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Building and maintaining healthy relationships

6-minute read

Healthy relationships with your partner and family members can enhance your life and make everyone feel good about themselves. They don’t just happen though; healthy relationships take time to build and need work to keep them healthy. The more positive effort you put into a relationship, the healthier it should be.

What are the signs of a healthy relationship?

People in healthy relationships love and support each other. They help each other practically as well as emotionally. They are there for each other in the good times and the bad times.

Healthy relationships are commonly based on:

  • respect
  • trust
  • open communication
  • equality
  • both shared and individual interests
  • understanding
  • honesty
  • care
  • emotional support
  • shared values around finances, child raising and other important matters

What are the benefits of healthy relationships?

People who have healthy relationships are more likely to feel happier and satisfied with their lives. They are less likely to have physical and mental health problems.

Healthy relationships can:

  • increase your sense of worth and belonging and help you feel less alone
  • give you confidence
  • support you to try out new things and learn more about yourself

Communication in a healthy relationship

People who are in a healthy relationship talk to each other regularly and listen to each other too.

Misunderstandings can happen, and that can lead to people being upset, hurt or confused.

It is best to be clear about what you want to say. Making a real effort to understand what the other person is saying also helps. Double checking that you have understood correctly can avoid misunderstandings.

Just because you love each other doesn’t mean you will be able to communicate well or know what the other is thinking.

To encourage more open communication in your relationship:

  • set aside time to speak to each other, without interruptions
  • put yourself in the other person’s shoes
  • don’t rely on the other person to guess what is going on, or how you are feeling
  • listen to each other, and make sure the other person knows you are listening to them
  • let the other person finish what they are saying
  • talk about things honestly and respectfully
  • try not to be too defensive
  • stay calm and try not to attack

Communication is not just talking; non-verbal communication — your posture, tone of voice, facial expressions — can tell the other person how you feel. Non-verbal communication can even undermine what you’re saying if your behaviour doesn’t match your words.

How can I maintain healthy relationships?

Building healthy relationships with partners, friends and family is good for you. It improves your mood, your mental health and your wellbeing.

Maintaining them is important. It takes time and commitment. No relationship is perfect, but it is important that it brings you more happiness than stress. Here are some tips for a healthy relationship.

Be clear about what you want

Assertive communication helps make your point more clearly than passive or aggressive communication. It means you make your point clearly and honestly, while respecting the other person's point of view.

Try using ‘I’ statements instead of accusatory ‘you’ statements. For example, say "I really hate it when you don't clean up the dishes" rather than "You never help me in the kitchen".

Say sorry when you’re wrong

This is really important as it helps heal relationship breakdowns that inevitably occur.

Be affectionate and show appreciation

Relationships can become routine after a while. Make special time together and continue to show your affection. Even just snuggling on the couch after work helps show intimacy.

Make the relationship a priority

It can be hard to balance relationships, work, family and friends. You can help establish a work-life balance by setting limits at work and learning to say no – this will ensure you make time for your relationship.

Develop shared interests

Finding hobbies you both enjoy allows you to spend time together. This could be as simple as doing a night class together or taking up a new sport.

Work on feeling good about yourself

Feeling good about yourself allows you to give the best to your relationships. Taking time to do what you enjoy can help.

Healthy friendships maintain your happiness and self-esteem, so it is important that you stay in touch with your friends when you are in a relationship.

One of the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship is when you quit activities you used to enjoy because of your partner.

Find solutions that work for both of you

Conflict is a part of any relationship. It is essential that you both respect and accept your differences and similarities. Finding solutions that work for both of you will probably require compromise at different times.

Make plans for the future

By making plans for the future together, you both show you are in the relationship for the long term.

Family time

Finding time together as a family can be difficult, but there are many benefits to regularly sharing family meals. Even one family meal a week gives everyone a chance to catch up, connect and communicate with each other.

Having relationship issues?

It is normal to have ups and downs in a relationship. It is also normal to have different opinions. Relationships, and people, change over time.

Your relationship is not healthy if one person has more power than another, or if that person is abusive or violent.

When a relationship ends

The end of a relationship can be a very painful time. It may take 2 or 3 years for people whose long-term relationship has ended to recover and to put their lives together again. Some people develop serious health and emotional problems during this time.

Resources and support

If you would like to talk to someone, here are some organisations that can help:

  • Lifeline (anyone having a personal crisis) — call 13 11 14 or chat online.
  • MensLine Australia (online counselling and forum for men) — call 1300 78 99 78.
  • Relationships Australia provides support groups and relationship counselling, including for people in an abusive relationship - call 1300 364 277.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2021


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