When people started telling me that I deserved better, and when I finally realized I deserved better, I wondered, well how will I know once I'm in a healthy relationship? What does a healthy relationship look like?
Now that I'm (finally!) experiencing one, here's what I've learned:
1. They will respect your boundaries
I have never been good with boundaries, but I'm starting to practice them now. So, I set some up with my partner and got an "okay, cool. No problem" in response. And that was that. There was no bargaining, no "okay, but...." I expressed what I needed and my decision was respected. In a healthy relationship, each member should feel comfortable both setting up boundaries and respecting their partner's.
2. You will laugh all the time
This was one I didn't expect, but in my new, healthy relationship, I laugh. All the time. Neither of us take ourselves too seriously, and it's amazing. In a healthy relationship, laughter is a sign that you feel safe and comfortable with your partner.
3. It's not all about sex
Another shocker to me was that in healthy relationships, people talk about deep, personal things. They go out on dates to museums and movies. They share their favorite books and silly youtube videos with each other. They cry together. A healthy relationship is about so much more than physical intimacy or sexual satisfaction. And that's amazing.
4. You will feel safe
I never realized how not safe I felt in my previous relationships until I finally felt safe in this one. Feeling safe in a relationship means expressing your fears and desires and emotions without fear that the other person will judge you or leave you because of it. Feeling safe means falling asleep while cuddling, something I never thought was possible. Feeling safe means being 100% you and knowing that being yourself won't scare your partner away. In healthy relationships, both parties feel safe - safe to be who they are and say what they feel. And it's a beautiful thing.
5. The partnership will be equal
Being my codependent self, my previous relationships were all based on trying to be the perfect girlfriend, so that my partner wouldn't leave me. This meant having sex when I wasn't ready, driving ridiculously long hours when I wasn't asked to, and always paying when we went out for dinner. This meant texting them every day, to make sure that they still liked me. I was never asked to do these things - I felt obligated to. If I didn't go above and beyond what was asked of me, then they would leave me. I needed to give them an incentive to stay.
Now, I don't do that. I give as much as I want to give, and I receive in return. I'm not constantly worrying if I'm pretty enough or if I'm behaving like a good girlfriend should - because I know that they're not going anywhere. I trust my partner, and they trust me. Now, my relationship isn't work, it's effortless and freeing, like the most logical thing in the world.
6. You will be honest in your communication
Another thing that goes along with being codependent is wanting to be perfect all the time...well, spoiler alert: No one is perfect! But what this meant for me in relationships was that I would always hide how I really felt, if that emotion wasn't happiness or arousal. If I was worried or angry, I would swallow it. If I was sad, or nervous, or uncomfortable (especially uncomfortable) I wouldn't say a word. I had to be the perfect specimen all the time, because who wants a girlfriend with feelings, right? Wrong.
In healthy relationships, all emotions are authentic and expressed. And being angry or frustrated doesn't make your partner love you any less - It's just confirmation that you aren't a robot.
7. You will be excited about the future, while living in the present
Finally, healthy relationships bring excitement, and a desire to bring out the best in the other person and in yourself. But a healthy relationship is also realistic. There's no wedding planning before anyone is ready, and both parties understand that life happens and nothing is predictable. But in a healthy relationship, none of that unknowable future matters, because all you can think about is how happy you are today, and how much you want to make each second together count.