A couple sitting on a bench after a hike

Whether you’ve been in a relationship before or this is your first, here are some things to look for in a healthy relationship.


Open communication

One indicator of a healthy relationship is the ability to communicate openly. Partners should be able to talk about how they’re feeling and empathize with one another.

Dr. Daniel Raedel, clinical psychologist at Counseling and Psychiatric Services, says, “Generally, ‘assertive communication’ is considered the healthiest and most adaptive approach to communicating. Assertive communication includes being open and respectful of our partner’s point of view, while being honest, forthcoming and confident about our own perspective and needs.”

If it’s difficult to share how you’re truly feeling with the other person, it may mean it’s time to work on communicating differently. Sometimes this happens because we aren’t sure how the other person will respond. Oftentimes, especially in a new relationship, it means we’re still practicing how we communicate with each other.

Communication can become unhealthy when one partner in the relationship feels the need to influence the other person’s thoughts or behavior. In this situation, it can be important to set boundaries. Expressing your needs and naming your limits are just two examples of boundary-setting.


Listening and feeling heard

Having someone listen to us and feeling heard is important. In a healthy relationship, both partners should feel relatively comfortable bringing up issues, expressing themselves and listening to one another. While not every conversation is going to be easy, both partners should feel that they will be heard.

When a person’s feelings or needs are ignored or not respected, the relationship can suffer. It’s important for both partners to make space for the other person. Compromise and ongoing communication are key in respecting each other’s feelings, needs and values.

If one partner actively disrespects, ignores or demeans the other, this behavior is abusive. Partners who behave this way may also treat someone’s ideas or feelings with contempt. CU’s Office of Victim’s Assistance (OVA) offers free and confidential support for students who may be experiencing these types of behaviors in their relationship.


Working through disagreements

Disagreements and conflict are normal in any relationship. It’s common to have different preferences, beliefs and values from your partner. Dr. Raedel described conflict as often being healthy and necessary in relationships. “Conflict can be a sign that change is warranted in a relationship. Couples who [avoid conflict] risk their needs going unmet. How couples respond to conflict is more important than the conflict itself.”

Working through a disagreement in a healthy way by speaking respectfully and listening to understand is an important component of any relationship, whether it’s with a friend, family member or significant other. We can’t assume that someone can see an issue from our point of view.

If disagreements turn into fights more often than not, it may be time to evaluate how you’re communicating with one another. Try the use of “I” statements to soften language and use assertive communication. For example, “I would like you to stop doing that,” is a healthier way to say “you need to stop doing that.”

If conflict escalates and feels difficult to resolve, it can sometimes cause a fear of disagreeing because of the risk of triggering their partner’s anger, abuse or violence. If there is a disagreement, the partner may respond by belittling the other person. OVA provides confidential support and resources for students who may be experiencing these types of behavior in their relationship.


Intimacy

Healthy romantic relationships allow space and mutual respect for intimacy (i.e. closeness). Partners are able to establish healthy boundaries and talk openly about physical affection and what that looks like in their relationship. This includes talking about sexual activities they feel comfortable engaging in (or not), what they like (or don’t like) and what feels good (or doesn’t). Having regular conversations ensures everyone is on the same page.

If one or both partners feel embarrassed or unwilling to say how they feel because they’re worried their partner may not listen or care, it can make intimacy more stressful than enjoyable. If one partner’s needs and wants are ignored or if they are pushed into situations that frighten or degrade them, this is a sign of abusive behavior. OVA provides free and confidential support and resources for students who may be experiencing these types of behavior in their relationship.


Trust

It’s important to maintain connections outside of our romantic relationships in order to have a strong support system. Dr. Raedel described trust as “one of the biggest barometers for the quality of the relationship.” In healthy relationships, partners trust one another. Trust is about knowing that someone will do what they say. It also can mean that each person in the relationship feels free to spend time with other people in their life like friends and family.

A relationship can become unhealthy when one person feels jealous every time their partner talks to or spends time with other people in their life.

If one partner is accusing the other of flirting constantly or tells their partner not to talk to or interact with another person in their life these may be signs of abusive behavior and mistrust. These types of behavior can lead to feelings of isolation and symptoms of depression or anxiety. OVA provides free and confidential support and resources for students who may be experiencing these types of behavior in their relationship.


Resources

If you or someone you know is currently experiencing unhealthy or abusive behaviors from a significant other or family member, there are resources that can help.

CU Boulder Resources

The Office of Victim Assistance (OVA) at CU Boulder provides free and confidential support for students, staff and faculty around various traumatic experiences, including intimate partner abuse and domestic violence. Please call 303-492-8855. OVA is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. After hours support is also available at 303-492-8855, press menu option 2. You can also view their handout to learn more about Healthy, Unhealthy and Abusive Relationships.  

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) works with students to create personalized care plans specific to their needs, including those who may be struggling to navigate relationships. Please call 303-492-2277 and follow the prompts to connect with a CAPS counselor. 

Don't Ignore It is a free online resource to help students, staff, faculty and community members navigate reporting options and get help for themselves or others. If it feels wrong, it probably is. Don't ignore it. 

Colorado Resources

The Safehouse Progessive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN) provides a number of services to the Boulder community, including a 24/7 crisis line, shelter, counseling, legal advocacy, housing and transitional services and anti-violence education. 

Violence Free Colorado can provide information on shelters and 24/7 hotlines throughout Colorado. They also provide other information related to intimate partner abuse and domestic violence specific to Colorado.  

National Resources

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 and offers support in more than 200 languages at 1-800-799-7233. You can also chat with someone through their website at thehotline.org/help. All phone calls and chats are confidential.

The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ communities. Access 24/7 support by calling 1-866-488-7386. Support is also available through online chat and texting.