Signs of a healthy relationship

Posted by on Jul 22, 2021 in Blog | 2 comments

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I’ve been asked the question often enough, “How can we be sure our love will last? How can we know if our relationship is more than infatuation?” 

Many decades ago I was helped to explore the question by Anthony Kosnik’s (ed) work Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought. It provoked more than a little debate when it was first published in 1977, which explains why the reviewers on Amazon who give it four or five stars, are countered by those who give it a scathing one star. As I say, many considered it extreme when it first came out. 

I studied the report in an ethics course I was taking at the University of South Africa in the 70’s. I say “the report” for the book is a report on a commission into human sexuality undertaken by the Catholic Society of America. On seeing it referred to recently, I hauled out my now over 40 year old notes (I have lost the book) and thought through them. Seems I didn’t find the book too provocative, for my jottings are essentially affirming, so perhaps I glossed over the controversial parts of the book referred to by some outraged Amazon reviewers. True, what seemed controversial in the 1970’s seems very tame today, other than for some genuinely weird comments about bestiality apparently made in the report (perhaps acceptable in certain circumstances – seriously?) 

Most helpful in the book is the selection of 7 signs said to characterise a genuinely loving and a healthy relationship. I was dating Rosemary at the time and we worked through them and decided we had the real thing, a conclusion we are just as confident of 40 plus years of marriage later.  I think it is worth reminding ourselves of them in the 2020’s. 

The report suggests the 7 key signs indicating that a relationship will be happy and healthy in the long term are that it is: 

  • Self liberating (that is, it releases us from constantly obsessing about ourselves. It makes us feel accepted so that we are free to take an interest in others)
  • Other enriching (it’s not just about what we become, but about what the person we love becomes as a result of our love)
  • Faithful (think of Jacob in Genesis 29, who was willing to wait 7 years to marry his beloved Rachel)
  • Honest (which is more than not telling lies, but implies being true about who we are. It’s being together without pretence and without trying to impress – though true love does motivate us to bring the best version of our self to the table)
  • Socially responsible (interesting this one, because it could be read as “supporting the status quo” – though this was not what the report meant. The emphasis was on relationships which make you want to put something back into the world. It is a relationship that has a dividend not just for the two of you, but for the wider world)
  • Life serving (it makes you happy. It energises you and makes you want to try things. Again, think of Jacob, whose love for Rachel made the seven years he had to work for her feel like seven weeks)
  • Joyous (true, all lovers have squabbles and unhappy moments, but real love brings a sense of joy and gratitude for the gift of life)

While most obviously relevant to love and marriage, it strikes me that this is also a helpful list to evaluate the health of our workplaces (is the company as faithful to me as I am to it? Does my work produce a social dividend? Am I more alive because I have this work, or does it drain and depress me?) We could also use them to assess our friendships, and perhaps even the role we play in the local church and the part it plays in our life.

What if we are in a relationship (love, work, friendship, church, whatever) and these are missing? I guess the principle is that when we know what to aim at, we are more likely to hit it. And it could be that we sometimes overlook something we could easily work at and improve. If our relationships have soured into drudgery or bitterness, we could explore what would restore our joy.

Well – what do you think of Kosnik’s list? What’s missing or what would you add in? Does it ring true for you, and do you think you can apply it in contexts other than love and marriage?

As always, nice chatting…


  1. Excellent! That’s tonight’s after-dinner-and-kids-are-in-bed conversation topic sorted! Great stuff as always…;)


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