Relationships – there are thousands, perhaps millions of movies, stories, self-help books, songs, online assessments, videos, messages and blogs about them. We have, build and maintain – and sometimes lose — them with so many people around us: parents, siblings, friends, partners, roommates, advisers, hair stylists, mechanics, RAs, professors, neighbors. The list goes on and on. Most important, of course, is your relationship with yourself. Needless to say, the kind of relationships we have with others differ. How much effort, time, and stress we incur in these relationships varies. However, most of us tend to crave good, healthy and reciprocal relationships with the people we encounter and spend time with.
So, what makes a healthy relationship? How do we recognize when a relationship isn’t healthy? What steps can we take to ensure that the relationships we are in can be as good as possible?
Although there isn’t a magic formula to ensure that your relationships are healthy, here are some things to think about in order to create well-balanced and fulfilling relationships:
DO NOT NEGLECT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOURSELF: This is arguably your most important relationship. How you think of and treat yourself plays a very important role in what your other relationships are like. Be kind to yourself, cheer and motivate yourself on, be gentle and encouraging when you make a mistake, set realistic goals for yourself and reward yourself and take credit for your accomplishments. Set aside some time to assess what your needs are and practice asking for your needs to be met. Stand up for yourself when you need to. Let go of any expectations to be “perfect”. Learn to be vulnerable with others and to allow others to help you. Treat yourself the way that you wish others would treat you. When you respect and love yourself, you make it easier for others to do the same.
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR FEELINGS AND BEHAVIORS: When you realize and accept that someone you have a relationship with cannot “make you” feel something or “make you” do something, it becomes easier to feel empowered within the relationship. For example, many people feel anxious around conflict. But it helps to recognize that you can choose how you react, and this is what determines how you ultimately feel about it. For example, you could choose to not say anything and feel resentful; or you could choose to respectfully address the issue and feel relieved if the conflict is aired and hopefully resolved.
HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS ARE RECIPROCAL: All healthy relationships include some amount of reciprocity. If you are constantly “giving”, but never “receiving” or never “allowing yourself to receive,” that is not a healthy relationship. It takes two people to create a healthy relationship. Another indicator of whether a relationship is healthy is decision making. If the relationship is healthy, the responsibility of decision making is shared. Decisions are mutual rather than being thrust upon one person by the other.
HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS HAVE HEALTHY BOUNDARIES: Relationships are healthy when boundaries are clearly established and understood by all parties. This includes physical, emotional and sexual boundaries. Healthy and appropriate boundaries create a safe and comfortable environment that allows a healthy relationship to thrive. An example would be that while it’s natural to seek support from those we feel close to, it can be unhealthy when one person turns the other into their “therapist.”
HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS ARE COMPASSIONATE: Healthy relationships are not abusive or traumatic. Relationships thrive when members in the relationship are kind, accepting and empathic. In healthy relationship, both parties have mutual respect for each other. Differences in culture are accepted and celebrated. Conflicts or disagreements are compassionately addressed rather than being avoided or weighed down by blame.
HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS INVOLVE OPEN AND RESPECTFUL COMMUNICATION: The importance of clear, open, genuine communication to creating healthy relationships cannot be stressed enough. We build good relationships with others when we don’t hide important feelings, when we give honest feedback, and when we step out of our comfort zone and are emotionally vulnerable.
HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS TAKE WORK: It takes work to do all of the above. It is difficult to be vulnerable, to lean in to conflict, to be compassionate when we are hurt, and to trust others — especially if we have been hurt before. But the rewards for putting in the effort to create a fulfilling, compassionate and reciprocal relationship are profound. The delightful thing about it is that as you start to create one healthy relationship, it is much easier to start to transform your other relationships along healthy lines as well.
If you would like to learn more about your relationship with yourself and with others and start to identify ways to start to improve your relationships, consider joining a “Creating Healthy Relationships” therapy group. Call 541-346-3227 or go to our webpage to see how you can join.
Asha Stephen, Ph.D.