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Healthy Relationships - A Domestic Violence Awareness Month Series

  • Published
  • By Cynthia M. Wyatt
  • Family Advocacy Program

What does it take to have a healthy relationship?

Is it some magic alchemy?

Have we just not found the perfect person and we need to keep shopping?

Philosophers, relationship experts, and romance authors have written a myriad of books about this.

Dating apps, professional matchmakers, and well-meaning friends and family try to help us find that “someone” or give us advice on our current “someone.”

But what if there isn’t a perfect match or a soul mate?

What if we are the ingredient that can make the difference in whether we have a good relationship?

This is the good news because we have a lot of control over how we think and behave. And, if we work on our own imperfections, learn some healthy relationship skills, and communicate our boundaries and respect the boundaries of others, we will have taken many steps toward holding up our end of a relationship. Here are some tips for being your best self and bringing that to a relationship:

  1. Slow down. Ask yourself more questions and search for the answers so you can bring your own self awareness to the table. Ask…what am I feeling? What am I saying to myself or thinking? Why am I feeling and thinking that way? Is this my problem to handle? Is this a habitual or unrealistic way I think or believe? Do I need to change myself? Or do I need to ask another person to change? Most of the time, we will find we don’t have to change the other person if we do our own work on ourselves. Find books and articles on cognitive distortions and personal growth. We often only must change our perception to change a situation.
  2. Discover how relationship boundaries work for yourself and others. Boundaries can be physical (my literal physical space, my stuff, my time and energy, my money); emotional (what I feel); intellectual (what I think), spiritual (what I believe), and sexual (who, when, how, what). It is important to know my preferred boundaries. However, we also must recognize that the other person has boundaries, too, which are every bit as important to them as yours are to you. So, a healthy communication would be variations on “Here’s what I’m thinking or what I’d like but…what are you thinking or what would you like in this situation?” “Okay, how can we both win here while respecting our boundaries?” Read up on boundaries in articles or books by Anne Katherine, John Gottman and others.
  3. Figure out your love languages and your partner’s. Then, try to speak the others’ language more of the time. Part of the reason The Five Love Languages’ books and concepts work for people is that it first recognizes that your partner is a separate person from you and perceives the world differently. There is no “right” way—just different ways.
  4. Find out if you are with a person who will allow you to be yourself in the relationship—safely. As we are all mostly doing the best we can at any given time, we need people who will allow us to make mistakes, to speak our truth, to be different, and…we need to allow them the same safety. People sometimes think they are great communicators (“But, I tell them how I feel all the time!”) but they don’t do their part in genuinely listening to the person on the other end. People stop talking to each other if they are shut down by the other’s criticism, condescension, or anger.
  5. If we are in physical, sexual, or emotional danger from another person or they are endangered by us, we will likely have to get professional help to change, or someone may have to leave that relationship. If a partner crosses the line into abuse, he or she may not be capable of holding up their end of a healthy relationship.

Even long-term relationships must always do the work of self-awareness, respecting boundaries, accepting differences, and finding the humor as we do this most important work of being in a healthy relationship.

*Our next article will describe what crossing the line into abusive behaviors looks like and how to avoid becoming an offender or a victim.