We hear a lot about healthy relationships. It seems like a cultural buzz phrase that peppers our conversations about relationships. There are words and phrases we associate with healthy relationships: honesty, courtesy, communication, give-and-take, empathy and others but these short-hand descriptors aren’t adequate to give us a truly deep understanding of what good healthy relationships look like or how they function.
Some of us have been blessed to have one or more relationships that we feel are healthy and good for us or have had such relationships in the past. Others of us may feel we have had mostly unhealthy relationships or started relationships we believed were healthy that changed and became exploitive, hurtful or destructive. No relationship is perfect of course, but when the preponderance of our interactions with someone are hurtful, unkind or destructive to our self-esteem, we can certainly conclude that this relationship has become unhealthy for us.
Having a more nuanced and complete description of what healthy relationships look like is helpful. Important elements of healthy relationships are courtesy, kindness, honesty and radical respect. Friends and partners give one another frequent verbal affirmation and give each other the benefit of the doubt when things don’t go as expected or desired.
Feedback and “constructive criticism” are also important, but should be offered judiciously and in the context of a predominantly positive, affirming relationship. Respect means being mindful of where you end and your friend begins: i.e., staying very clear about the boundaries of what is your business and what is their business. It is certainly OK to ask for what we want from people, but we avoid trying to pressure or control our partners and friends.
In healthy relationships, there is a balance of give and take—no one person does all the giving or taking, no one person does all the talking or listening. There should be reciprocity and balance in most aspects of the relationship most of the time. Occasional imbalances are normal, but when the pattern becomes entrenched and persistent, there is a problem. Finally, you know a relationship is healthy if you enjoy the relationship and your friend or romantic partner helps you feel better about yourself most of the time. Although our unhealthy relationships get most of our verbal attention, today let’s focus on the relationships we have or want to have that are truly fulfilling and genuinely good for us
- Describe one or more of the healthiest relationships you have or have had in your life.
- Give an example of a time someone in your life handled a difficult relationship situation with you in a loving, kind or generous way or a time you have done this for another.
- How can you change your own behavior to be healthier within your present relationships?
- How can you make better choices to create the types of mutual and fulfilling connections you would like to have with others?