Have you ever been in the grocery store checkout line, or maybe in the pew at Mass, when you see an adorable older, married couple? You know – the couples who still flirt with each other even after fifty years of marriage, and hold hands on the way out to the car?
We’ve all seen that couple (and wanted to be like them!). But fears about divorce rates and unhappy marriages can leave us wondering if we’ll ever be in a healthy, balanced, relationship that strives for holiness.
How do you know if a relationship is healthy, happy and strong? Take a look at these six signs to help you discern:
1. God comes first in your relationship
Without a doubt, the surest way to focus your relationship on striving for sanctity is to place God as the first priority in the relationship. His presence should be reflected in your words, thoughts, and actions together as a couple.
Want to strengthen your relationship? Prayer together is a way to strengthen your relationship with each other and with the Lord. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary to spend time praying with the person you’re discerning with. But, let’s be honest. Inviting someone into your prayer life can leave you feeling vulnerable. If you desire God to be at the center of your relationship, began by praying for your relationship.
Then, as you get to know each other better, began to pray with each other. When Joseph and I were dating, we wrote a prayer for our relationship together. Another tangible decision we made was that we chose Saint Pope John Paul II as the patron saint of our relationship. In the beginning of our relationship, we spent time together in Mass and adoration. Now that we’re married, our spiritual relationship is still growing deeper. We still petition Saint Pope John Paul II at the end of our prayers. We have an adoration hour together weekly, and we still pray that relationship prayer that we wrote almost three years ago. Keeping Christ at the center of our marriage has been one of the best choices we’ve ever made for our relationship.
2. You don’t need each other
“I don’t need you.” Although those words seem harsh and cold, hearing them from my then-boyfriend was actually a sign for me that our relationship was healthy and balanced. He didn’t mean that he didn’t want to spend time with me, but rather, that he was dependent on me.
In a romantic relationship, you can absolutely desire to spend time together and discern a vocation together. However, a sign of a healthy, balanced relationship is freedom from needing each other. When you’re content as the individual person that God has made you to be, you can be confident in your identity and not feel tempted to become dependent on your significant other. “The healthiest way we can interact with those close to us is by being truly interdependent, writes psychotherapist Dr. Barton Goldsmith. “This is where two people, both strong individuals, are involved with each other, but without sacrificing themselves or compromising their values. What they have is a balanced relationship, and unfortunately it is not all that common. But it is attainable with just a little awareness and understanding.”
Unbalance and dependency can cause a lifetime of hurt. What many people don’t see is that “by making some simple realizations and changes about the way you relate to your partner, you can change your entire life for the better,” Dr. Goldsmith explained. “Living in an interdependent relationship gives you both respect and nurturing.”
3. You respect each other
“To enter into the life of another person, even when that person forms part of our life, requires the delicacy of a non-intrusive attitude, that renews trust and respect. Confidence, then, does not authorize us to take everything for granted,” Pope Francis said in a general audience in 2015. “Love, the more intimate and profound it is, the more it demands respect for freedom and the capacity to wait for the other to open the door of his or her heart.”
In a healthy, holy relationship, couples respect each other. This doesn’t meant that you’ll never argue with each other. Actually, arguments are bound to happen in any relationship. But, in a balanced relationship, disagreements are handled with respect. This means listening to each other’s opinions, valuing where the other person if coming from, and offering proposals (and counter-proposals!) in order to solve the issue.
4. There’s a mutual trust between you
Trust is a vital part to any healthy, intentional relationship. This means being able to be vulnerable with another person and trust that they will value your experience. We often think that trust is built in a huge, pivotal moment in a relationship. But the reality of a healthy relationship is that trust is built in the daily, small decisions you make together.
“Trust is like a marble jar. You share those hard stories and those hard things that are happening to you with friends who over time you’ve filled up their marble jar. They’ve done thing after thing after thing where you know you can trust this person,” writes shame researcher Brene Brown. After she looked at her research she said, “It’s very clear. Trust is built in very small moments.”
Do you desire to build your relationship on trust but are struggling? Consider what Brene Brown writes: “If you struggle with trust, the thing to examine first is your own marble jar. Because we can’t ask people to give to us something that we do not believe we’re worthy of receiving.” In your relationship, trust is built on a daily basis and in the little moments.
5. You share expectations with each other
Sharing expectations about the relationship is another sign of health and balance. This isn’t a one time conversation, though – it’s an ongoing discussion throughout each stage of discernment. “You have a right to ask for the things you need in a relationship,” the authors of Couple Skills wrote. “In fact, you have a responsibility to yourself and your partner to be clear about your needs. You are the expert on yourself. No one else, not even your partner, can read your mind and know what you need in the way of support, intimate contact, time alone, domestic order, independence, sex, love, financial security, and so on.”
A healthy relationship involves communication and discussion about expectations. When you hear your significant other discuss their expectations for the relationship, their future, how you spend time together, or where God is working in their life, intentionally listen and ask clarifying questions. After your significant other shares their expectations, take time to think about how their expectations will impact your relationship with him or her. Then, fostered by mutual trust, don’t be afraid to share your expectations as well.
6. You honor each other’s friends and family
The family lies at the heart of society – it’s the most basic form of community to which we all belong. Family is so vital that Saint Pope John Paul II writes, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.”
Balanced relationships value healthy interaction with family, while also maintaining healthy, relational boundaries. Healthy, respectful family boundaries means “knowing and understanding what your limits are,” Dr. Gionta said. She’s a licensed psycholigst and life coach who specializes in individual, couple, and family counseling.
Healthy romantic relationships also respect friendships – especially those with members of the same sex. When Joseph and I were dating, I enjoyed spending time together with him. We would call each other just to chat about our day, or share interesting facts about subjects we were passionate about. But with all of Joseph’s great qualities. . . he’s not a woman. And while I’m glad that he isn’t, I also realized very quickly that I would have to tap into friendships with other women to fulfill that need for femininity in my life.
Similarly, I’m not a guy. Which means that although I love chatting over a beer, I cannot fulfill the masculinity that Joseph needs in his life.
Finding men and women’s small groups was a huge benefit for Joseph and I’s relationship. Having men and women to open up to and discuss things that need a feminine or masculine perspective has helped both of us thrive. So even though I consider Joseph my best friend, we also realize that we need time with other men and women to grow in our faith lives and live out the masculine and feminine genius in our relationship.