There are many types of relationships and ways of being in relationship. Some people are interested in short term dating relationships without long term commitment, while others are looking for a long term, committed relationship. These relationships can be monogamous or open.

The qualities of a healthy or unhealthy relationship listed below apply to all types of relationships! Below is the Equality Wheel to help you review aspects of healthy relationships. It is important to note that these are general guidelines for helping you to determine if you are in a relationship that is healthy or unhealthy. Sometimes unhealthy relationships can escalate to interpersonal violence.

If you are unsure what kind of relationship you are in, if you have more questions, or if you want to talk to someone about your relationship, UNC-CH has resources that can help you. Please visit the Find Support page on this website.


equality wheel

Characteristics of Healthy Relationships

In a healthy relationship, all partners feel satisfied by being in the relationship, and each person has individual rights. Research by John Gottman indicates that a healthy relationship has a 5 to 1 ratio of positive behaviors to negative behaviors. Positive behaviors include expressions of humor, joy, affection, and interest. Negative behaviors include expressions of anger, contempt or disgust, whining, sadness, fear, and tension.

Characteristics of Healthy Relationships:

  • Open communication
  • Trust
  • Mutual respect for opinions
  • Compromise
  • Equality in decision making
  • Shared respect for each other’s values
  • Respect for each person’s sexual boundaries and desires
  • Willingness to honestly discuss problems
  • Willingness to tell your partner what you need or want
  • Honesty
  • Accountability
  • Always using a nonviolent approach to resolving conflict
  • Understanding that conflict and anger are okay sometimes
  • Taking responsibility for yourself
  • Accepting the fact that everyone makes mistakes
  • Owning your own mistakes
  • Commitment
  • Joy and playfulness

Characteristics of Unhealthy Relationships

Not all romantic relationships are healthy. Sometimes, partners can get into relationships where equality and respect are not demonstrated. Dr. John Gottman, a researcher and expert in the field of relationships, has identified 4 characteristics that are common in unhealthy relationships.

1. Criticism
• Attacking someone’s personality or character rather than a specific behavior; the attack is usually accompanied with blame.
• Any statement that begins with “you always” or “you never” is a criticism rather than a complaint.
• Example: “You talked about yourself all through dinner and didn’t ask me anything about my day. How can you treat me this way? What kind of a self-centered person are you?”

2. Defensiveness
• A common defensive mechanism is where someone rarely admits they are wrong and instead blames the other partner for not somehow preventing the mistake, which makes it their fault.
• Usually this includes denying responsibility for the problem by diverting, deflecting, attacking, or defending, which fuels the conflict.
• Example: “How about when you explode into a tantrum?”

3. Contempt
• Any statement or nonverbal behavior that puts oneself on a higher plane than one’s partner. The facial expression of contempt, such as eye rolling or showing disgust, is particularly corrosive to relationships.
• Contempt is the single best predictor of divorce and break-ups; it is found heavily in unhealthy relationships and essentially zero in healthy relationships.
• Example: “It’s not, ‘I could care less,’ it’s ‘I couldn’t care less.’ At least get that right!”

4. Stonewalling/Withdrawal
• Occurs when the listener withdraws (through physically leaving or emotionally shutting down) from the interaction.
• Non-verbal behavior expresses the withdrawal, such as few glances, looking away or down, saying little, concealing, or lack of, facial expressions.

Questions to Ask Yourself about Your Relationship

Not sure about what category your relationship falls into? Here are some questions to ask yourself about your relationship:

  • Do all partners have genuine concern for the well-being of the other?
  • Can I “be myself” around my partner? Can my partner “be him/her/hir self” around me?
  • Is our relationship based on trust?
  • What does it look like when we have an argument/disagreement/fight? Are we still respectful of each other’s safety, boundaries, and beliefs even when we’re angry?
  • How comfortable am I to tell my partner intimate things about me? Are they comfortable telling me intimacies about their life?
  • Can we talk freely about issues that are important to the relationship?
  • Are both partners aware and mindful of each partner’s needs?
  • Do I respect my partner’s boundaries? Does my partner respect my boundaries?
  • Can we laugh together? How often does that happen?
  • Does my partner know what is important to me? Do I know what is important to my partner?