This is a shortened version of the full list which can be downloaded as a PDF: The ABCs of Healthy Relationships.
Is it really as easy as ABC? Good relationships don’t just happen, they take attention, maturity and a willingness to learn and grow.
Relationships are the ultimate mirrors, so it’s never all about the other person, but about what they may be reflecting to you, from within you. And you can choose what you reflect, especially if what you’re seeing is not what you think you want to see.
As you read through the list, consider if you embody the things you’d most like in a partner, and if not, is it fair to expect them to meet those needs in you? Consider whether a person looking at you would find the things on the list you’re most drawn to, and if not, see if you can begin to nurture them in you.
Keep in mind this list is from my own experiences. Your list may look very different. The great thing about all relationships is that they offer you fodder for your own list. Where have you had experiences in the past that weren’t so great? Instead of focussing on the ‘wrongness’ of them, remember how they taught you what you’d prefer.
Look to relationships of all types to provide feedback – friendships, work, intimate partners – where are you being shown room for growth? Where are you feeling especially fulfilled? How can you create balance for yourself?
Align with your Bliss
Acceptance – what does it mean to be fully accepted, right here, right now? It’s not easy to give it to someone else (or ask for it) unless you’re willing to first offer it to yourself. No matter what flaws you might imagine yourself to have that are keeping you from ‘perfection,’ just accept what is. Start where you are.
Alignment – your first priority is your alignment with your truth, just as anyone you are in relationship with has their own alignment as their first priority. Be clear on your needs and how to meet them, and create space to connect with your inner knowing on a regular basis.
Authenticity – to be fully seen, heard and loved takes courage, and requires authenticity. Give yourself the gift of showing up soul-level naked in the world, committing to yourself to be true to you. Sometimes this means not choosing certain relationships or making choices that are contrary to your partner’s. You can happily co-exist even when making different choices, as long as they are authentic to your inner knowing.
Beautiful – believe and trust in your own beauty. Express it honestly and authentically and it will be mirrored back to you. No one else can ‘make’ you feel beautiful if you don’t believe it first.
Bliss – follow your heart to the bliss that exists in you, and share it with the world. Don’t look for the world to provide you with it if you can’t first connect to it within. Be your own bliss generator!
Boundaries –the importance of boundaries cannot be stressed enough. All healthy relationships need boundaries. Only you know where yours are and how you choose to express and honour them. Allow them to be flexible enough to incorporate growth, but not to compromise them to invite abuse.
Commit to Conscious Change
Change – this is HUGE in relationships. Life is not static, and humans are not meant to remain in one spot, whether physically or energetically. You must be willing to be changed by your relationships with others, and be open to the changes they undergo. When someone you love changes, try not to hold them to the story of the person they were before, just because it feels more comfortable, or familiar.
Commitment – this is an interesting one, because the commitment you seek is actually not to one another but to your own alignment. What if you entered into a relationship with the commitment to each honour your expansion, no matter what that meant? It could mean that you are together for some time and then you discover you’ve both grown beyond the bounds of that particular connection. If you are committed to your own alignment and expansion, you honour that above the container of the relationship (which is a construct). It is not unloving to end a relationship if it is established with this at its core.
Consciousness – staying conscious means not numbing out when challenges arise, or escaping into old patterns and behaviours that soothe your wounds without addressing them. It means being courageous and facing your crap when it arises, no matter what the outcome. It means accountability, responsibility and maturity of thought, belief and action. It’s not easy, but it’s vital.
Courage – it takes enormous courage to engage intimately with another human being. To open your heart to love, potential pain and to feel seen on every level is truly an act of courage. Vulnerability is an act of extreme bravery that is underrated in our adrenaline-fuelled world. Honour yourself for trying, and trying again, and for believing in love.
Desire to dream
Desire – it makes sense to feel desire for your partner. Some people complain that their desire wanes after some time, but if you both commit to staying healthy and are passionate about your own interests and needs, you can keep desire burning for many years. Be spontaneous, invite surprise and mystery into your life, and stay connected to your own heart and soul. Take personal time if you need it, and give one another the space to pursue your individual passions, coming together to celebrate and share when you’ve filled your own cups.
Detachment – this may sound counterintuitive, but it is important to remain somewhat detached in a healthy relationship. Taking on the other person’s wounds or needs as your own is a sure way to lose yourself in a connection. Trust that if you are each connected to your own higher wisdom, the connection you share will remain strong. Trust each other enough to ask for help when you need it, and to work through some things on your own.
Dreams – it’s important to dream. Make your dreams as big and as bold as you can. Dreaming together opens you up to deeper intimacy, as you share your desires and wishes and then create ways to make them happen. You can work towards them together, creating an action plan and designing fun, collaborative ways to complete each step. Your dreams don’t have to mesh with your partner; they are the whispers of your soul. That doesn’t mean you can’t share the joy of exploring and celebrating them with someone you love.
Empathy and Freedom
Ego – a healthy ego is a filter that provides your unique perspective on life. Unhealthy ego hijacks your inner knowing and tries to impose its desires (often rooted in fear) on everyone around you. Learn to work with your ego as an aspect of your whole being, not for your ego. You’ll find it easier to surrender to the flow of life and the beautiful surprises it presents.
Empathy – is the capacity to put yourself in another’s shoes, or feel what they might be feeling for a moment. It’s a great benefit in relationships, because it allows you to step out of your own stuff and meet another where they are. It doesn’t mean you lose yourself, because it can be easily accomplished while maintaining healthy boundaries. It does offer you an opportunity to see the others’ perspective from a place detached from your ego. You can disengage from any need to be ‘right’ and co-create solutions from a mutually-understood platform.
Fidelity – this will also vary from person to person, and within relationships. If you feel this is your top priority, be clear right from the start. You and your partner(s) may have different understandings of what the word means, so talk about it to decide what constitutes infidelity, if it’s important to you. Open and honest conversation is the place to start.
Flexibility – this goes along with compromise and openness. It helps to be willing to see and discuss different sides of every situation, and often contributes to enormous growth.
Freedom – this is one of the key elements of healthy relating. It means knowing that both you and your partner are free. It is about trusting your partner to honour and respect that freedom in a way that enhances and uplifts all involved.
Grow in Honesty and Humour
Genuine – are you courageous enough to be genuine? If you try to hide aspects of yourself from someone else, eventually the cracks will begin to show and it will cause distrust to grow. People can feel misalignments between words and actions, even if they’re not consciously aware of them.
Giving – it helps to be generous with giving your time and attention in a relationship. Love encompasses giving without expectations, with an open-heart and a desire to offer support. And it feels great!
Growth – expect to grow. Allow yourself to relinquish control to make room for the growth. Consider if there are any structures that exist in the container of your relationship that are inhibiting growth (as individuals and as a couple).
Happiness – if you learn to make yourself happy, your chances of a healthy relationship increase. If you’re looking for someone else to fulfil your needs or ease your pain, you’ll find the happiness fleeting and empty. It is a huge benefit for your whole life to do the work you need to do to find happiness in you.
Honesty – this may be the number 1 attribute to healthy relating. This means radical honesty, even when you fear hurting your partner; it means honesty to yourself first. If you can’t be vulnerable enough to express your heart’s truth, you may be denying a deep need in you to make changes that will enhance your well-being.
Humour – it definitely helps to have a sense of humour; not only because it’s fun to laugh together, but also in the sense of seeing things from a perspective of lightness. If you take things too seriously, they escalate into drama more easily. Laughing triggers the potential to create solutions and reminds you that we’re all human and fallible.
Interdependence deepens Intimacy
Imperfection – embrace it, love it, own it! There is no such thing as a perfect partner, a perfect romance or a perfect life. There will always be things that come up to test or challenge you; things you dislike (like the snoring, or the way they eat); and ways things could be better.
Independence – this is vital in a healthy relationship. Personal space helps you get familiar with your needs and energy levels and what you can do to nurture yourself. You won’t likely find someone who shares every single one of your interests and goals, and that doesn’t mean giving up the things you don’t share. Allow one another space to explore your own interests and you’ll grow closer as you share the stories of your adventures.
Interdependence – this is different from co-dependence, which involves neediness and insecurity. Interdependence is about knowing your partner is there for you when you really need them, not relying on them to fulfil your every need. Be there to support one another through decisions, challenges, celebrations and change, while allowing one another space to be.
Intimacy – what does this mean, exactly? Some people think immediately of physical intimacy, which is a nice benefit in relationships. If you want a healthy relationship, look deeper; to intimacy in the sense of ‘into-me-see.’ To be truly seen, heard and accepted for all of who you are. That means even on the sobby, puking-your-guts-out or screaming banshee days. If you’re not allowing those days to be seen, you’re hiding the truth from yourself and your partner. Intimacy means letting down your guard and allowing someone else to see your fallibility, and holding space for your partner to do the same, in every aspect of your relationship.
Joy leads to Love
Joyful – always follow your joy. The best relationships come from the meeting of two (or more) people who come together in connection with their joy. Remember that the joy doesn’t come from without, but is generated within you. If you are joyful, you will attract others who are in touch with their own joy. Together, you create more joy in the world.
Kissing – a delightful benefit of relationships and something in life that is difficult, if not impossible, to do by yourself. I would suggest thoroughly testing out kissability before committing to a relationship because it really does matter.
Leader – this is about allowing for leadership to be fluid. There is not one leader and one obeisant follower; there are two leaders who are aware enough to know when to step up and when to step back. Each partner has unique strengths and talents which will contribute in different ways to the relationship over time.
Listen – when you listen, do you truly hear? How do you begin to listen, and hear? With your heart. Pay attention, and release distractions. Allow yourself to receive the words being spoken. Drop any judgements. Feel into the situation – does your partner require a response or are they just needing space to express? Ask if you’re uncertain.
Love – one of the foundation stones of a healthy relationship. It is vital to love yourself first, in all your messy glory. When you invite another into your inner world, the unhealed wounds are exposed, and without a strong grounding in self-love, it can turn quickly into a mud-slinging match. Generate love outwards from your full well of healthy self-love and self-respect.
Mystery needs Originality
Maturity – this can be challenging, especially when wounds are triggered and you revert into childhood patterning. Being mature encompasses being accountable, honest and present. It means allowing yourself to parent and be parented when situations arise that send you spinning into denial or habitual soothing rituals. It means being willing to grow and learn and change consistently as life unfolds around you.
Mystery – maintaining some degree of mystery is definitely important. If things become routine, mundane or too familiar, apathy can set in. Keep some things a mystery, and introduce mystery consciously. This is not the same as keeping secrets or hiding your activities from your partner; it is knowing how and when to share.
Needs – what are yours? Are you clear on how to meet them? Do you actively work towards meeting them? Revisit this regularly and communicate your needs clearly.
No – get comfortable with this word and using it without guilt. This is a major part of establishing clear and healthy boundaries. Self-sacrifice can lead to resentment and feeling drained. Accept and respect your partner’s no’s as their boundaries.
Openness – can you remain open after the deep pain associated with situations like grief, betrayal, infidelity or divorce? Human nature is to close down, to wall off your heart to the tricky stuff. It doesn’t really work that way. If you wall off the bad, you also keep out the good. Openness is a sure way to growth and expansion within a relationship, and it takes consciousness and presence.
Originality – don’t try to solve problems in this relationship using methods you used in your last one. Be original. Bring awareness to what’s at hand and remember who your partner is. They are not your ex, your mother, father, or sister … .
Patience and Questions
Passion – the essence of passion encompasses connecting to the fullness of life with your whole being. It goes way beyond sexual, and connects you to the deep yearnings of your soul. What turns you on (in every aspect of life)? Where are you moved to tears? What awakens your rage? All of this is passion, and it can be harnessed to create beautiful things, including within relationships. Live into the fullness of you, and connect to others from that aliveness.
Patience – consider how you feel when you’re going through challenges or trapped in your own mental machinations. Extend patience to others when they’re having difficulties and find compassionate ways to support them. Have patience if a relationship doesn’t follow a preconceived idea of what you had hoped or wanted.
Playfulness – this is so key! Keep things young, fresh and FUN! Remember how many hours you could spend with a friend when you were young, completely immersed in whatever game was at hand? Bring that into your relationships. Lose yourself in something enjoyable together, forgetting all serious, adult responsibilities for a while.
Priority – your alignment is your top priority, followed by your connection with your partner. Does that sound selfish? That’s the whole idea. As you look after your own needs and care for your self, you are better able to share your energy and resources with another. Maintain your own well-being to the point that your cup is overflowing.
Question – don’t be afraid to question yourself if something doesn’t feel right. Ask questions to get clearer on others needs or desires. Question any patterns that show up to see if they’re inhibiting intimacy. Trust the questions that arise as indicators of resistance or discordance. Then find creative ways to learn the answers.
Responsibility of Surrender
Respect – if you don’t respect yourself, you’ll find relationships that reflect and perpetuate that lack of respect. Show your self respect by honouring your own boundaries, meeting your own needs, taking care of your self and home, and engaging in activities that inspire you.
Responsibility – this differs from accountability in that it can be shared. Responsibility means being willing to take ownership of your part in challenges, successes and everything in between. Be courageous enough to accept your role in disagreements, and be mature enough to face your feelings. Shifting responsibility results in blame, shame and guilt, which quickly undermine the foundations of a relationship.
Safety – do you feel safest with three months’ rent and grocery money in savings? Do you feel safest in your own home as opposed to a rental? Do you feel safe expressing your emotions? All of these things are within your power, without a partner. Design your own safety bubble so that it supports you on every level of your being. When your safety feels compromised, relationships can feel constricting and dysfunctional.
Space – know when you need space, and learn to honour your partner’s need for space. It’s not natural to spend every moment together, and it begins to erode the mystery. Create ways to spend time apart so that the coming together is a happy reunion. It doesn’t have to be long stretches of time, just enough to remember who you are, individually.
Surrender – this word frightens some people, because it feels like giving up. What it truly means is giving over and releasing your ego’s grip on control. Surrender to the potential that exists in the unknown and the uncharted. Surrender your need for a specific outcome or expectation. Allow the combined energy of your hearts to lead you instead.
Tenderness leads the way to Trust
Tenderness – in 1984, General Public sang ‘where is it? …it seems like without tenderness there’s something missing.’ Good advice, and pretty self-explanatory.
Time – a good relationship takes time. There is often a ‘honeymoon period’ at the beginning, where you feel overwhelmed by chemistry, but creating a lasting and healthy relationship takes time.
If you rush things, you might find after a while you don’t have much in common with your partner, or that their initially cute habits are actually a source of frustration. It’s natural to take time to develop true intimacy, revealing pieces of yourself over time as trust deepens.
Touch – this speaks to both physical touch and being touched on an emotional level. It is moving to be invited into someone’s inner world, as they open themselves to you and reveal their vulnerability. It’s touching to be extended trust and to feel your own trust being rewarded with gifts of deeper connection.
Transparency – we all have secrets, but if you feel guilt or shame around something you’re keeping from a partner, it’s likely you feel the truth would hurt them. If you’re doing things you are aware would hurt your partner and are keeping them from them, consider the why – what are you getting out of it? Put yourself in their position and how you might feel if the tables were turned.
Trust – this is a tricky one. Can you truly trust another, or is it a matter of trusting your own inner knowing so much that anything not resonant will trigger red flags for you? If you’re in alignment with your knowing, it’ll be obvious to you what and who you can trust. Once you surrender to it, it grows and is rewarded by evidence of your faith in it.
Unconditionality – means to incorporate the wholeness of an experience as aspects of it. In other words, unconditional love allows for you and others to show up as they are and to mess up, fall down and be human. It means that even in moments where you feel like you hate your partner, love exists in the same breath. This understanding opens up space for all the ups and downs that are inevitable as your life together continues.
Understood/understand – if you want to be understood, extend understanding. Be understandable. Find ways to bridge the gap, keeping channels of communication clear and leaving out judgement. Whenever there is a misunderstanding, remember that communication is a two-way street. Have the patience to find clarity.
Values – are you clear on what you value and why? Do you and your partner share the same values? It’s an added bonus if you do, but not necessary, as long as you can respect one another’s choices and reasoning. Be clear and firm on where you are flexible and what is non-negotiable.
Variety – the spice of life! A little variety never hurt anyone. Think of ways to incorporate healthy variety into different areas of your life. Routine can dull even the strongest connection. Be creative; brainstorm with your partner to find ways to vary your habits.
Vulnerability – this can seem challenging because it has been equated to weakness. It’s the opposite: showing your vulnerability is a great strength. It has the capacity to awaken and connect with compassion in others, and create a safe space for their own vulnerability. It is the core of who we are as humans, and a common thread we all share.
Wildness and Zest
Warmth – how does it feel to be loved? When you tap into that energy of feeling love, does it warm you from the depths of your belly to the tip of your toes and the top of your head? Do you glow with that warmth when you think about someone you love? Feelings of warmth, both physical and emotional, are a delightful benefit of loving. Bask in it and spread it around.
Wildness – we all have an inner wild creature that lusts after freedom and fearless vulnerability that wants to be enticed out to play. Can you handle the wildness in your partner or are you intimidated by it? Get comfortable with your own wild side, whatever it entails, and allow it the opportunity to express itself. Do you get a kick out of skinny-dipping in mountain pools or ecstatic dance? Let it out to play and see how it enhances your connections with others.
Yes – do you feel it with your whole heart and soul? Trust that, and follow it. If you feel red flags, or a part of you doesn’t feel right in some way, trust that, too. It’s not fair to either partner to be in a relationship that isn’t a yes on every level.
Zest – are you filled with zest for life, and enthusiasm at discovering new and exciting things? Can you generate that in yourself? It adds a lot to a relationship to feel excitement over mutual discoveries and celebrations. Find ways to encourage one another’s explorations and adventures, and create amazing joint ventures.