We all need relationships, it’s a human requirement. Whether the relationship is romantic, familial, with a friend, co-worker, neighbor, or just transactional, we are “in relationship” with everyone we interact with. Even those surface level interactions with someone providing us a service have relational factors at play that can help them go smoothly or cause disruptions.
This article looks specifically at relationships of the ongoing type (romantic, family, friend, etc.) and will help you reflect on elements that may be healthy (or not) in your own connections.
Relationships are crucial for life and they are also complicated and dynamic. As humans, we all crave connection to other people, and also we all act in unsavory ways from time to time. The items below are ideal aspects of healthy relationships and should be what you experience most of the time in your connection with someone.
A healthy relationship is an ongoing process involving commitment, flexibility, respect, and honesty. The concepts here are ideal goals. These are categories to observe, to attend to, and to grow over time - brand new relationships will not offer all of these elements just yet.
As you read, bring to mind some of the people you spend the most time with or who have the ability to make you feel strong emotions. Then reflect on the concepts below...are they present? Missing? Inconsistent?
You believe that each other won’t intentionally do anything to bring hurt or to risk ruining the relationship.
You feel trust for each other and you have proof that your emotions and overall well-being are safe with each other.
You each work hard to be trustworthy for the other person.
Boundaries are clear and explicit, yet allow for compromise and flexibility. Each of you feel free to express your needs.
Privacy is respected and the need for privacy does not create a sense of fear or worry.
Your loyalty and trustworthiness is not doubted or called into question frequently.
You are each reliable and consistently do what you say you will.
You stick up for each other, you don’t take sides against each other, and you keep each other's secrets safe.
You don’t feel the need to hide things from each other.
Communication is open and spontaneous – you listen to each other and feel that you are heard.
You give feedback in constructive and kind ways. Each person is open to feedback.
You can be truthful and honest with each other even if it leads to disappointment or hurt feelings.
You can talk about conflict directly, and aim to resolve it with win-win outcomes.
You do not avoid talking about things for fear of how the other will respond.
Tolerance is present: there is spoken forgiveness of self and each other for any hurtful words and actions.
Communication missteps are expected and learned from.
Each person has some humility and is able to let go of the need to “be right" or “win.”
You feel safe and willing to express feelings and needs to each other, and emotions are validated, listened to, and respected by each person.
You can express feelings and needs without fear of each other's reactions.
You do not try to convince each other to feel differently or that an emotion is wrong.
You each take responsibility for your own emotions and behavior and happiness (not blaming another person for how they “made me feel”).
There is space for ease, lightheartedness, laughter, and fun.
You share your inner emotional worlds with each other.
Each person accepts themselves and each other for their real selves.
No one attempts to change or "fix" or control the other.
There is a balance of giving and receiving of resources in the relationship (ex: time, attention, effort, contribution to the home, etc.).
Equality is regularly affirmed and celebrated and each of you see the other on a similar level of competence and capability.
You do not talk down to, ridicule, or demean each other.
Decisions and negotiations are fair and democratic; you value each other’s perspectives and insight and make joint decisions.
Each person is open to influence, suggestions, and learning from the other person.
Each person is valued for the ways they uniquely contribute to the relationship.
You feel safe and comfortable with each other.
Each person has a willingness to take risks and be vulnerable with the other.
Continuity and consistency are present in the commitment to each other. No one feels or expresses or threatens that the relationship can end at the next minute.
You each recognize that any violence (emotional or physical) is unacceptable.
You can say “no” to a request without feeling guilty about it.
Sense of self
You can be together without either person losing their individual identity or sense of self.
Individuality, freedom and personal identity are enhanced, celebrated, and encouraged. It’s okay to like or value different things than each other.
Other meaningful relationships and interests exist outside of the relationship. Your lives and time spent outside the relationship make your relationship stronger.
Each person has self-confidence and security in their own words, thoughts, and reactions – there is a lack of concern about being criticized or demeaned by each other.
Each person can enjoy time alone.
Personal growth, change and exploration are encouraged for each and by each.
There is a balance of oneness/closeness as well as separation from each other.
Caring & Compassion
You each have sincere care and concern for the other’s well being and happiness.
You offer each other support during times of struggle.
You each trust that the other can be relied upon to lend a hand or make needed sacrifices to get through difficulties as a team.
You work to understand the things that each other value. You prioritize the things that matter to each other and refrain from belittling those things.
You each allow the relationship to happen at a pace that feels comfortable and safe for each of you.
The relationship occupies an appropriate amount of time and mental space; other life priorities are not neglected for the relationship.
You are comfortable expressing if the pace or expectations feel off to you.
Pacing does not feel too fast, or too much too soon or with expectations that are too high for the level of commitment.
Pacing does not feel too slow with too little sharing, connecting, or time spent together.
Each person initiates communication or planning time together, or there is safety in expressing any concerns when this feels out of balance.
As you reflect on the people you are in relationships with, also reflect on yourself. How do *you* show up in your connections with people? Are there any areas that you would like to focus on shifting?