Our romantic relationships are some of the most important connections we have. They’re essential ways to build our self-concept and provide opportunities for us to connect with society at large. Healthy relationships develop our self-esteem, mental and physical health, and understanding of the world. But when everything from Instagram reels to our relatives during the holidays push us toward being in any relationship rather than the right one, it’s easy for those positive benefits to slip away. And even when you take your time, a healthy relationship can fall apart before we know what’s happened.
We surveyed 686 people from all walks of life in the United States to find out how they think their relationship is doing and what evidence they have to support that — or what might be slipping through the cracks. Read on to find out how right they were and where your relationship might fit with gender and generational trends.
In order to determine who’s in a healthy relationship, we had to define what a healthy relationship looks like. Healthy relationships rely on meeting everyone’s needs, which vary widely from person to person. Ultimately, our broad definition revolved around seven aspects. Some of these are active steps, while others are mutual feelings. All of them are strong indicators of health in a relationship.
Since a strong, healthy relationship is built on dozens of intersecting experiences, feelings, and values, some of these definitions overlap. We’ve included them to provide some nuance to the three-dimensional experience of a healthy relationship. The chart below breaks down each of these seven major characteristics.
You trust each other, giving each other the benefit of the doubt. You feel secure, believe what they say, and are comfortable around them.
You respect each other as individuals. You value each other’s feelings, abilities, hopes, needs, and goals. There’s a mutual understanding of your and your partner’s boundaries, and you don’t overstep them.
You can communicate with each other about your wants and needs and take appropriate actionable steps to help them achieve their goals. Likewise, you hear their struggles and can help them weather hardship.
You share open communication about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences inside and outside the relationship. Everyone feels listened to and comfortable sharing without judgment.
You work together as a team but have an identity outside your relationship. You have friends and interests outside of each other, and don’t stop doing things you enjoy just because you’re dating. You support each other’s hobbies, interests, and companions.
Both you and your partner listen to and respect each other’s love languages. You tell each other you love them, provide physical affection, spend quality time together, and more. Plus, you feel comfortable discussing boundaries and expectations with one another.
The wants and needs of one partner don’t override the other. No one tries to change you, and you feel listened to and respected.
How we understand our personal relationships isn’t always the full story, but it can provide valuable insights. After all, how we feel about our lives dictates our outlook and how we move through the world. Plus, it allows us to understand how unhealthy relationship patterns might go unnoticed. Unhealthy relationships can lead to tension and arguments; at worst, divorce and domestic violence. They are also more likely to correlate to worse mental and physical health.
Our participants were asked one straightforward question: on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being “extremely healthy”), how healthy do you think your current relationship is? Their answers gave us a starting point for average health and how people generally feel about their relationships.
On average, everyone thought they were in healthy relationships. The average score was 8.2 out of 10, but generational averages varied slightly:
Gender breakdowns split almost evenly. Men rated their relationships slightly healthier than women, at 8.3 out of 10 and 8.2 out of 10, respectively. (We didn’t have enough transgender or nonbinary participants to make statistical claims about their perceptions of relationship health.)
After asking their opinion on the overall health of their relationship, we asked participants questions that dove a little beyond their conscious thought. Questions indirectly investigated people’s feelings about each of the seven major traits of a healthy relationship, allowing us insight into the truth of a relationship. Participants could rate these questions on a five-point Likert scale from “never” to “always”; points were given in each category depending on their answer. We also compared these answers to their self-reported relationship health to determine where the differences might lie.
A vast majority of our participants reported healthy traits and behaviors within their relationships. They:
The most polarizing aspect of a healthy relationship was trust. Only 70% of participants reported feeling that they can absolutely trust their partner. Of those, most have never experienced any reason to doubt their partner, but 40.4% have had their partner break their trust. The less a respondent felt they could trust their partner, the more likely it was that they’d broken the respondent’s trust before. Almost half of those who said they could trust their partner most of the time had reason to doubt.
Age makes a difference in our relationships’ health. While getting older won’t automatically improve a sour dynamic, knowing ourselves better and being able to stand up for what we want and need will almost always improve our circumstances.
In practice, we found that baby boomers genuinely have the healthiest relationships. Baby boomers have had the longest time to perfect their relationship practices through one marriage, a long-term partnership (or several), or multiple shorter relationships. Longer and more plentiful relationships mean more opportunities to problem solve, work out conflicts, and address unhealthy behaviors.
There’s also been more time for divorces and separations in irreconcilable situations, increasing overall relationship health and allowing those baby boomers to take lessons on healthy relationships into current partnerships. Divorce is most common for people 55 and older — the current cutoff for the baby boomers generation — where about one in four are divorced. (This number doubled between 1990 and 2012.) However, if time and practice were the only driving factors behind baby boomers, we’d expect a clear relationship between age and relationship health. That’s not what the data shows.
Most first divorces occur when a couple is in their early 30s (with 60% occurring between ages 25 and 39, which is the current age range of most younger millennials). But Millennials or Gen Z (the youngest generation we surveyed) didn’t have the lowest relationship health scores — Gen X did. They are the least likely to experience any positive relationship health traits, except for trust (where Gen Z was the least likely — which makes sense, given the shorter time they’ve had to date and establish trust).
Baby boomers are most likely to display behavior that respects their partners the most, feel the most equal to them, and experience the most individuality and honesty within a relationship. Gen Z is the second least likely to experience traits of a healthy relationship, but millennials follow in second place behind baby boomers for healthiest. Millennials also support their partners the most out of any generation.
Gender dynamics play a huge role in our relationships. Gender roles can make even the most steadfast relationship unhealthy when taken to extremes. Even in situations where gender doesn’t seem to play a part (or plays a welcome role), social and cultural pressures can unknowingly lead to unhealthy relationships.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get enough data to report on how same-sex relationship health differs from opposite-sex couples or how sexual orientation impacts perceptions of a relationship’s health. We’ll focus on how cisgender men and women in opposite-sex relationships think about their relationships.
Men think their relationships are healthier than women's by a narrow margin (8.3 versus 8.2 out of 10, respectively). And when it came to judging their behavior, our survey found that men scored higher than women on every healthy relationship trait except for trust. Women trust their partners more than men do, but men are more likely to:
It’s likely men genuinely experience healthier relationships with their partners than women do. It’s also likely that these relationships are unevenly weighted, where men think their relationships are healthier than they actually are. We see that slight shift in our narrow margin of difference overall. However, this is something that will need deeper investigation to untangle truly.
We surveyed 686 people about their significant others and asked questions regarding the health of their relationship, such as “do you trust your partner?” and “how does your partner show you respect?” We put together a list of some top traits that most people would consider pieces of a healthy relationship, such as honesty, trust, and respect. By asking these questions, we gathered information about how these survey respondents perceived the health of their relationships and further analyzed answers through metascores. The analysis included both generational and gender aspects.
Innerbody Research is committed to providing objective, science-based reviews and research to help our readers make more informed decisions regarding health and wellness. We invested the time and effort into creating this report to help our readers understand the importance of healthy relationships. We also want to help others learn a few things about how different genders and generations perceive their own relationships. We hope to reach as many people as possible by making this information widely available. Please feel free to share our content for educational, editorial, or discussion purposes. We only ask that you link back to this page and credit the author as Innerbody.com.
National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2022, January 7). Healthy relationships. The Hotline. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.thehotline.org/resources/healthy-relationships/
Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs. (n.d.). Characteristics of healthy & unhealthy relationships. Youth.gov. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence/characteristics