By: Kim Stanley, M.A.Print This Page
Developing meaningful relationships is a concern for all of us. Getting close to others, sharing our joys, sorrows, needs, wants, affections, and excitements is risky business; however, there is much to be gained. Healthy relationships are fun and make you feel good about yourself, allow for individuality, bring out the best in both people, and invite personal growth. You can have a healthy relationship with anyone in your life, including your family, friends and dating partners. Relationships take time, energy, and care to make them healthy.
Healthy relationships tend to be characterized by the following:
- Loving and taking care of yourself
- Both parties respecting individuality, embracing differences, and allowing each person to be his or her authentic self
- Having separate social lives and/or activities in addition to shared experiences
- Keeping the dialogue open, allowing for differences of opinion, and compromising equally
- Resolving conflicts in a rational, peaceful, mutually agreed upon way
- Expressing and actively listening to each other’s feelings, needs, and desires
- Trusting and being honest with yourself and each other
- Respecting each other’s need for privacy
- Respecting sexual boundaries, practicing safer sex, and being honest about sexual health (STD) status with a partner
- The focus is on one partner, while the other partner’s needs/wants are neglected
- Feeling pressured to change or meet a partner’s standards, feeling afraid to disagree, or fearing criticism
- Having to justify what you do, where you go, and who you see
- One partner makes all the decisions and/or controls everything without listening to the other’s input
- Feeling unheard and/or unable to communicate what you want
- Making excuses for your partner or to them
- Lacking personal space from your partner and feeling like you have to share everything with them
- Lack of communication around important sex-related issues: using protection, obtaining partner STD status, sexual boundaries, etc.
- Hitting, yelling, or property damage
- Feeling stifled, trapped, and stagnant – feeling unable to escape the pressures of the relationship
In summary, healthy relationships make people happier and ease stress, are realistic and flexible, mean sharing and talking, include self-care, and use fair fighting techniques. If you are in a relationship that feels like a burden or a drag instead of a joy, it might be time to think about whether it is a healthy match for you. Someone who's not happy or secure may have trouble being a healthy relationship partner.
Barriers to developing and maintaining healthy relationships …
Communication – one barrier is when a person enters a relationship with some mistaken notions about just what intimacy is, or misjudges the needs or the thoughts of the other person in the relationship.
Time – getting to know yourself (i.e., what you need/want) and others takes time. Rushing into things may lead to more problems, such as feeling trapped in a relationship. True intimacy takes time to develop and a person who is not willing to allow for time for an intimate relationship to occur will not be able to develop that kind of relationship.
Awareness – it is necessary for a person to be aware of him or herself and to realize what she/he has to share with another person. People who are not aware of themselves frequently are not able to be aware of other people, at least not in terms of the potentially intimate aspects of the other person.
Shyness – reluctance to share oneself with another person can keep an intimate relationship from developing.
Self - esteem – it is difficult for others to love you if you do not love yourself. It's a major relationship roadblock when one or both people struggle with self-esteem problems. Your girlfriend or boyfriend isn't there to make you feel good about yourself if you can't do that on your own. Focus on being happy with yourself, and don't take on the responsibility of worrying about someone else's happiness.
Game playing – people who act in stereotypical roles or try to play certain kinds of games, even if they’re intimate-appearing games (such as romantic games) cannot develop an intimate relationship with someone else simply because they are not being themselves. Game playing can be a detriment to the development of intimacy. Healthy relationships can develop only when people are being themselves in a significant way with each other.
Fears – of being judged, of losing freedom, of disappointment and pain, etc. Mass media and advertisers have tried to convince us that we should be 100% happy 24 hours a day. Hurt, pain, disappointment, and loneliness are not comfortable feelings, but they are human.
Skills that can facilitate healthy relationship-building …
Don’t try to relate to others by acting like you think they would want/expect you to. Being real from the start gives each person a chance to see if they can be comfortable with each other's beliefs, interests, looks, and lifestyle.
This is an essential skill in a good relationship of any type.
Use "I" statements when talking to others about your thoughts or feelings. This promotes ownership of what you are saying, which establishes a strong, direct position.
Self disclose at a slow, but steady rate. This is the art of sharing your private thoughts and feelings with people you trust. Revealing too much too soon can cause the speaker to feel overly vulnerable and the listener to feel uncomfortable and obligated to reciprocate. Take your time. You can increase your rate of sharing as you get to know the person better.
Ask for what you need/want. Others can not read your mind, so limit your expectation that the other person should be able to guess what you prefer out of their affection for you. The best chance of receiving what you want is to speak up and ask for it!
Check out your assumptions. You are no mind reader either. Misunderstandings can arise from acting on what you guess your friend/partner wants.
Give both of you permission to peacefully refuse each other’s requests at times.
Give equal importance to the feelings, interests, and needs of each person in the relationship. Develop the skill of both giving and receiving emotional support.
Enjoy Each Other
Let good humor and fun together be apart of your regular schedule.
It is ok not to be in a relationship or looking for one. You may want to be alone now. If you want to pursue other parts of your life and develop yourself into the person you want to be, that can be very healthy for building your own self-esteem and relationship potential. When you are ready for a relationship, you will be more the person who will be attractive to the type of person you want. If you aren't happy with yourself now, you might be wise to focus on that first!