3 main things in a relationship

3 Core Components of a Healthy Relationship

Written By Mark Manson – filed under Relationships

Having healthy relationships comes easy to some people. For the rest of us, they’re about as easy a drooling third-grader trying to pass an astrophysics exam. Not only have we set ourselves up to fail, we lack the perspective to even know where to begin in creating healthy, loving relationships in our lives.

So, through a lot of trial and error on my end (and I mean, a lot), I’ve put together an entirely-too-nerdy-but-still-pretty-eye-opening guide to developing healthy relationships.

Let’s dive right in.

Table of Contents

  • 3 Core Components to a Healthy Relationship
  • Love as the Product, Not the Foundation
  • Losing One Core Component Erodes the Others
  • How to Regain the Components
  • Can a Toxic Relationship Be Saved?
  • Books on Relationships

All healthy relationships share the following three core components:

  1. Mutual respect
  2. Mutual trust
  3. Mutual affection

We’ll cover each component in more detail throughout this article, but briefly, here’s what they look like in a healthy relationship:

Respect in the relationship means that you both hold each other in high regard. When you respect someone, you admire them for certain qualities they possess and/or the character they embody.

Trust in each other means you take each other at your word. If one person says they’re going to do something, the other person assumes they’ll do as they say. If someone makes a mistake, the other person expects them to be honest and tell them. In fact, trust really just comes down to each person being completely honest with the other, even when it’s uncomfortable.

Affection in healthy relationships is freely given and received. Healthy couples don’t need to remind themselves to show their partner that they love and appreciate them. They just do. And the recipient receives affection with affection rather than turning it away or taking it for granted. If physical contact and sex are important for the relationship, each person engages enthusiastically (of course, no one will always be “in the mood,” but for the most part, this should hold true).

Problems in any or all of these areas could mean that one or both partners have an insecure attachment style or it could mean that the relationship is flawed in some other fundamental way.

Notice that love is not a core component of a healthy relationship. This comes as shock to a lot of people when they hear me say it. How could this even be possible?

Well, first consider the fact that you can love someone who is absolutely terrible for you. People stay in horrible, toxic, even abusive relationships because they love each other.

And it’s not that they’ve simply convinced themselves that they love the other person, they actually do love them. You can love a friend or relative who’s addicted to drugs or alcohol, even when they’re hurting you and everyone else around them. Children can love their neglectful and even abusive parents. So in much the same way, we can love a partner who’s terrible for us.

By itself, love is not enough to sustain a relationship. Love is not the reason two people should stay in a relationship. Instead, true, unconditional love is the wonderful product of two people creating a healthy bond with each other.

So with that caveat—that love isn’t enough to sustain a relationship—let’s turn to how a healthy relationship can begin to break down. Then, we’ll look at how broken relationships can possibly be fixed.

I call these three qualities of a relationship “core” components because they make up the real foundation of the relationship. And just like a foundation of a building, if one component falters, the others soon follow.

For example, if your partner begins to withhold affection in your relationship, it will likely lead to an erosion of trust. You might wonder why the sudden change? Are they eyeing or even seeing someone else? Are they really more interested in the mailman than they say they are? Is something wrong with me?

This can eventually cause one or both of you to lose respect for one another: your partner becomes uncomfortable with all the second-guessing and starts to doubt your “stability” as a partner (whether that’s an accurate assessment or not). And now, after all your second-guessing, you’re triple-guessing whether you chose a good partner—you’ve lost respect for one another.

Another example: say your partner joins what, to you, is clearly a get-rich-quick pyramid scheme. Up to this point, you’ve respected their intelligence and level-headedness. That respect has now taken a blow as you question your own judgment of them.

This causes you to lack trust in them with financial decisions (and maybe other decisions as well). Their long-term prospects as a partner are called into question: Will they make stupid financial decisions down the road? Will I get caught up in those bad decisions? What if we get married and have kids—can they make good decisions for our family?

As you can see, when you lose one of the core components of a healthy relationship, a downward spiral ensues.

The good news is that the spiral can work in the other direction as well.

Every relationship, at some point, is bound to run into problems with one or more of these core components. Two different types of things tend to happen when there is a breakdown: either a) one or both people change or b) mistakes are made.

And I don’t mean they change their hairstyle or what they eat for breakfast. I mean real-deal, identity-level changes.

Maybe your partner finds religion and decides to devote a lot of their time to the church/temple/mosque. If you’re not religious, this will certainly create tension in the relationship.

Maybe you decide that the world is going to hell and you’re going to devote all of your time to preparing for doomsday by building a bunker in the backyard and stockpiling guns and food. If your partner isn’t prone to this lifestyle, they’ll understandably start to question being with you.

Identity-level changes like these tend to make people lose respect for the other person. Something you admired about them is either gone, not very important to them anymore, or replaced with something you don’t respect as much as they do. This creates a vacuum of respect in the relationship.

I’ll be blunt: it’s very hard to overcome these sorts of issues in the relationship. But if you’re willing to work with them and their new identity, you’re going to have to find new sources of respect in the relationship.

If they’ve turned religious and you used to admire their secular, humanistic worldview, you might find a way to still respect their compassion for others.

If they decided to go full-blown, hippie-dippie, tree-hugging vegan and you just love to eat meat and drive a gas-guzzling monster truck to get groceries, well—I don’t know what the fuck you two are doing together, but maybe you can respect their recycling habit?

The point is that any respect that was lost in the transformation of one person must be made up in some way or another.

No one is perfect. I know that’s obvious, but it bears repeating because sometimes our standards for others are just not reasonable.

At any rate, when legitimate mistakes are made, trust in the relationship is violated.

Whatever mistake was made, a few things need to happen for the relationship to be fully restored:

  1. Give it some time. The sting of the mistake just naturally wears off with time. If you fucked up, give the other person some space to process the situation. If they fucked up, tell them you need a little time to think it over.
  2. Make sure it’s a one-time mistake. Acknowledging your mistake is one thing, but being responsible and accountable for it by committing to not doing it again shows the other person you’re serious about the relationship. Repeat offenders—when it’s something that truly threatens the relationship—should be avoided at all costs.
  3. The other person must be open to forgiveness (eventually). Even if some time has passed and the person who made the mistake has given an honest, true effort to never do it again, it doesn’t mean that the “victim” must be willing to forgive them.

Now, mistakes vary in degree and severity and, therefore, vary in how easily they’re overcome.

Minor mistakes—like snide comments made at the wrong time or forgetting to run an errand for the other person—usually take very little time to get over, they’re easily avoided in the future, and easily forgiven by the other person.

Bigger mistakes will take a lot more work on both ends of the relationship. You’ll have to ask yourself if it’s truly worth it (and be brutally honest in your answer).

One of the most common types of questions I get is about relationships. They always have a backstory to tell, a moment when they realized things weren’t going all that smoothly, a specific incident they think illustrates their problem just right.

But really, they’re all asking the same question. Namely, how can you turn a toxic relationship into a healthy one?

If this is you, or if you’re not sure if your relationship is toxic or not, check out my guide to toxic relationships and how to fix them:

Read: 6 Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship

If you’re finding the same issues popping up over and over in your relationships, I encourage you to check out the following books:

  • Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix
  • Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson
  • 7 Principles That Make Marriage Work by John Gottman
  • The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • Models by… me, Mark Manson

15 Most Important Things In A Relationship


The thought of losing that special person you love really puts perspective on the most important things in a relationship. Sometimes we fight with our partners for the silliest of reasons. Maybe they didn’t help you pick a color for the kitchen wall, or they forgot to compliment you on your new haircut. Some people eventually realize that there’s more to a partnership than just those things. But many couples don’t, and they allow these small arguments to ruin a beautiful relationship. Keep reading to understand the 15 most important things to focus on in a relationship and what you must let go of.

1. Open Communication

Open communication is the foundation of any successful relationship (1). Your significant other cannot read your mind (neither can anyone else). So, voicing your feelings, expectations, and needs is essential. Even if you are in the middle of a conflict, communication comes in handy to resolve conflicts and strengthen your bond. Without communication, you are creating resentment, piling up misunderstandings, and giving rise to bitterness. Be mindful of the fact that all these are fatal for any relationship.

2. Trust In Each Other


Having trust in a relationship signals longevity and permanence. However, if you lack this ingredient, it is not a healthy, secure, and stable relationship. Trust can be built with time and grows stronger if you are both willing to work on having a healthy relationship and grow together. You can’t make your love life exciting and fulfilling if the element of trust is missing.

Related: 121 Relationship Trust Quotes To Strengthen Your Bond

3. Respecting Each Other

No matter how cliché it sounds, disrespecting your partner can fade the love too. Love cannot be a justification for sacrificing your self-worth or disrespecting your partner. For a relationship to bloom and prosper, partners need to respect each other. You need to respect the differences and not impose your likes or dislikes on the other. The best way to strengthen your bond is to celebrate and respect the differences. Disrespecting each other only sprouts resentment and can damage any relationship.

4. Loyalty

Being unfaithful is probably the most detrimental thing to any relationship. Love that is coupled with loyalty is long-lasting and sacred. Loyalty is the building block of a relationship. If you want to make it work, then you have to commit to your partner. It is possible that your significant other is not as witty as your coworker or as extroverted as your ex, but there is a reason why you chose them over everyone else. This should be the basis for your unflinching loyalty. A relationship fails when you have a third person in the mix, regardless of whether you disclose that person’s identity or keep it under wraps from your partner.

Related: How To Define Loyalty In A Relationship

5. Compromise

For a relationship to flourish, making compromises is essential for both individuals. Work on finding common ground between the both of you for your relationship to thrive. A successful relationship includes compromising from both ends as no one can always have it their way. If you keep depriving your partner and consider only your needs, it can lead to resentment and even end your relationship.

6. Upholding Independence

As a couple, if you eat, breathe, live and sleep together all the time, it is perfectly okay. However, having your own individual time is equally important. When in a relationship, you should never lose yourself. Of course, you both may spark changes in each other, but you can always retain the charm and personality that makes you different and induce it in your relationship.

Stylecraze Says

Setting healthy boundaries in relationships may help reduce codependency. They create a sense of mutual respect and ensure individual well-being.

7. A Feeling Of Safety

The feeling that you are safe with your significant other makes it worthwhile to stay in a relationship. However, if your safety is questioned, all other emotions start failing, and your bond eventually crumbles. In a committed relationship, you have to keep up the sacred vow of protecting and loving your partner in all the circumstances of life. This feeling of safety extends to both physical and emotional safety.

8. Being Happy


The hustle and bustle of everyday life can lead to a slump in your relationship. So, finding ways to fill it with fun, excitement, and happiness is essential. No relationship is sunshine and rainbows at all times, but ensuring that happier times overshadow unhappy ones is vital. Laughter brings two hearts together and can help balance out worries.

9. Being A Team

As much as you require personal space, staying strong together is vital too. A relationship requires you to wear different hats at various times. Sometimes you may have to listen to your partner patiently and offer support. At other times, you must offer unbiased, constructive criticism or a different perspective to help them make better, informed choices. Of course, there will be times when your partner will have to step into those roles for you as well. Your combined strengths compensate for each other’s weaknesses and help you work through challenging situations effectively. As different individuals, you have to team up together to work on your relationship.

10. Forgiveness


Forgiveness is a very important virtue, and nobody is perfect in this world. You might have a list of qualities you are looking for in your partner, but at the end of the day, to err is human and to forgive is divine. If a sincere heart makes an apology and works on doing things differently, learn to forgive and move on. There might be some mistakes that can impact the relationship severely, but you can work on everything. If you and your partner want to put those mistakes behind you and work on rebuilding the relationship, both of you must be able to forgive each other before you can move forward.

11. Spending Quality Time Together


How do two strangers become inseparable and end up totally in love? Well, it is all about spending quality time with each other and prioritizing your relationship. The time spent together helps to know your partner better. It opens communication channels and helps in building your friendship and fostering trust for each other. It can be a small task like taking a walk together or watching the sun rise over a steaming hot cup of tea in the mornings, but it can do wonders for your relationship.

12. Be Emotionally Available

As much as a relationship is all about love and happiness, it is also about being emotionally available for your partner in trying times. Lend your ear when your partner wants to be heard about their emotional challenges. Being insensitive to their emotions and staying consumed in your own world will leave a void that can tempt your partner to fill it with a third party. Listening to and validating your partner’s feelings will bring you closer and make you stronger as a couple.

Related: 15 Signs Of An Emotionally Connected Relationship

13. Express Love


Who doesn’t want to be told that they are the most special and important person in their partner’s life over and over again? Don’t ever take your significant other for granted. Voice your feelings of love and admiration to let them know how much they mean to you. This will also maximize your opportunities of receiving love.

14. Be Kind

The small acts of kindness you do for your partner might look trivial but will stay in their heart forever. Through these little gestures, you can let your partner know that you care about them and that you always have their back. And rest assured that they will go out of their way to reciprocate these kind deeds in their own way to make you feel special. This lays the foundation for a strong relationship.

Stylecraze Says

Pay attention to how you refer to your partner in front of others. Be kind with your words, speak positively about them, and compliment them to brighten their day

15. Commit To Success

Every relationship is a two-way street, and it takes two people to commit to each other to make it work. If you are invested in your relationship, it has a better chance of surviving hardships Every relationship comes with its share of challenges, and the ones that survive the onslaught of time have commitment as the basic ingredient.

It may surprise many, but love is not the only requirement for a happy and fulfilling relationship; it is made of many smaller yet vital components. Open communication, loyalty, kindness, compassion, trust, emotional vulnerability, and willingness to forgive are some of the most important things that keep a relationship afloat. However, every relationship is different, and while some partners value the feeling of security the most, others may depend heavily on respect for each other’s boundaries. So, it helps to know about your partner’s expectations from the relationship and convey your own.

Frequently Asked Questions

What keeps most couples together?

Maintaining healthy boundaries, open communication, and balancing busy schedules and priorities to find time for each other are some factors that keep couples together.

What kills a relationship faster?

lack of intimacy, unrealistic expectations, abusive behavior, and suppression of emotions can kill a relationship faster.

Key Takeaways

  • A relationship is much more than complimenting your partner’s new haircut or helping them pick a dress.
  • Open communication, trust, and compromise are a few of the most important things you need in a partnership.
  • You need to invest time and effort and work things out together to keep your love alive.