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4 Encouraging Signs That Your Relationship Can Be Saved

Making sure you don't give up when there's a chance to grow stronger and closer.

Key points

  • Relationships go through painful times that can feel discouraging about the future of staying together.
  • Those on the outside looking in may not be able to see the healthy pillars that make your relationship strong.
  • Partners who take perspective to rediscover what works well will feel a renewed sense of optimism about their relationships.

Intimate relationships are complex. What works for one couple—what some see as acceptable or even perfectly fine—will not be the case for other couples. Some friends may offer their "helpful opinions" when they know of those hurting in their relationships. For example:

  • "He stomped around like that—for real? I wouldn't put up with that if I were you!"
  • "She can't do that on her own? Dude, she sounds super dependent! I'd run from that crap, bro."

The question of relationship health and value really comes down to this: Are there reliable signs that your intimate connection holds promise even if you are going through some difficult struggles?

4 Guideposts of Hope for Your Relationship

1. Empathy is evident.

As I explain in my book, Why Can't You Read My Mind?, all relationships endure toxic thinking between partners. Examples of these toxic thoughts are:

  • You never consider my feelings.
  • I can't count on you when I need to.
  • You have no idea how to listen.

Let's face it. We all get some negative, and even toxic, thoughts about our partners, at times. Yet when partners have the ability to see each other's point of view, these toxic thoughts fade and even get zapped. Empathy is truly the emotional glue that holds loving relationships together.

2. The "four horsemen" don't stay in your pasture.

Noted relationship expert, John Gottman, describes what he terms the "four horsemen" that signal the demise of relationships. While no relationship is perfect, if you see an absence of these relationship-destroying behaviors, you are likely in a pretty good place. As described by Gottman, they are:

  • Criticism: Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint. It is an attack on the core of their character. In effect, you are dismantling their whole being when you criticize.
  • Contempt: The second horseman is contempt. When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean—we treat others with disrespect, mock them with sarcasm, ridicule, call them names, and mimic or use body language such as eye-rolling or scoffing. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.
  • Defensiveness: The third horseman is defensiveness, and it is typically a response to criticism. We’ve all been defensive, and this horseman is nearly omnipresent when relationships are on the rocks. When we feel unjustly accused, we fish for excuses and play the innocent victim so that our partner will back off.
  • Stonewalling: The fourth horseman is stonewalling, which is usually a response to contempt. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, shuts down, and simply stops responding to their partner. Rather than confronting the issues with their partner, people who stonewall can make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive or distracting behaviors.

3. You feel like you are friends.

It amazes me how often I have observed bickering or quarreling partners in my office who are able to shift from strained exchanges and acknowledge feeling like best friends to one another. Seeing each other as friends is a wonderful way to keep your relationship strong. It holds promise for coming through the bad times and moving to a better place in your relationship.

4. You give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Recently I wrote a post here on Psychology Today from which I received a lot of positive feedback from readers. It's about partners giving each other the benefit of the doubt. The main points are:

  • Shifting your focus to understanding your partner's struggles builds goodwill that comes back to you and strengthens your relationship.
  • Reflecting on the positive reasons that you have chosen your partner creates emotionally healing energy and connection that comes back to both of you.
  • Assuming your partner has good intentions helps you give them your best attention.

Giving your partner the benefit of the doubt comes from a sense of caring and understanding in your relationship. When you give your partner the benefit of the doubt, they will feel closer to you and more appreciated by you. This will likely help them give you the benefit of the doubt, too.

Final Thoughts

You did not sign up to be in an emotionally or physically abusive, or toxically manipulative relationship. It is best to get professional help and possibly get out if you are in one. That said, if the points above about seeing the strengths in your relationship resonate with you and give you a sense of realistic hope, then your relationship may be stronger than your think.


Bernstein, J. (2003) Why Can't You Read My Mind, DaCapo Books, New York, NY.

Gottman Institute (2022). The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling,…

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