Alex J Brown
5 Signs You're In the Right Relationship
Have you ever heard the song, “The Bones,” by Hozier and Maren Morris? The line that always stands out when I hear that (jam) song is, “The house don’t fall when the bones are good.” I can’t say I understood that line or that idea until I found myself in the right relationship. This was the kind of love song I longed to be representative of my relationship experiences - as is the case when most of us are searching for soul connection do - but finding it was and has been an entire process of learning, unlearning, unpacking, and reorganizing my own belief system. Love is the heaviest, deepest, and hardest of work, because it means integrating all we know of ourselves and our wounds with those of another - and figuring out if it’s sustainable long-term.
But, how do you know when you’re in the right relationship?
The right relationship doesn’t have to be your forever relationship. It doesn’t have to be “the one” – but it’s pretty rad if it is. In this case, “right” translates to “right-fitting,” in that enough of the bones are good that the hard stuff isn’t fatal – to your relationship or to parts of who you are as individuals.
We don’t talk enough about “green flags,” so here you have it: 5 signs you’re in the right relationship – even if it’s not forever.
1. You're not performing.
In the right relationship, you feel free to be your whole, beautiful, messy human self. There are so many places in our lives where we are forced to step up as our “best selves,” and this often means setting aside what's true and real for us for the sake of saving face (read: performing).
With a partner that actually gets you, you won’t feel like they only want the cleanest, shiniest version of you. You will feel like they want the real you. And you will (maybe) start to take some of that armor off and lay it aside so they can see exactly that. Relationships should never be a performance, and when you get to the depth of your intimacy, you want to be there with someone who’s ready to show up with you, and who doesn't expect you to take the stage.
Reminder: You have to want that, too.
2. You actually want to work on your sh*t.
Here’s the deal. Relationships bring up your baggage. Sorry to burst your bubble, but this can’t be avoided. A therapist once told me, “When you truly feel safe in a relationship, the garbage can lid comes off.” Which means, the safest relationships are the ones where our deepest pain comes out to be healed. Oh goodie.
In other words, it's not all fun and games. It's not all sunshine and rainbows. It's real work.
When we’re on autopilot or not safe in a relationship or in a relationship with someone we like but don’t really recognize them as someone we want to invest deeply in, we may default to those relational patterns that have never served us (and still won’t) when we're triggered. The incentive outside our own internal motivation to be a better human just isn’t there, or our partner isn’t showing up in the ways we need to feel safe. This is an indicator of a mismatch, because the hard stuff is what makes or breaks a bond.
When a relationship works, baggage is still deeply uncomfortable (sorry!), but the investment is different. You may think, “I don’t want to repeat that pattern with this person,” because you care so much more deeply about the outcome. You and your partner want to learn from the past so that it doesn’t destroy your future together. As a result, you find yourself making intentional effort (mutually) to confront and break old relational patterns for the sake of the health of you AND the relationship.
3. You seek genuine resolution to conflicts (including taking accountability)
There is extreme power in accountability when it comes to preserving the health of relationships. Accountability is hard, and moving past our reactivity is hard. In the right relationship, conflict won’t be perfect all the time. It will still look messy when you “miss” each other in your interactions. The key is that when the dust settles – or ideally, before there is dust – you are focused on finding a place of mutual understanding and a clear path forward, together.
What this looks like:
Circling back and apologizing for things you said or did that may have caused harm;
Asking your partner what they may need in order for the conflict to feel resolved for them, and communicating those needs for yourself;
Not repeating harmful behavior the next time conflict rolls around;
Understanding the things that may always lead to difficulty in your relationship, and exploring them together;
Talking about the conflict even after it’s over, and sharing what you've learned about yourselves and each other through it.
A learning of my own: I had a realization about my conflict with a former partner that was really helpful for me that has changed the way I think about disagreement. I realized that the primary hurt I experience with my partner is that I missed them and wanted them to come back to me, but I couldn't find the path there. So, I struggled with them and my own triggers trying to bring them back, often not in the most helpful ways (because we often fight from our wounds by default). I recognized the pure relief I felt when we finally found ourselves on the same plane again was a signal that all I truly wanted was for us to be close. That's what made me feel peaceful.
In relationships of all kinds, rejection tends to be our greatest fear. We may try desperately to avoid it, even if it means putting up our own walls. When our trust in those we love is greater than our fear of being hurt by them, when we can soften into that belief, we may find that we are, indeed, safe and accepted.
Takeaway: When we recognize that disconnection is the primary cause of our relational pain, we can start shedding the reactions that breed it and finding the path back to each other more quickly.
4. You take each other’s needs, experiences, and opinions into consideration.
If you’re as stubborn as I am, attuning to someone else’s needs and desires when they are different from your own doesn’t feel like second nature. The truth is, in the society we live in, with all the bad information we’re taught about relationships, most healthy, functional relationship behavior isn’t intuitive.
Connection is funny that way. We can’t live without it, but when we are in it - truly in it - we struggle to set our stuff aside and embrace it. When we find a right-fitting relationship, we may start to realize that this is something we actually want to get better at – it may even feel easier than it ever has to do.
In order to be focused on needs within your relationship, you have to be willing to talk about needs. Odds are, there’s one person in your relationship that’s going to be better at those conversations, and that’s okay. Next, you have to be willing to listen for needs in the day-to-day, even if they don’t come out in the “Here’s what I need right now” kind of clear way we always want them to.
Real life example: When I was moving in with a partner, we learned a lot about each other in a very short amount of time. I started to notice she was getting frustrated when I would try to rearrange certain items in the house or when I would ask if something was worth keeping to her. Eventually, I had to ask, “Is something going on for you around this process?” Ultimately, I learned that she was experiencing some grief about these major changes to her home, and that she had a sentimental attachment to some of her possessions and the history they represented. We decided to check in a little more intentionally through the move, and ultimately just her knowing that I was aware made it easier to let go of some of that attachment – for both of us.
5. You feel safe respectfully attending to your own needs.
Raise your hand if you find it harder to take care of yourself in a relationship than outside of one!
Welcome to real life, where we get so caught up in our partnership routines that we sometimes forget there are things that make us feel more whole outside the relationship.
What matters is what happens when we realize this.
Do we communicate it to our partner?
Do they respond supportively?
If there is insecurity or hurt around it, is it shared without blame?
Can you and your partner share the best ways to communicate about things you need?
It’s normal to feel a little rejected when your partner shares that they need something you can’t provide, but if it’s shared respectfully, it’s actually often an act of love and trust. The more you practice attending to your needs and sharing them openly, the more stable the relationship will be, and the safer both of you will feel to be all that you are.
Real-ationships take work, and when you find a partner who is willing to show up to that work with you, there are many beautiful and life-changing things to learn along the way. I guarantee, no matter the outcome, the work is well worth the growth that you'll experience because of it.
So go forth, friends, and love imperfectly.