Relationships are complicated. As a therapist who has worked with couples for many years, I’ve seen everything from the broken, to the hopeful to the drowning. Relationships go beyond the intimate or romantic one. There are the relationships you have with your family and friends, and we must not forget the relationship with ourselves. The one with yourself is arguably the most important, and yet the most forgotten.
I’m going to encourage you to read this post a couple of times from different perspectives to see just how different various relationships can be. Go in any order you like…maybe the 1st time you read, you have a romantic partner in mind. The second time, perhaps a family member. And the last time, your relationship with you. There will be a difference in how you view the post, what you think about it, and how you are affected. if you want to further these revelations with someone else, feel free to download the Healthy Partnership Rating PDF at the top and bottom of this post which contains some additional talking points you may want to process.
What is a Healthy Relationship?
The simplest way to think about whether you are in a healthy relationship or not is if you feel good. When you feel good about the people you are with, that feeling is typically mutual and beneficial to your overall mood and mental health. However, when you’re not feeling good, that’s when things get complicated. You may start to question your choice of others…
What’s the problem? Can it be solved?
Are we compatible? Am I wasting my time?
When we start to question our relationship with others, it may also cause us to question ourselves. Perhaps you’ve seen people go the other way and blame other people for their own problems, not taking any accountability. Compatibility is a menagerie of complexities of individuals alone and when individuals come together as a relational unit. You may have heard that relationships are 50/50, but I think something else. I see relationships as 100/100/100.
100% you. 100% the other person(s).100% as a full unit.
For that unit to be healthy, I’ve found the following elements necessary.
Please note these are not in any particular order. Just like people are diverse so are what we need in how we prioritize elements of a healthy relationship.
If we are going to hang around anyone, it’s probably good that we feel safe around them and aren’t carrying a weapon in our pocket…you know, just in case . Although I’m making a joke here, I’m being serious. If you don’t feel safe, trust your gut feeling and be on your guard, particularly if it’s someone you just met. Relationship abuse can become very real and some people who are being abused do not recognize it at first. With family, maybe you don’t feel safe around Uncle Bob at dinner because he’s homophobic and you’re pansexual. Safety can be defined in many ways here.
With safety comes comfort. Feeling comfortable around someone else is important. Maybe this is comfortable to spend your time with or comfortable to be vulnerable with. There’s positive energy here. This element doesn’t contain intimidation, putting-down, or abuse (whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, sexual, or otherwise). This energy isn’t aggressive, it’s a comfort that you can feel safe in any part of collectively.
Anyone else hearing Aretha Franklin belting out, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me?” This is where that 100/100/100 concept shines because being respected means you are free to be yourself and be loved for who you are and what you bring to the relationship. It’s about making space for each other’s values and appreciating any differences you may have from each other.
Setting limits is important in a relationship because without them co-dependency (solely depending on someone else to meet your needs) and/or self-abandonment (disregarding your own needs) can surface. Boundaries are tricky because sometimes we are unaware of where the boundary should be or where we need to set one. This is where we can harness our emotions. If we’re feeling uncomfortable, perhaps a boundary has been crossed. If we’re feeling burnt out, perhaps we need to set a boundary to take care of ourselves.
There are many types of boundaries in a relationship, which I plan to write about in another post. The biggies are emotional, sexual, and physical. Emotional boundaries are where you are allowed to experience your own emotions. This means you do not have to take on emotions from others or have your emotions disregarded, dismissed, or stolen. Sexual boundaries may seem straightforward, but they are also complex. Particularly if you are in a polyamorous relationship where boundaries will become a strong foundation for the relationship’s success. These boundaries may be discussed ahead of sexual activity or in the heat of the moment, as long as the boundaries are respected and consensual. Physical boundaries are about feeling like you have your own space, just only in social distancing, but only in the sense that your body and how you treat it is your decision alone. Read more about boundaries here.
Trusting someone else can be easy for some and harder for others, especially if they have experienced any sort of trauma. This is about accepting each other’s word and giving someone else the benefit of the doubt because you know they communicate openly and truthfully. When we can trust someone else, we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable and vulnerability ensures our emotional safety with another.
Trusting someone else also comes from open and honest communication. If something bothers you, you feel inclined to be open and honest with someone else sooner than later knowing that what you have to say will be heard and validated. Often, I’ve learned that couples who hide their true feelings out of fear, avoidance, or lack of processing their own emotions create huge gaps of trust/honesty later on when things get rocky.
As a unit, you make decisions, share things, and communicate. Even with yourself, you need to be in conscious partnership with your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. A partnership is understanding there is a commitment to the unit and not only to the individual. It’s a mutual understanding that lives are intertwined. Within the partnership, decisions are made together, individual selves are respected, and the unit is honored through a connection to all of its parts and boundaries.
The element of the partnership is not demanding. It asks and does not expect. Individual expectations can become detrimental to a partnership because the partnership is collaborative and compromising, not separate and dividing. It’s flexible, and adaptable when needed and as the relationship evolves. Sometimes, people grow apart because they are more committed to their individual selves and leave out the partnership altogether. People change, and so will a partnership. It’s ever-changing and growing with the individual selves, not separately. Who grows together, stays together.
Similar to the partnership as a unit, the element of connection is a shared experience. It’s shared energy where we feel an invisible chord to others that keeps us thinking about them and keeps them present in our lives in some way. I love this feeling. It feels gold and sparkly and can be powerful in times of despair or stuckness because as humans we value a sense of community that perhaps we find within our work, friendships, family, or with ourselves in moments of self-care.
The connection also can be seen as an understanding of each other’s hopes and dreams and finding a way to be part of someone else’s. When we do that, it is often so natural we may not be aware of it as it comes from a place of gratitude and kindness.
When we enter a relationship with anyone (remember, this includes ourselves!) we want a certain level of support and usually, we come into a relationship with an expectation of what support looks like. This is important to discuss because if you expect someone to host a birthday party for you, while they only expect a card, then you have varying perspectives of what support looks like (in this case, for a birthday). Similarly, if you expect to be held and consoled when you are upset and they expect space to be alone, you will want to know what support looks like in different types of situations.
Generally, support is being there for each other in a way that speaks to your personal preferences and respects others’ even though they are not your own. It’s asking, and understanding those preferences while knowing you can depend on someone else. Being there for each other, depending on each other, while working to understand and validate another’s experience. Having no judgment is a cornerstone of support as well as active encouragement to support one’s personal or professional goals and aspirations.
And lastly, we cannot talk about dependability and support within a relationship without accountability. Alongside being dependable, it’s also taking that responsibility to show up within the relationship and be an active person for yourself as well as others as a way to say, “I’m here and I’m a part of this.” By being accountable within a relationship, one accepts the responsibility for behaviors, opinions, values, and attitudes they bring to that relationship.
Accountability can be difficult, particularly when there are times we have a difference in values and opinions. It’s in those moments where true accountability is seen when we can admit our own mistakes and accept responsibility for our behaviors, opinions, and attitudes that differ than our own.
I’ve separated all of these elements that create a healthy relationship, however, I’m sure you can see how they can blend into each other. A healthy relationship recognizes these elements as healthy components both individually and collectively within the relationship. The relationship with yourself you may find to be the hardest to keep a healthy balance.
We are constantly evolving and growing into the people we are becoming.
It’s hard enough to keep ourselves in a healthy balance, let alone view ourselves as individuals as well as part of other relationships that live and breathe their voice that includes our own, but also its distinct voice as a whole.
I hope this article gives you a healthy perspective that will help strengthen all of your relationships, including the one with yourself so that you can feel the euphoria that comes with being part of something bigger than any of us
…the spark of human connection.
Recommendations for further reading…