That is a big question. Ask it again to yourself: ‘Is your Marriage Healthy?’ What comes up for you?

Worry? Wonder? Hope?

I know that deep down inside of us all is a desire to have a healthy marriage, yet it is one of the hardest things to attain. It takes work. Lots of work. And everyone has their opinion of what healthy is, and I know because I hear it often in my counseling office:

– “He told me our relationship would be better if I changed.”

– “If only he wouldn’t do _____________ then we would be fine.”

– “We just need to handle it and not drag the other person into our stuff.”

– “If she would just stop bringing this up and move on.”

– “If he would just recognize how he is like his father, then it would be better.”

The theories that everyone has about how their relationship would be healthy goes on and on. And it makes sense—when you are in the discomfort of feeling disconnected from your spouse, you are going to try to make sense of it the best you can. Making sense of it brings a sense of peace. Almost a sigh of relief because you feel as though you have some semblance of what is going on. However, I have also found that most of the time, the theory we tell ourselves is not always the full picture.

So, what does health in a relationship look like?

Dr. Sue Johnson in her book “Created for Connection” lists out an acronym for three attributes that every relationship needs to have to be healthy: Accessibility, Responsiveness and Emotional Engagement (ARE).

1. Accessibility: In your relationship, you feel the freedom to come to your spouse with anything that is bothering you. You are not frightened to bring up topics, you have a sense that what you want to talk about matters to your spouse.

2. Responsiveness: When you do bring your thoughts/feelings/disagreements to your spouse, they will respond to you in a way that shows they are engaged. You will not be dismissed, put down, ignored, argued with or shamed.

3. Emotional Engagement: You feel from your spouse that you are important. It can be your spouse reaching over to hold your hand or giving you a kiss when you see each other at the end of the day. They smile when they see you walk into a room. You have a sense that they want to be with you.

Take a minute to survey how these words play out in your relationship, not only for how you see your spouse, but also how your spouse might feel in relationship with you.

You might have felt a lot of these attributes at the beginning of your relationship, however life starts to happen and there are things that block this kind of communication from happening. Do not worry. There is help out there and it is okay to ask for it. As counselors, we have seen marriages that come in for help after 7 months of marriage to 30+ years of marriage. It doesn’t matter how long it has been, as long as you take a new step today to bring health into your relationship.

— Lindsey Castleman, Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy and co-creator of 7 Conversations to Enrich Your Marriage