting issues.

Conflicts tend to be avoided or left unresolved.

Increased insistence or pressure by partner despite expressing your position repeatedly.

At times, feeling uncomfortable in their presence.

Increased isolation from friends, family, or other activities.

Threats to hurt you or themselves if their requests/needs are not met.

Name calling, put downs, and/or insults to your character.

Constant inquiries about your whereabouts and who you're with.

Accusations of flirting, cheating, or lying even when there is no indication.

Frequent violations of your boundaries (e.g. physical, social, emotional, sexual, financial).

Stalking or keeping tabs on you (including online/social media).

Physical violence and/or threats to hurt you or people you love.

Physical or verbal Intimidation.

Being pressured to do things that make you feel uncomfortable

Keep in mind that any relationship can move between all three categories and at times, even healthy relationships may reveal some features of unhealthy behaviours. It is important to speak up about your concern and work together to improve the relationship. In contrast, abusive behaviours have no place in healthy relationships and are typically characterized by emotionally threatening or physically harmful actions that make us feel scared, unwanted, and/or confused. Having personal space and enjoying relationships outside of your romantic partner is important to your well-being. Therefore, it is important to practice regular check-ins with your feelings, express your needs, and to keep trusted family and friends in the loop about your romantic relationships.

For additional information about healthy and unhealthy relationships, the CCS website has a goodhandout on the topic. Also, has some great resources about relationships, includingdating basics, and aquiz about the healthiness of your relationship.

Remember, if you or anyone is expressing concern in their relationships, it is important to get some help. You can visit theSexual Assault Centre or thePeer Support Centre during their drop-in hours. You can also book anInitial Consult at Counselling & Clinical Services or speak to a community broker atACCESS Open Minds.

I wish you a safe journey towards building a healthy relationship with your partner.

Thanks for sharing a great question!

Anyone experiencing fear or feeling threatened in their relationships can obtain immediate assistance by contacting Protective Services (780-492-5050), notifying the police (780-423-4567), or phoning the 24/7 distress line (780-482-4357).

Written by Jasmine Bajwa, University of Alberta Counselling and Clinical Services Satellite Psychologist.

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