A healthy, happy relationship is built on a foundation of trust, loyalty and respect. This solid foundation allows for deep desire and attachment without codependency. And when there are conflicts (it would be weird if there weren't), they are handled with mutual respect and clear communication. These are some of the essential qualities that make healthy relationships also safe, supportive and fun.
The problem is that healthy relationships aren't exactly automatic. Staying on track in being authentic, transparent and compassionate (among other qualities) takes commitment. It requires resolve -- to promise ourselves and our partner that we won't just coast, but actively nurture the relationship.
Promises can be tricky. None of us knows with complete certainty what will come, and this can mean that we can’t always keep our promises. Most of the time we mean well when we’ve made a promise, though promises can also be misused as leverage or be made with resentment. When you make promises to your partner, do so with the intention of fostering a healthy relationship. No one is perfect, but we can still promise ourselves and loved ones to have the best intentions.
Here are nine promises you can make (and keep!) for a healthy, happy relationship:
1. “I promise to listen when you speak to me.”
Instead of merely hearing, listen with the intention of seeking understanding of what your partner is trying to say. When you listen, do it without thinking of your response ahead of time. Be present and attentive, even if you’ve heard it before, disagree with what is being said, or find it hard to hear.
2. “I promise to be myself.”
Being yourself means taking the chance to be vulnerable. This requires courage and self-trust. Let your partner get to know the real you (even the parts you don’t like) rather than some version of yourself that you assume they would like better. Speak from your heart. Share important memories, talk about your fears and your dreams, and don’t sell yourself short. Part of being yourself means pursuing those things that are important to you and taking a stand for what you believe in.
3. “I promise to let you be yourself.”
Encourage your partner’s individuality. Get to know what makes them unique and remind yourself what you love about them. Allow your partner to be a whole person, even if that person is sometimes complex or confusing. Celebrate your differences and appreciate what they add to the relationship.
4. “I promise to allow you to grow.”
Give your partner the encouragement and freedom to pursue what makes them come alive. Cheer them on rather trying to control or hold them back. Respect your partner’s ability to make their own decisions and accept that growth like this brings change.
5. “I promise to face difficult conversations without threat, accusations or defensiveness.”
Use clear, constructive communication when talking about difficult topics. Approach the conversation with respect. Try to remain receptive to critical feedback even when it is hard to hear, and relay critical feedback in a way that can be heard. Apologize if you’ve caused pain and be open to repair if you have been hurt.
This will require patience, no doubt. Allow there to be differences and accept that there will be disagreements. Cooperate, compromise, and agree to disagree. Use conflict as an opportunity to learn about yourself and your partner. Remember that this will not always be perfect.
6. “I promise to make time for you.”
Make quality time together a priority, and when you spend time together make it count. Make your time together meaningful, enjoyable, and intimate. Try new things together, find shared interests and make fun a priority.
This may feel like "work" when the option of sitting on the couch and eating dinner while watching TV is also an option. And sure, that's exactly what we need sometimes. But don't let your relationship fall into a routine of always taking the path of least resistance.
7. “I promise to work as a team.”
Work together while also respecting the needs of both individuals. This means no games, no score-keeping and no grudges. Accept that conflicts are inevitable when two people are working closely together, and manage them as a unit. Maintain an atmosphere of safety, trust, and respect in your relationship.
8. “I promise to appreciate what makes our relationship unique.”
Instead of comparing your relationship to others, focus on what works for the two of you. Look for the good and the joy in the relationship. Recognize and appreciate your special bond.
9. “I promise that I will work with you to keep our relationship healthy.”
When all is said and done, healthy relationships take effort to maintain. Set and honor healthy boundaries. Remain flexible rather than looking at situations as all-or-nothing. Manage your emotions the best that you can and offer your partner the encouragement and support they need to do the same.
Together, you and your partner alone can identify and transform unhelpful patterns, and take responsibility for your part in the relationship. Making these promises to yourself as individuals will ensure that your commitment to one another is built upon a solid foundation of self-respect.