These are 7 secrets to healthy relationships, according to a counsellor

Picture: Git Stephen Gitau/Pexels

Picture: Git Stephen Gitau/Pexels

Published Feb 23, 2024


Humans are social creatures; it's practically embedded in our DNA to seek out connections with others. Think of it like this: way back when we were living in caves and trying not to become a mammoth's lunch, being in a group improved our chances of survival.

Fast forward to now, and this translates into seeking relationships for all sorts of benefits – support, love, and companionship, among others. In short, we're searching for someone to Netflix and chill with.

With modern-day dating, roommate searches and endless group chats, it's clear we still really crave each other's company.

Repairing takes work. Picture: Git Stephen Gitau /Pexels

Whether it's sharing those “I’ll take it to the grave with me secrets” or ugly-crying into our bestie's couch, life's highs and lows just feel more significant when someone else is along for the ride.

We're programmed to partner up and look out for one another – it's just what humans do.

The not-so-great part is that sometimes that same buddy-system code in our brains can make us a tad blind to the not-so-great stuff in relationships.

Sure, your partner might be chronically late or talk over you, but sometimes the red isn’t red enough.

And then there's what psychologists call the "sunk cost fallacy". Sounds fancy, but it's just the idea that you've already spent so much time and heart into the relationship, it feels wasteful to walk away now.

It's the relationship equivalent of watching a movie that's so bad you want to leave, but you've paid for the popcorn and that slushy, so you stick it out.

As “Psychology Today” puts it: Our minds do not perceive destructive behaviours as harmful, but rather as tolerable. Or even as normal.

We drift into unhealthy patterns; we do not drift into healthy ones. Picture: Cottonbro studios/Pexels

The key to spotting those sneaky red flags is hitting the 'pause' button, slipping off those rose-tinted specs, and taking a good, hard look at what's playing out in front of you.

It's about being your own love detective - observing the clues, asking the hard questions, and deciding if the game is still worth the candle.

Scott Savage, a pastor, author and guidance counsellor, has curated seven secrets he believes are key to healthy relationships.

Healthy relationships are reciprocal without keeping score

One sign of an unhealthy relationship is scoreboard-checking. When you keep a score of who initiated last time, who paid last time, or who is doing more work, that’s a bad sign.

Healthy relationships include a balance of reciprocity, where each party contributes to the relationship.

When someone begins thinking, “I’m always the one who calls”, “I’m always the one who gets the check”, or “I’m always the one who listens to their struggles”, consider those thoughts to be like a warning light on the dashboard of a car.

Check something deeper before the problem gets worse. Life is about give-and-take, but when we experience only one or the other, something needs to change.

Have a zero tolerance for toxic behaviour

None of us are perfect. In relationships, we get close enough to impact each other, for better or for worse. They should be spaces for growth and transformation, pushing us to become better versions of ourselves.

Without these connections, we might struggle to progress. We all have areas where we need to grow, but toxic behaviour is a different story. It leads to various forms of abuse, causing lasting harm.

When irreparable harm occurs, there should be no tolerance for such behaviour. Boundaries are set, and sustained changes in behaviour must precede any shift in those boundaries.

“If you need help discerning when a relationship reaches this point, I recommend Henry Cloud's book, ‘Necessary Endings’.”

Think intentionally, not immediately

Healthy relationships don’t emerge overnight. We live in an immediate world where we can get many items delivered in a few hours. However healthy relationships develop differently. Healthy relationships develop at the speed of an incubator – slowly and within intentional care.

Healthy things grow, but they grow at the speed of agriculture, not Amazon Prime. Think of your relationship growing in terms of seasons, not hours on the clock or days on a calendar.

As Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 6, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

Laughter is underrated

Healthy relationships include laughter. Not because the people aren’t taking life seriously; rather, they’ve found a way to look for joy amid even the darkest pain.

Whether finding a way to laugh instead of just crying or recalling a different time when something funny occurred, laughter is medicine for the soul. We need a release valve for the tension and pain of life, which laughter readily provides.

One person cannot meet every need

If you are in a romantic relationship or married, that person cannot meet every relationship need you have. I have some great friends, but no single friend that scratches all of my friendship needs.

The friendships I have all complement one another. One person cannot meet all of your needs, whether a spouse, friend or business partner.

The truth is one relationship cannot hold that weight. Healthy relationships recognise the limits of each person and respond accordingly.

A long-term friendship is not always a healthy friendship

We often compare one friendship to others, assuming the longer a friendship lasts, the better it should be.

A comparison like this isn’t helpful, despite its pervasiveness today. Time isn't magic; it's what we do over time that determines whether a relationship trends in a healthy direction.

Healthy relationships reflect a LOT of work

Every relationship involves work. Drama takes work to navigate. Conflict takes work. Repairing takes work. We drift into unhealthy patterns; we do not drift into healthy ones.

When you encounter a healthy relationship at work, a healthy friendship, or even a healthy marriage, you see the fruit of hard work.