A couple sitting on a bench after a hike

Whether you’ve been in a relationship before or this is your first, here are a few things that are essential for a healthy relationship.


1: Open communication

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

If it’s difficult to share true feelings with the other person, it may mean more trust needs to be built. Holding back feelings could mean that we aren’t sure how the other person will respond or we’re afraid of being judged. Oftentimes, especially in a new relationship, it means we’re still learning how to communicate effectively with one another.

However, 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 helpful to set boundaries. Expressing your needs and naming your limits are just two examples of healthy boundary-setting, and a healthy relationship is one where boundaries are honored.


2: Listening and feeling heard

Having someone listen to us and feeling heard is important. In a healthy relationship, both people 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. But compromise should not always be one way.

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


3: Working through disagreements

Disagreements and conflict are normal in any relationship. It’s common to have different preferences, beliefs and values from our significant other. In some cases, conflict can be a sign that something needs to change within a relationship. Many times, couples who ignore or avoid conflict risk facing increased tensions and unmet needs. However, the way couples respond to conflict is more important than the conflict itself.

Working through a disagreement in a healthy way by talking respectfully and listening to understand each other 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 using “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.” You can download a free PDF for examples of active listening and “I” statements from Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (SCCR).

If conflict escalates and feels difficult to resolve, it can sometimes cause us to fear disagreeing with our partners because it may trigger a partner’s anger, abuse or violence. Partners may resort to belittling the other person during disagreements. These are all signs that it may be time to reach out for support. OVA provides confidential support and resources for students who may be experiencing these types of behavior in their relationship.


4: Mutual intimacy

Healthy romantic relationships allow space and mutual respect for intimacy and connection. Partners are able to establish healthy boundaries and talk openly about emotional and physical desires and what that looks like in their relationship. This includes talking about sex, such as what you want and don’t want and what feels good (or doesn’t). This requires attention and ongoing communication in healthy relationships.

If one or both partners feels 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 are upsetting or unwanted, this is a sign of abusive behavior. OVA provides free and confidential support and resources for students who may be experiencing these types of behaviors in their relationship.


5: Trust

It’s important to maintain relationships outside of our romantic relationships in order to have a strong support system. In healthy relationships, significant others 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 behaviors 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

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