Whether you’ve been with that guy for a long or short time, whether you’ve been thinking about marriage or have already tied the knot, now is perhaps a great time to give your relationship a health check. Just as there are known indicators of physical health, relationships carry their own set of indicators, which let us know whether or not they are functioning as they should. Healthy relationships by their very definition are likely to fill us with a sense of peace and well-being; they build our self-esteem and affirm that we are worthy of being loved. They easily confirm that we have made a correct relationship choice or that our hard work on the union, has paid off.
Conversely, a negative relationship scenario breeds unhappiness, depression, instability and uncertainty. While we can spot such a relationship a mile off, we can yet become hooked on it. The truth is that many of us experience our relationships in automatic pilot, giving little thought to what the “state of our union” is telling us. We live and let live because we cannot imagine being on our own. We are so desperate to be connected or are so “in love with love”, that we are willing to tolerate almost anything, in the name of a “love relationship”.
The following checklist, while not exhaustive and definitely not scientific, can provide a fairly good gauge for where our relationships are health wise. Each measure represents a specific “relationship ideal”. While we may each have peculiar or individual relationship ideals, there are several commonly shared ones, which we know intuitively, define a healthy relationship. Please feel free to also add your own ideals which I may not have mentioned.
On a scale of 1 to 10, 0-4 represents “unsatisfactory” on a particular measure; this behaviour never happens, is virtually non-existent or happens only occasionally; 5-7 is “moderate” or “average”; this means the measure is sometimes true but not dominant enough to be a defining characteristic and 8-10 represents a high level of satisfaction or of “relational health” since the particular measure always or almost always defines the relationship. The higher the score is on a greater number of measures on our checklist, then, presumably, the healthier that relationship is. Where any behaviour identified is practiced more by one partner than the other, then the score there can only be moderate at best. We admit however, that many of our relationships are in active progress and have not or will never likely “arrive” with a perfect 10. By the same token, health can also indicate having an awareness of what is critical, knowing what needs to be worked on and having an active plan to do so.
This information should hopefully encourage us to make some critical decisions to enhance or improve our relationships. It may even indicate where we need to make critical changes in our own behaviour or where in extreme situations, we may need to move on.
In order to assess your relationship’s health, please score each of the following items from 1-10, to indicate how healthy your relationship might be. Another interesting spin on this, would be to have your partner independently score the checklist and then compare notes. It would be instructive to note whether your perceptions of your relationship are the same.
- Couple time: You each enjoy spending quality time together and this is a priority in your relationship. You therefore make deliberate plans like date-nights, shared recreation and the like, to strengthen your couple-time together.
- Emotional and sexual boundaries: You are each aware of the need to establish emotional and sexual boundaries with members of the opposite sex. This means that you deliberately avoid volatile situations like late night dinners with work colleagues, secret Facebook accounts, internet chat room friends, sharing intimate relationship details, sexually flirtatious behaviour and the like.
- Demonstrations of love and affection: You each find tangible ways to demonstrate love and affections which include (but are not limited to) hugging, kissing, gifts (in and out of season), favours, caring for the other during illness, helping with chores, sharing home and parenting responsibilities, and vocalising love
- Partner priority: Your partner and his or her happiness is your priority. You demonstrate loyalty to each other and your friends and family know how important you are to each other.
- Shared goals: While you each may have diverse or individual goals which may be career oriented, academic or some other type, there are common couple/family goals which you share and can work towards together; for example owning your own home, securing investments, planning a trip etc. Even where goals are individual, there is mutual support given.
- Shared values: Basically you share the same fundamental beliefs about God, life, morality, politics, rearing children etc. Even where cultural/social differences may see some distinctions in beliefs, these are “liveable” and are not critical enough to cause a serious divide in the relationship.
- Clear expectations: You have each communicated what your expectations are in the relationship or the communication about expectations is on-going. These may include issues like marriage, gender-roles, children, financial responsibility, plans for retirement, savings, family worship, sexual experimentation, and emotional and sexual fidelity.
- Individual identity & completeness: You each know who you are; you have come to terms with certain issues from your past and are whole or complete individuals. Even if this is not entirely the case, you are actively working towards defining who you are and your own happiness.
- Communication: The channels of communication between you are clear. You are each expressive of your own opinions, even when these are different from your spouse’s/partner’s. You not only talk but you are both keen listeners who have learned to also interpret your partner’s body language/facial expressions.
- Sexual compatibility: You are each sexually aware of your own needs and desires but see great sex as a work in progress. Having a great sexual relationship (even if you are abstaining until marriage) is paramount to you. You are both open to discovering more about sex and sexual responsiveness. You each see sex as the ultimate expression of a committed love relationship and believe that it is the highpoint of your marriage (where applicable).
- Management of Negativity: You are both able to manage the challenges or negative scenarios (differences of opinion, disappointments etc) which can happen in a relationship, without becoming negative or abusive. You attempt to deal with anger and disagreements without allowing them to escalate.
- Absence of abuse: You do not physically strike or insult and berate each other.
While my unscientific checklist does not yield a total score which will determine that your relationship is healthy or unhealthy, you are free to examine individually or as a couple your performance on each item. This will assist you in determining what is unsatisfactory in the relationship, what is just average and what you can take a bow about.