photo by Nick Fewings
By Andrea M. Darcy
In a healthy relationship… or not? Are you even that sure what one looks like? And why does healthy relating even matter?
Why healthy relationships are important
We might want to think we ‘don’t need anyone’, but research would say otherwise. A study from Michigan State university, for example, found that good friendships are even better for our mental wellbeing than our relationships with family.
Healthy relationships give us a sense of connection instead of isolation and loneliness, which lead to depression and anxiety.
And good relationships even mean we live longer. A review of 148 studies found that lack of good social connections can be as much of a mortality risk as physical diseases.
The elements of a healthy relationship
So what do you need to look for if you would like to have healthy relationships?
1. You can be yourself.
We all indulge in tact now and then when someone else is upset, or we are at a family reunion, for example, where tensions are running high. So being yourself doesn’t necessarily mean blurting out every thought in your head whenever you want.
But it does mean that you know that if you did, you would still be accepted and loved. That you are not shunned for your thoughts, beliefs, appearance, or personality. You do not have to pretend, or dress a certain way, or hide things when someone is coming over to visit.
2. You feel safe and seen.
Being seen means you feel listened to and heard, and that you know the other person is at least attempting to understand you. Of course some of us can be very complicated, and don’t even understand ourselves. But the desire is there, all the same.
And you also feel safe and respected. Even, if, yes, there is some of the next point going on.
3. There is conflict.
Had an idea that a ‘healthy relationship’ was roses and sunshine, like a romance book or film? Guess again.
Unhealthy conflict has no place in healthy relationships. It thrives on blame , criticism, and attack, and diminshes the other.
Healthy conflict, however, leads to growth and bonding. It means you disagree, but talk your way through to resolution and somtimes compromise. You both commit to learning and practicing healthy communication. You learn about yourself and the other in the process.
Relationships without conflict inevitably have things unsaid and hidden. None of us, no matter how similar, think and feel the same about everything. There will always be differences that on occasion need navigating. Things might be carefully hidden, true — but it will all come out eventually.
4. But there is also a lot of even keel.
Yes, conflict is part of healthy relating.
But note that conflict and drama are not the same bird. Healthy conflict happens, and then you are back on an even keel. Drama means that one conflict leads to tons of little conflicts, or ongoing conflict, and it gets added to a list that is held against the other person and keeps growing.
If your relationship is full of big highs and then crashing lows? Look into love addiction.
If you are always pushing and pulling in relationships, despite best effort not to? Learn about borderline personality disorder.
5. You have an identity (and happiness) outside the relationship.
A healthy relationship is not about doing everything together, or being the sole source of happiness in each other’s life. These kinds of attitudes are signs of codependency.
This is not to say we need to be totally independent, either. Which is counterdepedency and presents its own set of problems.
A healthy relationship revolves around interdependency. We can sometimes need each other, and allow ourselves to depend on each other because we choose to, not because we have to. We have our own identities, hobbies, interests, and lives. And if worse came to worse, we could survive without each other.
6. Trust is intrinsic, not optional.
Trust is essential.
If you don’t trust the other person, or you behave in ways that mean they can’t trust you? It’s simply not healthy.
This does not mean it can’t ever be a healthy relationship. Even big breaches of trust, like a betrayal, can be worked through. It just means there are a lot of issues to work through – possibly with a couples therapist.
7. You don’t just exist, you do things.
So you trust each other, you can talk, you feel… and the most exciting thing you do together is the dishes? Not so healthy.
Healthy relating mean making time for each other and having experiences together. It does not mean just existing together, which is a direct route to taking each other for granted.
Of course the things you do together are best kept healthy, too. Always getting drunk or endless video games won’t lead to much connection.
8. You support each others life goals.
A good relationship is of course a support system. It’s not that you don’t challenge each others ideas. But it does mean that when you know something is important to your partner or friend, you are on board. You want them to be happy and succeed.
9. It’s a two way street.
So note all that stuff above — being accepted, able to be yourself, safe.
In a healthy relationship you are not just receiving all of the above, you are also giving it.
If this is not possible? If you secretly judge the other person, find them annoying, criticise them constantly, talk about them behind their back, or aim to upset or hurt them?
It is a unhealthy relationship and it’s time to look at where these patterns of behaviour come from, and why you choose the relationships you do.
Time to get support to have healthy relationships and stop feeling lonely and not good enough? We connect you with London’s top relating therapists. Or find UK-wide registered therapists on our booking site, along with online counsellors you can book from anywhere.
Still have a question about healthy relationships? Or want to share your experience of improving your relationships? Use the comment box below.
Andrea M. Darcy is the lead writer of this site. She left behind a successful career in film to follow her true passion, self development, and has since penned thousand of popular mental health and wellbeing articles. Find her @am_darcy