Close up photo of two people holding hands.

Whether you’re dating, married or just figuring it out, here are a few things to look for when it comes to healthy relationships.


1. Communication

One hallmark of a healthy relationship is the ability for partners to communicate openly with each other about how they’re feeling. This can also be an important step in building empathy and compassion for one another.

If it’s difficult to share our true feelings with the other person, it may mean we need to work with our partner to build more trust within the relationship. 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.

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 with a significant other. Expressing your needs and naming your limits are just two examples of healthy boundary-setting. Remember that a healthy relationship is also one in which boundaries are honored.


2. 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 listened to and understood.

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 shouldn’t always be one way.

If one partner actively disrespects, ignores or demeans the other person, this is abusive behavior. 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, staff and faculty who may be experiencing these types of behaviors in their relationship.


3. Disagreements

Disagreements and conflict are normal in any relationship. It’s common to have different preferences, beliefs and values from our significant others. 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 also can’t assume that someone can inherently 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 conflicts escalate and feel difficult to resolve, it may 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, staff and faculty who may be experiencing these types of behavior in their relationship.


4. Mutual intimacy

Healthy relationships allow space for mutual intimacy and connection. This means partners are able to establish healthy boundaries and talk openly about emotional and physical desires as well as what that looks like for them in a relationship. This includes talking about sex, what you want and don’t want and what feels good (or doesn’t). These types of conversations require attention and regular check-ins with our partners.

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, staff and faculty who may be experiencing these types of behaviors in their relationship.


5. Trust

It’s important to maintain relationships outside of our 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 accuses 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 as well as symptoms of depression or anxiety. OVA provides free and confidential support and resources for students, staff and faculty 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.

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.

Resources for students

The Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)

OVA provides free and confidential trauma-specific counseling and advocacy for students, staff and faculty around various traumatic experiences, including intimate partner abuse and domestic violence. Call 303-492-8855 (24/7) to talk to an advocacy counselor. You can also browse more information related to Intimate Partner Abuse on their website.

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS)

CAPS works with students to address a variety of mental health concerns, including navigating relationships. They also offer process therapy groups to help students learn valuable skills related to building and maintaining healthy relationships with friends, family and romantic partners.

Don’t Ignore It

This free online resource can 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. 

Resources for staff and faculty

The Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)

OVA provides free and confidential support for students, staff and faculty around various traumatic experiences, including intimate partner abuse and domestic violence. Call 303-492-8855 (24/7) to talk to an advocacy counselor. You can also browse more information related to Intimate Partner Abuse on their website.

Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP)

FSAP staff are trained as generalist counselors and are equipped to deal with a wide range of personal and work related issues. They are here to provide free mental health services to all CU Boulder employees, including workshops, brief individual therapy and couples counseling sessions. 

Don’t Ignore It

This free online resource can 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. 

Additional resources

The Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN)

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

This organization 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.  

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

This 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

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.

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