Shy Krug, Ph.D., CST
Noting the "Green Flags" in a Relationship
We often hear or talk about the "red flags" in a relationship. What makes someone toxic, what constitutes abuse, or when someone won't commit to a long-term relationship, for example. While there are numerous potential indicators that a relationship is unhealthy, no amount of awareness and successful avoidance of these "red flags" necessarily translates to a happy, healthy relationship. There must, instead, be an active pursuit of a relationship that is satisfying, rewarding, and fulfilling. So how do we ensure that the necessary markers are present that maximize the opportunities to pursue this kind of relationship? Instead of focusing on the "red flags" in a relationship, let's talk about the "green flags" in a relationship--the signs that the tools and foundations for a health relationship are present.
As the specifics values that guide an individual and couple towards a meaningful relationship are highly diverse, there is no "cookie-cutter" approach that fits all. The following list is neither exhaustive nor prescriptive--there are elements missing that might be essential for you and there may be elements that you feel are unrelated to your pursuit of satisfaction.
Respect forms the foundation of any healthy relationship. When both partners genuinely value and appreciate each other's thoughts, boundaries, and individuality, it creates an environment of trust, support, and equality. They treat each other with kindness, consideration, and admiration, demonstrating that they recognize and honor each other's worth. Mutual respect ensures that both partners feel valued and encourages personal growth within the relationship.
2. Effective communicator
Clear and open communication is the backbone of a successful relationship. When both partners feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, emotions, and needs without fear of judgment or resentment, it sets the stage for understanding and growth. Healthy communication involves active listening, empathy, and a willingness to resolve conflicts in a constructive manner. Green flag relationships prioritize communication as a means to foster trust and connection.
Trust, as a general colloquial definition, often refers to believability. Do you trust that someone will do what they say they'll do. John Gottman, the founder of the Gottman Approach to couples therapy, uses trust in a more nuanced way. Trust, according to Gottman, refers to a broader construct in relationships which reflects the intentions of each person towards the other. Do you trust that your partner has your best interests at heart? That they will be there for you through thick and thin? That they want to be in this relationship for the right reasons? This kind of trust is a pillar of sustainable long-term relationships. Green flag partners feel secure and confident in their bond, knowing that they can rely on each other. They are open about their feelings, aspirations, and concerns, fostering an atmosphere of transparency and vulnerability. Trust is built through moments in a relationship where partners "show up" for one another, in both big moments and small.
While being part of a couple, it is essential to maintain a sense of individuality. Green flag partners encourage each other's personal growth, interests, and goals. They understand the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between togetherness and individuality. This interdependence is in contrast to codependence, in which partners become so reliant on one another that individual functioning begins to break down and can negatively affect both the individual and the couple.
In a healthy relationship, both partners prioritize each other's emotional and physical well-being. As the old adage goes, "You can't pour from an empty cup." In order to meaningfully participate and contribute to the functioning of a relationship, each individual is uniquely responsible for maintaining their emotional and physical well-being. This also goes beyond each person tending to their own well-being to also supporting and encouraging one's partner to support their well-being. By prioritizing each other's well-being, green flag partners create an environment where both individuals can flourish.
6. Shared values
Green flag relationships often involve partners who share common values, beliefs, or interests. While differences can add depth and variety, having a solid foundation of shared values and interests strengthens the connection and fosters a sense of belonging and alignment. This common ground allows partners to build a life together that aligns with their shared vision, creating a fulfilling and harmonious partnership.
7. Fair fighter
Fighting happens in relationships. What is often more beneficial than being able to prevent fights is how to fight fair and how to repair following a fight. Green flag relationships have fights that are still rooted in respect, gentle approaches, and describing thoughts, feelings, and needs, not the wrongdoing of the other. These green flag relationships also include taking responsibility for one's contributions to a fight, receiving influence from one's partner, and acknowledging the viewpoints of others.
Recognizing and nurturing the green flags in a relationship is vital for fostering a healthy and fulfilling partnership. These "green flags" are part of a larger picture of ways to build a sound relationship. By paying attention to these "green flags", you can build a foundation of love, trust, and understanding that will support you and your partner throughout your journey together.