Relationships are an essential part of life. They contribute to our emotional and physical well-being in ways that can’t be overstated. Whether it’s with a spouse, friend, co-worker or life partner, studies show that people who are in healthy relationships experience lower stress levels, more restful slumber and better mental health than those who aren’t. Relationships can also be powerful motivators for other good behaviors, like eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly and not smoking.

Relationships vary in their intensity, intimacy and level of commitment. Some, such as platonic friendships, may be mutually supportive and emotionally close while others, such as familial dynamics or professional relationships, are more structured and formal.

Platonic relationships are those that don’t involve sexual or emotional attachment, but rather the bond of common interests and trust. Familial dynamics are those based on blood or legal ties and can include parent-child, sibling and extended family relations. Professional dynamics are those based on shared work or business interests and can be both healthy and toxic. Casual dynamics are those that may be less committed, such as dating or hookups, and often involve minimal emotional intimacy.

Healthy relationships can be described as a balance of giving and taking. This is typically seen in the form of a natural reciprocity where each person genuinely wants to help the other out, rather than merely aiming to “keep score.” The amount of affection, energy and love that is given and received can be a useful indicator of how balanced a relationship feels.

Intimacy is another key element of a healthy relationship. This can be a physical connection, such as hugging or kissing, or it could mean emotional intimacy. It is also important for each person to feel accepted and valued by the other, as well as for both individuals to be on the same page about what types of intimacy they want to pursue. Intimacy doesn’t necessarily have to involve sex, though, as some people prefer other forms of physical affection or don’t want sex at all.

Integrating is the final stage of a healthy relationship, and it can be characterized by mutual respect and empathetic communication. When conflicts arise, both partners are able to discuss their concerns in an open and respectful manner, without making personal attacks. This is the only way to truly understand where each other is coming from and find a compromise that works for everyone. A healthy relationship is also a team, and each member has an equal say in decision-making and problem solving. In addition, each individual is able to maintain their own unique identity and perspective within the partnership. This is what makes a healthy relationship a strong and supportive force that can help us navigate the challenges of everyday life.