What makes a good relationship?
What makes a good relationship? Chances are, your answer to this question will be different to your friend’s and probably even your partner’s. There’s someone for everyone after all, so it should follow that what makes a good relationship for one, does not for another.
Pose the same question to a relationship expert however, and the consensus is that whilst there are many desirables in what constitutes a good relationship, there are certain, ‘fundamental building blocks’ without which the relationship struggles to get off the ground.
Here, our experts reveal what they think makes a good relationship.
1. Conscious communication
"A good relationship is something you create together and then look after together, and good communication is a big part of that," says psychodynamic counsellor Lynne McAllister.
'Open' communication is good, but you can have open communication and just be screaming at each other. Conscious communication is about being mindful about how you communicate.
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"I often use the analogy of a boat: before you got together, you were sailing your separate yachts. Then you decided to get into a boat together, and now you must sail it together. But you need to feel safe, and in order to do that you need to be communicating your needs calmly and kindly and checking in with your partner regularly to ask, 'How are things for you? Are they still ok for you in this boat?'"
"Just because you’re in a partnership with someone they don’t become telepathic. You have to make the effort to communicate with clarity and kindness."
"Honesty is one of my four fundamental building blocks to a good relationship," says Kate Daly, Co-Founder of the leading online divorce services provider, amicable. "The others being mutual respect, good communication and trust. The thing about honesty is that if you can’t be honest with yourself, you’re not likely to be able to be honest in the relationship."
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"A lot of people tell themselves stories to make themselves feel better and to excuse their behaviour, so you need to ask, have you, and has the person you are with, reached sufficient maturity to be able to be honest with themselves? Because if they can’t, and they have an over-inflated ego, or make excuses, there’s little hope of honesty in the relationship."
"Relationships are an organic, ever-changing thing, so flexibility is vital," says McAllister.
"It’s about being confident enough with your partner to understand that in some situations, they might know better, they might be the better person to drive the boat that day."
"It’s about not having to always be right but being able to take on board someone else’s ideas and knowing that sometimes, their ideas are better than yours."
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4. Mutual respect
"Respect is so integral to a good relationship, because it’s integral to our self-esteem," says therapist Belinda Sidhu from Therapyfinders.co.uk. "When respect breaks down you feel taken for granted instead of cherished; you feel less than. When that happens you can generate a sense of resentment with that other person. You feel like you can’t communicate and that can break down everything in the relationship."
So how do you know you are being respected?
"You feel supported, you feel happy and you feel listened to," says Sidhu. "Crucially, you feel like your feelings are honoured and taken into account – whether or not the other person agrees with them."
Daly adds that sometimes, in order to see what a good relationship is, it’s a good idea to look at what’s not. For instance, "If someone is critiquing your personality rather than your behaviour, then that’s not respectful," she says. "Neither is sarcasm, name-calling or mockery of your ideas or personality."
"When people are respectful they tend to be enquiring and curious about your point of view – they should be saying something like, 'Why do you think that?'. When people are being disrespecting, they tend to be critical."
Relationship expert Paul Brunson says using your love language to show your love is vital to building a great relationship.
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"When I worked for Oprah, she would say that every time she would interview a celebrity, a CEO, or royalty, when the camera turned off they would always turn to her and say, 'Was I ok?' In essence, what she was saying is they wanted to be affirmed. Even someone at that high status still needs to be affirmed. It's the same thing in a relationship. We all need to be affirmed. The best way to be affirmed is through your love language, e.g if it's physical touch, having your partner touch you," says Brunson.
"Because people change – their opinions, their dreams; everything – staying curious is so important," says McAllister. "But it’s about being curious about someone for a lifetime, not just at the beginning; staying curious about the person, not just your other half."
"Ask open questions like, 'Is where we are still working out for you? What do you think about such and such? Has your opinion changed?' If you don’t check in regularly, you might find that when you do, it’s already too late and that you’re on different boats, docking in different harbours."
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7. Ability to problem solve
A big part of good communication is being able to resolve conflict which will always come up, says Brunson.
"Every relationship involves disagreements and arguments. People think that this is a bad thing, but it's a good thing. What happens when you resolve an argument is you become stronger as a couple. Bad relationships are where you can't resolve things."
"Making decisions jointly, understanding how those decisions impact both of you and co-creating solutions makes a healthy relationship," says Daly.
8. Prioritising each other
"After you meet and there is that initial spark of attraction and you fall deeply in love with their soul, it can be so easy for life – children, families, work – to take over," says McAllister. "So a good relationship is about prioritising that soul, that person above all else – yes, even the children.
"And the thing is, it needs to be conscious because a lot of things happen by accident in relationships. Human beings have a tendency to be selfish, so you have to consciously lean into compromise, work at the partnership and think about what it means to be a couple, including what you can do to strengthen that relationship.
"Otherwise, the differences between you become magnified and you drift apart. Then you wake up when the kids have left and suddenly think: I don’t know you anymore. Or worse, I don’t like you."
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9. Physical intimacy
"We like to feel desired, physically, and to be touched as human beings, but it doesn’t have to be sex it can be holding hands, kissing or lying together," says Sidhu. "It all contributes to that feeling of safety which is a space where love can grow.
"Without that physical intimacy your partner can start to feel like a stranger. And once that sets in it can be hard to reverse."
10. Emotional vulnerability
"Emotional vulnerability comes down to being courageous enough to look inside yourself, understand and share your own feelings. In any situation, you need to be looking at the issues you’ve brought to the table from your unconscious, from your childhood and say to yourself, what do I need to do, or not do to make this situation better. What is my part in this?" explains Daly.
"We all start to hide the bits of us we don’t like and emotional vulnerability, it’s about being real about those. It allows people to see the person you don’t like as well as the one you do. It’s important to show this because if you are showing your whole self and are loved and accepted for that, it makes you feel valued. It gives depth and meaning to your relationship."
"In a good relationship there’s a genuine desire to see the other person grow," adds Daly. "And to want what’s best for them, but also to grow together."
"Most people see trust in a relationship as trusting someone not to be unfaithful romantically. But trust is much bigger than that," says Daly. "It’s about being reliable with the day-to-day stuff and doing what you say you’re going to do, such as ‘I’ll sort dinner’ or ‘I’ll pick up the kids from school.'
"Breaking the trust erodes a relationship. It can lead to being excluded from arrangements, or bitterness – none of which constitute a ‘good’ relationship."
Daly advises couples to trust each other so you can get the most out of the partnership. "When you have time apart, that time shouldn't be a time of anxiety and wondering what the other person is up to. It’s for doing nice things separately," she says.
"If you don’t trust that other person not to be in your company and not know where the boundary is between having fun and being flirtatious, then that will come back to haunt you."
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