I am often asked about how to get into a healthy relationship by people who feel they have failed over and over again in relationships with friends, family, and significant others. There aren’t any simple answers, though, because there are probably as many ways to have healthy relationships as there are to have unhealthy ones. It might be best to illustrate some of the factors that people who feel they are in healthy relationships would say about them.
1. Communication is key to healthy relationships. Everything is open for discussion. That doesn’t mean that some things aren’t difficult or painful to talk about or that we are always ready to talk about them when someone else is, but we make time to work through things together. It is important, however, that communication is respectful. And remember that most communication isn’t verbal, so think about what you communicate through your actions.
2. People in the relationship are equals. We may not be equals in everything, but everyone brings something to the relationship that is important and needed. We are truly equal in the sense that we deserve the same respect and the same level of concern regardless of our role in the relationship. We feel our boundaries and ideas are taken seriously.
3. Both people in the relationship feel challenged and supported. Relationships are a lot of work, but they should also be enjoyable and make us feel good about the other person and the time we spend with them. We want to be interested in the other person and feel like we are growing because of them and that we have positive effects on them, too. All of this makes our bonds grow stronger.
4. In healthy relationships, we are free to be ourselves. As we change, it may take others a bit of time to catch up to us, and they may not be happy with all of the things we are doing or becoming, but they will try to understand to the best of their abilities. They may even say they are unhappy with the changes, worry that we will leave them behind. It serves us well to remember how it feels when someone in our life goes through a big change to help us see it from the other side, at times. The process of growth and development is often messy.
5. Time away is just as important as time together. By spending time doing activities we enjoy and having other people in our lives who also support and love us, we enrich our primary relationships. We learn new things and feel refreshed and come back together feeling more loving toward the other person.
6. We protect healthy relationships. By valuing the other person and the relationship, we make them a priority in our lives, and we show others how much they mean to us. We don’t hide them or feel ashamed about them. We are also not nonchalant about them and allow other things to come first.
Look at the relationships you already have in your life and see if there are ways that you can improve them by bringing some of these ideas into them. Notice which relationships you have that are already pretty healthy and learn how to do that in others. You might surprise yourself.