What Makes A Good Relationship?

Researchers call good relationships a "necessary condition for happiness."

Maybe you read that and think, okay world's most obvious fact.

But many of us prioritize other things--family milestones, career, financial success, status or reputation. We prioritize weight loss or endless to-do lists. Some of us strive to derive our joy from what's happening inside of us--the comforting idea that we independently control our own joy.

But we'll ask you this question: Why? Why do we prioritize what we prioritize?

Give that question some focused thought for a few minutes.

We are biologically wired for social connection. Good relationships are proven to help us live more joyful lives. They are proven to help us stay calmer, to manage stress and intense emotions. Good relationships create a quality of life better than status or financial success.

If we want more joy and more humanity in the world, let's cultivate more positive relationships.


What makes a good relationship?

The good considerably outweighs the bad.

All long term relationships will run into challenges. Misunderstandings and differences of opinions are par for the course.

But good relationships are way more good than bad. They help us feel safe, secure, and able to face life's challenges.

Trust, respect, and emotional safety

Good relationships have mutual trust, mutual respect, and provide the freedom for each person to express themselves, without fear of being shamed or mocked.

Assuming positive intent

Most people, most of the time, have pretty good intentions.* When you assume positive intent, you give the other person the benefit of the doubt--that they meant well.

Let's take a look at a conversation between Jordon and Ty, a couple who have been together for a few years. Ty has just walked in the door and is late getting home.

Scenario 1--neither is assuming positive intent

Jordon: You're late again.

Ty: The office was crazy today, my boss was a jerk. It's not like I was trying to be late.

Jordon: You can't keep blaming your boss. You're an adult--you can leave if you need to leave.

Ty: You seriously don't get it.

Scenario 2: both are assuming positive intent

Jordon: Hi--welcome home. How was your day?

Ty: Oh my gosh, the office was crazy today. I know I'm late again, I'm really sorry. I'm having such a hard time with my boss.

Jordon: Yeah, it sounds like is really taking a toll on you. Want to go for a walk tonight and talk about it?

Ty: That sounds good. It's been weighing on me for a while.

Scenario 3: Ty assumes positive intent and sticks with it

Jordon: You're late again.

Ty: (pause) I can tell you're frustrated. I am, too. I've had a tough day and I'm sorry that I made you wait.

Jordon: You're an adult--you can't keep blaming work. You can leave if you need to leave.

Ty: I know you're upset. Let's talk about it, but first, give me a few minutes to take a break and settle myself. I'm having a hard time right now.

* And occasionally, people don't have good intentions.

Remember, every meaningful relationship has complexity.

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What about bad relationships?

What makes a "bad" relationship?

They can stress us out and make us unhealthy

Can you turn a bad relationship into a good one?

There's a lot of factors, but go back to "What makes a good relationship" above.

Resources and Citations

  1. "Empirical findings... Having good relationships with other people is the most important contributor to a satisfied life and may even be a necessary condition for happiness. Having a "best friend" at work is a strong predictor of satisfaction and even productivity. A good relationship is one in which the amount of positive communication considerably outweighs the amount of negative communication." Sadock, Benjamin J., et al. Kaplan and Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry. United States, Wolters Kluwer Health, 2014.:
  2. Khazan, Olga. "How Loneliness Begets Loneliness," The Atlantic, April 6, 2017,. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/04/how-loneliness-begets-loneliness/521841/ . Accessed 8 June, 2020.
  3. "Social connections ... not only give us pleasure, they also influence our long-term health in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking. Dozens of studies have shown that people who have social support from family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. Conversely, a relative lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as with increased mortality. "The health benefits of strong relationships." https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/the-health-benefits-of-strong-relationships; Harvard Health Publishing