- We often focus on avoiding the red flags in relationships but also need to know the green flags.
- These green flags serve as a guidepost for building strong relationships that support individual well-being.
- Seek someone you trust who helps you grow, respects your boundaries, and makes you laugh.
- When you're together, look for an overall vibe of positive regard and collaboration.
One of the smartest people in my life once told me that we can either focus our attention on running from what we fear (failing, being hurt by someone we love), or we can channel that energy to running toward something that we want (a great job, a loving relationship). She referred to this as "running from the bear" versus "running toward what you want." It's a mental shift we can make with some practice and skill.
In relationship science, we often focus on relationship problems and challenges (the bears). The One Love Foundation's 10 signs of an unhealthy relationship is a simple and comprehensive effort to articulate the biggest of these "red flags." I want everyone to know these because they tell us when to get out or get help. However, knowing what to run toward in a relationship is also critically important.
These 10 green flags are a start to that conversation.
- Trust: The foundation of intimacy in any relationship is trust. We need to believe that when we show ourselves fully, talk about our deepest fears or regrets, or become physically intimate, the other person is going to treat us with love and care. Trust is a feeling but needs to be backed up by action. It is important to attune ourselves to the times someone shows themselves trustworthy based on what they do (or don't do).
- Respecting boundaries: We all have things that scare, upset, or irritate us. We have different preferences for time spent together and apart. Partners who hear us when we set a boundary and adjust their behavior (without a lot of grumbling and push-back) are showing respect for us in an important way.
- Communication: It is critically important to be able to have difficult conversations with a partner without everyone losing their cool. Or at least, you need to be able to lose your cool, calm down, and then try again with good intentions. Good communication is easy on your best day. Still, someone who can wade through a conversation about complex emotions, difficult problems, or their shortcomings with openness and compassion is a green flag worth seeking. Importantly, people can get better at this over time. It's a skill. Even if someone is not a stellar communicator, if they show up with a willingness to try and show improvement over time, that can be a green flag, too.
- Regulating emotions: We can't always control the emotions that hit us, but with practice and effort, we can learn how to regulate our responses to big emotions. It is reasonable in adult relationships to expect our partners to experience anger without lashing out, to show skills in managing stress or anxiety, and to seek professional help when self-regulation feels out of reach. Someone who has built skills and strategies for managing difficult emotions has the potential to be a strong partner, even when they are struggling.
- Independence: The development of a relationship often leads us to more and more interdependence—relying on each other for emotional support and help with the daily tasks of life. That's expected and normal. However, a partner needs to retain some of their independence. Partners who can balance togetherness and time alone or with friends are good. Having a job they care about, interests separate from the relationship, and relationships with others all help build a stronger foundation for the romantic bond.
- Responsibility: Adults take responsibility for themselves and their actions. In a relationship, this means being willing to apologize when you make a mistake and taking ownership of your role in arguments.
- Laughter: When you ask people what they want in a romantic partner, some version of "funny" or "sense of humor" seems to come up for almost everyone. I have long suspected that most of us don't need to be in a relationship with a comedian; we want to laugh with our partners. Laughing at life together is good medicine, especially when it helps diffuse the tension of difficult situations—someone who can laugh with you but never at you is a bright green flag.
- Growth: The very best relationships make us better. Psychologists have called this the Michelangelo phenomenon. We learn new skills and ways of seeing the world from being with someone else. This relates to the most important green flag: Liking who you are when you are with the person. Do they bring out the best in you? Do you feel yourself growing and changing toward the best version of yourself? This does not mean having a partner who is your task master at the gym. It does mean having new skills and perspectives to bring into your life that feel productive, helpful, and enriching.
- Positive regard: In every interaction with our partners, we have a choice to give the person the benefit of the doubt or emphasize their flaws and mistakes. In strong relationships, both partners use positive regard (assuming the best of someone) as their default setting. On our worst day, we need our partners to give us some grace instead of jumping on our bad mood or snarky tone. An important caveat here is that we need to assess our partners honestly and make sure we are not giving them positive regard when they are mistreating us.
- Collaboration: Life throws couples plenty of problems and challenges. No matter how strong your bond or your excellent communication, you will encounter things that require difficult and sometimes life-changing conversations. Look for someone who approaches those moments (big and small) with a spirit of collaboration and teamwork. Problems are much easier to solve when you approach them as a united front: This is you and me against the problem, not you and me against each other.
The premise of Assembly Required is that great relationships are formed, not found. This list is not a quiz to put your partner through and prove they are great or terrible. Instead, consider each green flag as a continuum from very strong to weak. We all have the capacity to grow and change and to get better at things we struggle with.
As long as your partner treats you with love, kindness, and respect, set your sights on these green flags and start running toward them together.
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