Healthy Relationships


We have all heard this one before: “Relationships, just like a house, should be built on a strong foundation”. But what if I know nothing about construction, or where to begin building a strong foundation? Where do I even start? This is because we rarely see how “houses” are built. We sort of just move in, don’t we?

Many of us grow up in a home environment where toxic or unhealthy relationships are seen as normal, and where there are sometimes no relationship guides at all because of single parenthood or unstable home environments. No wonder we sometimes don’t know where to begin looking to see if our relationships are healthy and built on solid foundations. Well, as with all good construction, before we start building we first need a blueprint.


1. Relationships takes hard work

So many times we find ourselves wondering, “Why can’t it be like in the movies?” It’s probably because movies make it seem easy; they rarely show the work that goes into real-life relationships. But in real life, relationships take work, and if you are not willing to put in the work required to keep your relationship healthy, it is probably not worth the effort.


“It is important to remember that healthy relationships ultimately help you to be your best self; they are based on trust, respect and understanding.” (Craig, 2020)


Healthy relationships take two people who value each other, who are willing to be open and honest, to learn how to grow together as a couple, and to forgive. It is an equal contribution in ways that build the relationship without any power plays.


2. Communication is key

Open communication is essential to all healthy relationships, and is essentially a willingness to be vulnerable. Your communication with your partner should be honest and respectful, especially regarding the difficult things. In healthy relationships there should be no guessing games, but rather an open conversation about your physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental needs. But it’s not all talk, it’s being able to listen and being listened to. Listen to understand rather than to respond. This will allow communication without fear of judgement.


3. Interact

Give your partner your undivided attention, and show interest in their daily activities. Asking thoughtful questions shows that you are present in the moment. Intimacy plays an important role in any relationship, but there are ways for you and your partner to be intimate. Small gestures of affection, comforting words, shared laughs, and other pockets of joy-filled intimate moments can create the quality relationship that you want. Liking one another goes further than love, it means that you are truly interested in each other and fond of each other, you are together because of attraction rather than obligation.


4. Empathy

Take a step into your partner’s shoes. Empathy is crucial for long-term love, as it gives us the ability to understand our partner’s perspective, even if we disagree with it. It puts us in a position to regulate our own emotions but also help us to make sense of theirs. Cultivating empathy in our relationships helps with appreciation for one another, mutual growth, and patience.


5. Boundaries

In all relationships one fundamental skill to learn is to always ask and never assume. Assuming creates the pretext that we know our partner better than they do themselves. It is important to realise that your partner is still their own person and has their own needs, wants, and goals. Assuming takes away their ability to communicate. Not assuming shows your partner that you are sensitive to their needs and that you are willing to listen. It also shows your partner that you respect their individuality and personal boundaries.

The sweet spot in any relationship is where similarities we share create a foundation to connect with each other, but individual differences are still respected and valued. Moreover, it is important to give each other the freedom to live their own life and to grow as an individual and couple. Within a healthy relationship both parties should take responsibility for their actions and take action to fix problems. Avoid rationalising why or what you did but rather take accountability for it. This is very important in good conflict management.


6. Conflict

Anyone who tells you that they have no conflict in their relationship is either a liar or they severely lack passion. Conflict is a natural part of all relationships and in most cases necessary for relationships to grow and become strong. Interestingly enough, couples that hide their upset with one another in order to preserve the illusion of everything being perfect are probably worse off than those who express their emotions and work on issues as they arise.

In many instances, when we are conflict avoiders, we tend to be threatening to our partner, as they feel we are unapproachable and judging. Managing conflict in our relationships requires us to refrain from stonewalling and escalating conversations into personal attacks when there is a difference in opinion or a problem that needs work. Rather, it requires us to talk it through with respect, empathy, and understanding. Make sure that you take spite out of the equation, and make it a fair fight by focusing on the issue at hand and leaving old arguments at the door. The most effective conflict resolution tool in your bag is the willingness to forgive. With that in mind we are able to calmly work our way through conflict situations to arrive at peaceful conclusions.


The problem with building healthy relationships is that too often we tend to want to learn how to build a strong foundation when the cracks are already showing in the walls. So, whether you are in a relationship or not, these skills should be learned as soon as possible. However, if you do find yourself in a relationship where cracks are starting to show, working together could help you to bring the changes needed for a healthy and happy relationship.

7. Books to Read

  • Getting the love you want by Harville Hendrix
  • Hold me tight by Sue Johnson
  • 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • Models: Attract women through honesty by Mark Manson
  • The science of happily ever after by Ty Tashiro


8. TED Talks to watch

Skills for health romantic relationships by Joanne Davila:

4 Habits of all successful relationships by Dr Andrea & Jonathan Taylor-Cummings:

Relationships are hard, but why? By Stan Tatkin:





Bonior, A. (2018). What does a healthy relationship look like?. Retrieved from

Power of Positivity. (2015). 10 signs you’re in a healthy relationship. Retrieved from

Respect Team. (2018). Goals for 2018: Healthy Relationships. Retrieved from

Robinson, L., Smith, M., & Segal, J. (2019). Tips for building a healthy relationship. Retrieved from


Written by Bianca Brits (Registered Counsellor at Thuso, Vanderbijlpark Campus)

July 2020