healthy relationships

With a career spanning over 35 years in multiple countries and having worked in every environment you can imagine, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be in healthy relationships. Today I’m sharing the top five things I see over and over in successful, happy relationships. And this doesn’t just apply to your romantic relationships; These five signs apply to work relationships, friendships, and other family members too.

11-minute read

Relationship book

#1: You Act as a Team

My philosophy when it comes to healthy relationships revolves around acting like a team instead of keeping score and competing with one another. The rule: Everyone wins (including you but not instead of you).


If you haven’t watched my Tedx Talk on this very topic, “The Real Reason Relationships Fail,” now is the time!

There are so many things competing for our time and attention: work, kids, trying to eat healthy, calling your mama, and getting to the dentist for that tooth that’s been bothering you. The list goes on and on, with so many of us feeling overwhelmed and anxious on a daily basis.

From this feeling of depletion, it’s easy to look to our partners to save the day, help out and “pull their weight.” You start watching everything they do and comparing it to what you do. In effect, you start keeping score in your relationship. This inevitably leads to feelings of resentment, anxiety, frustration, and disappointment.

We say things like, “I drove Matt to baseball on Tuesday, so it’s your turn to take Sophie to soccer practice on Thursday.” Or the one I hate the most: “It’s your TURN to put away the dishes.” Taking turns happens in games and sports. Keeping score like this in your relationship puts you and your partner on opposite teams! Think about it: this sets one of you up to win and one of you to lose. How do you expect to have a connected, loving relationship when there’s an underlying tension of someone losing? This kind of thinking worms itself into the foundation of your relationship, and before long, you’re going to see a lot of cracks, if not actual walls, crumbling down.

This applies to your other relationships as well. You can’t have a healthy relationship with your sister if you’re always comparing all the things you do for your parents as opposed to her. You can’t have a healthy relationship with your coworker if you’re anxious when they have a win because you think it means that you’ll end up with less. And don’t get me started on friends who are always in competition with one another. That ain’t friendship.

I want you to get out of the keeping score mindset, and instead, think of you and your partner, friend, or sibling as being on the same team. This means you are one shared resource. In a romantic relationship, this means that pulling energy from your partner, really means pulling energy from yourself. When one of you is drained, you both suffer since you’re sharing the same battery.

Get out of using “you” language. There are no “you” problems, only “we” problems. There are no “you” wins, only “us” wins. When you’re a team, you stop keeping score, and you start to feel connected and supported.

#2. You’re Honest with Your Feelings

When you don’t say what you’re really feeling about something, you end up feeling resentful, disappointed, hurt, and abandoned (even though you’re the one who abandoned yourself by not saying anything)!

Every time you stuff a feeling or don’t voice a thought, you’re telling the other person that you don’t trust them; you don’t trust them enough to be vulnerable or honest. This means that your relationship is absolutely going to suffer because, without trust, everything starts to deteriorate.

And don’t forget, your partner, boss, or friend knows (either consciously or unconsciously) that you’re not sharing your true feelings. They can feel your “lie” or omission, which deteriorates trust on their end.

Often, you’re hiding information or your true feelings to protect yourself. You don’t want to upset the other person or have to deal with their feelings, so you stay quiet. For example, I had a client recently who wanted to hang with his buddies on a Friday night but “knew” his wife wouldn’t like it, so he told her he had to work late but then went out with his friends. His thinking was, “I’m not hurting anyone. It’s not like I’m cheating. I just want to see my friends, but she’ll be upset and give me grief, and I don’t want to deal with it.”

My client was dead wrong. He was hurting someone, himself and his wife, because of what I just explained. As I instructed my client, he was undermining his relationship and creating cracks in the foundation by avoiding these kinds of conversations.

And I know you’ve had this conversation before:
You: “Are you OK? You seem upset.”
Them: “No, everything’s fine.”

You end up frustrated, angry, or fearful because you know something’s wrong and they’re lying to you. Another consequence is that when your partner later says they love you or that you look beautiful or handsome, you don’t believe them! Your brain tells you that if they’ll lie about how they felt last week, they’re probably lying lots of other times too! When your boss says you’re doing a great job, you don’t believe them and think you could get fired any minute. Again, trust breaks down everywhere!

As a last note, I want to be clear that you’re entitled to your true feelings but not your reactions (after all, if my reaction is to hit someone on the nose for something they said, that’s not something I’m entitled to do). Your first reaction might be anger, lashing out, or defensiveness, but that’s not your true feelings. You want to dig down to what’s under these feelings, and you’ll find your fear, worry, hurt, rejection, and abandonment. When you get vulnerable and share these feelings, you’ll find a whole new way of communicating truthfully with others. We connect with feelings, not thoughts. So, sharing feelings is a key to healthy relationships.

#3: You Focus on Yourself, Not the Other Person

If you’re unhappy in any relationship, you need to focus on changing yourself, not the other person. It is not your partner’s job to make you happy. It is not your mom’s job to make you happy. It is not even your best friend’s job to make you happy! That’s your job and your job alone.

I say all the time, “The one in the most pain needs to change first.” It might not seem fair, but it’s the way it has to be if you want to move towards a healthy relationship with anyone else. You’ve got to start with taking personal responsibility and getting your side of the street squeaky clean.

If you want a healthy relationship, you need to take personal responsibility. You’ve co-created this relationship which includes the parts you don’t like. You’re not a victim, and your partner, mom or brother doesn’t do anything to you. If you hear yourself using this language, I want you to stop and take a breath. Now, think of one thing (no matter how small) that you could do to move the situation forward. That’s taking responsibility. It doesn’t mean that the other person doesn’t also have responsibility. The problem is: you can’t control that (I know, I hate this part too)! You can’t control other people or what they do, so get the focus on you, and you’ll be far happier and more successful.

#4: Focus on Love, not Fear

What you focus on grows. Plain and simple. If you’re focusing on people taking advantage of you, I promise you’ll see it everywhere. I’ve talked often about your Reticular Activating System (RAS), which is a filter between your conscious and subconscious mind. When you consciously think something, “Men are jerks,” the RAS feeds that to the subconscious as the order or instruction, “Look for men being jerks.” Surprise, surprise… you meet a lot of asshole men. But it’s not because “all men are stupid” or that even most of them are. It’s about what you notice.

That’s bad enough, but the RAS also does something else that’s hurting you and skewing your perceptions. It’s also filtering out anything that doesn’t match that conscious order! So, when you meet a nice guy or a mechanic who’s honest (I have one of those), it doesn’t register. You become like Teflon for nice men! Once again, you’re in that self-fulfilling prophecy where your beliefs keep showing up in the world.

Here’s a radical idea: what if you believed that the vast majority of people were good?

What if you believed that miracles, ease, joy, and fun were around every corner? These same beliefs can be programmed into the RAS, and positive things will miraculously start showing up all over the place.

This doesn’t mean that sucky things don’t happen; it means it won’t ruin your day, and you won’t generalize these things to your whole life. Here’s something interesting: I meet a TON of lovely people just about every day. Because when I’m out in the world, I have an intention of connecting and being friendly. Can I be of service? I see those around me, and they see me right back. Bingo – awesome people everywhere.

Focusing on love, not fear, means having faith in love. And why not? Think about fearful emotions: hate, fear, anxiety, despair, worry, frustration, resentment (you get the idea). When you’re in this mind space, of course, you can’t see anything else. But what if you were in the love-based emotions? Kindness, compassion, openness, joy, ease, comfort, and connection (you get the idea here too). This is where you’re meant to live. You weren’t put on this earth to be miserable, but you have to decide where you want to focus.

Putting your faith in fear (I’m worried that, I’m anxious about, What if?) isn’t helping you. It’s not making you any more prepared than I am, and I’m over here feeling happy, at ease, and connected every day. I want to bring you from the dark side into the Light, and focusing on love-based emotions will get you there!

As a quick route to do this, I just check in with how I’m feeling at any given moment. Is it on the love side or the fear side? Am I feeling anxious, resentful, worried, rushed, or overwhelmed? That’s fear. If I’m there, I acknowledge it and then ask myself what else I could feel from the love-side. Maybe I need to stop judging myself, or maybe I need to remember to be patient or kind as I notice I’m frustrated with one of my teenagers. Choose the better-feeling, love-based emotion.

If you want to get really good at this, I have a wonderful cheat sheet which I call a Vibrational Checklist that I use all the time to check in with myself about which part of my brain I’m coming from: love or fear.


Learn to be mindful on a daily basis with this Loving Kindness Meditation and focus on developing feelings of compassion, love, kindness, and warmth towards yourself and other people.

#5: You Lead with Curiosity.

I tell people all the time that it’s important not to SAC your relationship. This means don’t make Suggestions, give Advice or Criticize. The next thing I hear from my clients is, “Well, what’s left?!” What’s left is the most important thing you can do to create an open, intimate and healthy relationship. I want you to start asking questions instead of making statements. Don’t assume you know. Instead, listen like you’re wrong when someone else is saying something you don’t like or disagree with. If you were wrong, you’d be asking questions so you could figure out how to get it right or understand what the other person was saying!

Asking questions is the key to healthy, satisfying relationships, but you have to truly be curious! Get out of thinking you know the answer. Get out of thinking you’re right and you need to convince the other person to come to your way of thinking. First, try to understand where the other person is coming from.

Here’s how it works in real life:

First, whenever you get feedback, ask a clarifying question instead of defending your position. Make sure the first thing you do is ask instead of saying how the other person is wrong.

  • Partner tells you that you never help out around the house? Don’t rebut with a list of all the things you do. Instead, ask questions. “Can you tell me more about what’s happening right now to make you say that?” “You’re using never language which is hard to listen to. Are there really no examples you can think of when I do help?”
  • Your sister complains that you’re never there for her. Ask questions: “Can you tell me more about what you’re looking for from me?” “If I was 100% supportive, what would that look like to you?” It doesn’t mean you have to do all the things but find out and be curious about what it means to her.

Second, when you have an issue with someone else, start with some questions.

  • Sex life not feeling good? Ask your partner, “What would you like to see more of in our sex life?”
  • Angry at your coworker for a nasty comment they made to you? “What are you feeling right now towards me?” “What was your goal in saying that to me?” “What were you hoping I’d feel or do when you said that?”

And don’t give up! This is new, so you might initially get pushback with “I don’t know” or shoulder shrugs. Press on with a loving intention, and you’ll eventually get some answers and real dialogue.

Dr. Abby with her Book "Be Happily Married, Even If Your Partner Won't Do A Thing"


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