Relationships are hard, there’s no doubt about it. Many people find themselves asking, “how do I know if a relationship is right for me?”
Most adults have been through at least one relationship in their lives that didn’t work out. Maybe you feel like you’ve had more than your fair share of those. Maybe you haven’t had any serious ones at all.
So you’re in a relationship now, and wanting to avoid another crash and burn. Or maybe you’ve had enough of those and are looking to be a little surer the next time around that you don’t find another dud. Or are you scared to get into a relationship at all for fear of things going badly?
How do you know if a relationship is right for you?
Let’s go through some of the main indicators that you want to look for in your current or next relationship that will tell you it’s a keeper.
Here are 5 signs that a relationship is right for you:
- You feel safe.
- You feel respected.
- You share basic values.
- Your visions for the future are in sync.
- You can articulate what you like about your partner.
1. You feel safe.
It should go without saying that a relationship in which your physical safety is at risk is not a healthy one. Domestic violence is all too common, and the warning signs should not be ignored. If you are being physically harmed, or are genuinely afraid of being harmed, this relationship is not one you should consider viable.
(That said, mild physical violence, especially when it tends to go in both directions, is something that can be remedied. It’s obviously not good, but it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. Violence that is extreme, chronic, or part of a larger pattern of power and control is much, much harder to fix. It will take extensive intervention and serious effort on the part of the abuser, and there is little that the victim can do to make any difference. If you are in such a relationship, please reach out for help.)
But beyond physical safety, you need to feel emotionally safe too. The right relationship is one in which you trust that your partner has your back, that you are teammates and not adversaries.
That means that you’re not worried whether your partner is committed to you; you feel confident that they are.
It means that your partner doesn’t put you down or mock you, and never intentionally tries to cause you emotional pain.
It does not mean that you agree on everything or never fight; but when you do fight, you still know that you love each other and that you’ll be able to get through this.
Emotional safety feels like an overall sense of confidence and trust. If thinking about your relationship causes you anxiety, that is something to pay attention to. (I am referring to anxiety about being in it; if your relationship is in trouble and you’re anxious about it ending, that’s pretty normal.)
2. You feel respected.
Even if your partner would never put you down, you still need to know that they value and respect who you are and what you bring to the relationship. You and your partner are different in many ways; every two people are.
Does your partner respect the ways in which you are different? Or do they indicate, subtly or directly, that really it would be better if you were more like them? Do you feel like your differences are honored and valued, or looked down on, at best tolerated? A good relationship is one in which both of you can freely be who you are, and be loved and respected for it.
Respect also means that your partner respects your place in the relationship – things like your time, your needs, your boundaries.
Respecting your time looks like making efforts to show up on time for you. (I say “make efforts” because timeliness is something many people are not very good at. The question is whether they take it seriously that you are stuck waiting for them, or they blow it off as not a big deal, when to you it is.) It looks like sharing the workload at home because you’re both busy people instead of expecting you to carry most of the load because of your lower salary or your gender or some other excuse.
(We can, of course, imagine any number of perfectly real reasons why you might have to do more of the chores – perhaps your partner has a physical disability, or you are temporarily or intentionally unemployed.)
Respecting your needs means that if you need more sleep than your partner does, they don’t consider you weak or lazy. If you aren’t as good at math as they are, they don’t roll their eyes and explain the budget to you as if you were a complete idiot.
Respecting your boundaries means that if you say you need some quiet time to yourself, there’s no expectation on you to hang out that night. It means that if you aren’t in the mood for sex, there’s no pressure to satisfy your partner’s needs, and there is no pouting or silent treatment in response.
You are a person in this relationship and you count for just as much as your partner does. If you feel respected to that degree, that is a good sign. On the other hand, if you get the impression your partner considers themselves one-up in the relationship, that is less promising.
3. You share basic values.
Your basic values are your beliefs about the world and what you hold as right or wrong. It is hard to build a life with someone who sees the world differently from you in a fundamental way, and it can be hard to respect them too (see point #2 above).
If you believe in community service and your partner is more focused on getting ahead in life, you will both feel awfully dissatisfied with the choices they make. You’ll want to spend more time volunteering; your partner will see that as a drag on your success. Even if there is respect and love there, there is also a lot of tension brewing in that perpetual disagreement about something very important to both of you.
On specific issues too, this can be a source of real problems. You don’t need to agree on everything, of course, but for some people there are particular issues that are deeply important to them.
Someone who marches for reproductive rights is going to have a heck of a time in a marriage with someone who is fervently pro-life – not just because of the political arguments they may engage in (which is not necessarily a negative thing), but because of the profound discomfort they will each have with the way the other sees the world.
How durable is a relationship in which you view them as controlling women’s bodies and they see you as a baby killer? Some things feel central to who we are as people; if you and your partner aren’t on the same page on those core issues, it’s going to be hard to build the stable foundation you need for long-term success.
4. Your visions for the future are in sync.
How do you envision your life over the long term?
Even you share the same values, you may have very different plans for your life. I worked with a lovely couple that didn’t have major fights, didn’t have any significant complaints about each other, but she worked for an important multinational corporation and wanted to travel extensively for her work, which she was passionate about; he wanted to stay at home and have a bunch of kids. It wasn’t a match.
The right relationship for you is one in which you and your partner generally agree on what kind of a life you want to live. Do you want to have kids or be child-free and see the world? Do you want to work hard and play hard, or stick with Netflix and chill? Do you want to go out, see friends, have an active social life, or do you prefer quiet nights at home?
The future is never certain, of course. People change, circumstances change. But if at the outset you’re hoping to make it big and have a house with nine bedrooms and an indoor pool, and your partner is looking for a low-stress lifestyle so they can mostly chillax and play video games, you may be setting yourself up for failure.
You may be asking yourself which differences are manageable and which are not. Good question!
There’s no one answer for every couple. But think of it this way: if you and your partner could both be happy living with the other person not changing how they want to do things, would you still be happy? If you want kids and your partner does not, will you be able to live a happy life not having them? Will your partner be happy if you do end up having kids?
Don’t think about how it would be if your partner changed their mind and came around to your way of thinking. That may not happen. If your happiness in this relationship is contingent upon something being different than it is now, that is a very risky undertaking.
(This is true for all the points we’re making here, by the way. Don’t commit to a long-term relationship on the hope or expectation that some problem or disagreement will go away. It’s not impossible for that to happen, but it is not a promising gamble.)
Unfortunately, it is not true that “love conquers all.” You can love each other very much but not want to lead the same kind of life – and that may not be the right relationship for either of you.
5. You can articulate what you like about your partner.
In addition to the “love conquers all” lie, Hollywood has given us a long slate of whoppers. Another damaging falsehood of the movie industry is that love is just this wonderful, giddy feeling that causes you to run across fields into the embrace of your beloved.
I don’t know a lot of married couples who run across fields after 20, 30, 40 years of marriage. They have a profound feeling of love for each other, but it doesn’t look like what you see onscreen. (More on this in a future post.)
If all you’ve got is this exciting, heady feeling about your partner, you don’t have a whole lot to sustain a long-term relationship. When you pour your coke into a cup, there’s a whole lot of bubbling, but you better have some drink at the bottom when it fizzles out or you’re going to be awful thirsty. (I just came up with this analogy right now while writing this, and heck, I like it!)
A solid relationship is one in which you can articulate what it is you like about your partner. Here are some examples of what this does not sound like:
- When I’m around him, it’s like time just stops!
- We’re just so good together.
- I’ve never felt like this about anyone before.
- She completes me.
- We have something special.
None of these are bad signs per se, but the point is that you need to have more than this to go on. If someone asks you what you like about your relationship or significant other and this is all you have to answer, well, you got no coke.
Here’s what it sounds like when you are clear on what you truly love about your partner:
- She is energetic and bubbly and she somehow just makes everything fun!
- He is so sensitive and caring. He always stops to think about my needs whenever he makes a decision.
- We are both really committed to social justice, and it’s really meaningful when we work on that together.
- I know I can always count on him to get things done. He is super reliable.
See how those are specific traits I can point to about my partner? If you can’t articulate what it is about your partner you love, but you’re thrilled with the exciting feeling you have around them, that is really an indicator that you need to think clearly about this relationship.
Perhaps you have not thought about this until now, but now that you think about it you have a long list of positive qualities you appreciate about your partner. That’s great. If you can’t come up with anything specific, consider that a red flag worth your attention.
Ultimately, the only person who can tell you whether a relationship is right for you – is you.
If you’re trying to decide if the relationship you’re in is viable, the 5 signs mentioned here will be a useful guide. And if you’re looking to get into your next and permanent relationship, keep these in mind as you are dating to get a sense of whether you’ve found the right person for you.
If you’re still struggling to determine whether your relationship is sustainable, or need help finding one that is – you’re not alone! Relationships take work to be the best they can be (another universal truth you won’t hear from Hollywood). We’re here to help you make that happen – contact us today to get the clarity and support you need!