Working in the therapeutic sector with many different people in many types of relationships—including partners, parents/children and friends or extended family members—it has become apparent that there are a few key factors which are generally present when the relationship is healthy.
Throughout the following five hallmarks a common theme is open and clear communication. We may feel or think a certain way, but if we don’t express it, how the hell is anyone meant to know. Real communication is without a doubt integral to a healthy relationship, so if it’s not one of our strong points, then we should keep practicing it until it is.
We can actually train ourselves.
Honesty and Trust
Being honest with your loved one doesn’t necessarily mean that each person knows everything about each other. We don’t share every dream we have, what we did exactly from the start to finish of each day, how many times we went to the toilet, what attention we got from the opposite sex (etc.), but it does mean that each person genuinely knows who each other is.
For example, if there are things that are upsetting us we‘re transparent about it without trying to burden the other person with negative vibes or project it onto them. It is important to be clear about how we feel, what we are thinking about and what important is happening in our lives.
It is also paramount in a healthy relationship to have the security of trust. There’s not a huge amount of people in our lives that we do fully trust, so with the people we do, it always needs to be reinforced. In this light, however, our kids are not always going to be trustworthy and we have to accept that. They have to develop their own understanding of what trust means and how to live a healthy life.
Problems of honesty and trust arise when we force our kids to behave in a certain way that is not likely to be successful.
Children are rebellious, so if we give them something to rebel against, they will. A trusting relationship between parents and children only develops when the child feels comfortable enough to go to their parents and talk about the mistake they made without feeling they are going to be judged or get into serious trouble. It is the parents job to ensure that this occurs.
There are also many situations that as adults we find our imagination can run away from us. Just say we’re at a party and we have no idea where our partner is. We could think “Where are they? Are they cheating on us or acting disrespectfully?” If so, that’s a sign of either an unhealthy relationship or an unhealthy view of it. But if we think, “I don’t know where they are but I trust them,” then honesty and trust has been cemented. Here there is no trace of ‘jealousy the curse,’ and it’s an indicator of a healthy relationship.
Healthy relationships also know the true needs and wants of each party. It is important to be honest about what may be bugging us and what’s bloody awesome. If we don’t know what we’re doing right or wrong, then it makes it difficult to grow and expand in a way that will satisfy both parties.
A lack of clarity can then potentially lead to a communication and relationship breakdown.
Acceptance and Responsibility
A healthy relationship always accepts it for what it is. We need to embrace our loved ones for how they feel and who they are. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we just blindly overlook everything about each other, but it is important to practice a type of fair judgement which accepts and embraces the other person without any belief of being better or worse than the other.
We also need to take responsibility for ourselves. If each party treated each other equally and realized that we all made mistakes—or that we all have ways in which we need to grow—then certain behaviors or actions that we sometimes find ourselves guilty of would be easier to talk about and move past.
For example, we were all kids once, so if our children are behaving in ways that doesn’t suit our way of thinking or fit into our moral code, then accepting and understanding that they are in a different place with a different mindset ensures an open communication around the issue in a way which isn’t offensive and actually results in a productive outcome.
We also need to admit when we’ve acted hypocritically in order to to create a necessary balance. As soon as one party behaves in a way that is superior to the other, the walls of defense and protection are built. If we accept the challenging behavior of our loved one or ourselves as a learning curve—even if it isn’t liked or condoned—it can open a dialogue where each party doesn’t feel threatened and therefore the behavior can be embraced in way that encourages growth.
Humor and Laughter
There is without a doubt a need to find humor in our relationships. Laughing at the funny, the mundane, the taboo, and even the serious are excellent ways to find peace in the toughest situations. We therefore won’t take life too seriously.
New research has shown that the act of laughter is a form of meditation. In the past, scientists have measured the brain wave frequencies of people who meditate, and now they have done the same with those experiencing humor. They’ve found that the two acts resemble each other in frequency.
We know that meditation is not only empowering and enlightening, but that it’s also super healthy for dealing with states of anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia.
Finding humor in even the most challenging relationship experience is physically healthy for us. How many times have we been in an awkward or emotionally charged experienced and somebody makes us laugh? Many many times. And what happened? Everyone felt instantly better.
A healthy relationship knows how to make fun of itself. Its members laugh outrageously at and with each other because it’s a surefire way to ensure an equal playing field and face issues in a light-hearted way.
If no one feels overly judged and threatened, then the simple act of humor can put everybody in a space to properly discuss whatever the issue may be.
Plus, it’s a super fun way to live.
Realistic Expectations and Forgiveness
These are big ones although they’re not always recognized as such.
If we have unrealistic expectations in our partner or loved one then we’re destined to create friction, disrespect, divide and conflict—and therefore create an unhealthy relationship.
If we don’t practice forgiveness and continually harbor resentment, then that pain is fated to arise in the future in a way that will inherently be unhealthy.
This happens a lot in intimate relationships. We all make mistakes that require one person to forgive the other. If we continue to maintain our relationship, but don’t forgive them for their mistakes, then it is intrinsically unhealthy for everyone involved. We need to forgive to move on and grow in a healthy way.
One partner may also have expectations of the other that are very unlikely to happen, or won’t happen in the time period that they want. Not only are there certain characteristics and traits that won’t change about people—no matter how much we push for it, including some that are specific to each sex—but some of the growth that people require takes time and maturity to achieve.
If we expect the change to occur in an unrealistic time frame, instead of accepting and embracing the moment for what it is, then we are without a doubt causing unnecessary suffering for ourselves and our loved one. That old saying ‘choose your battles wisely’ applies here.
If we unrealistically fight for certain changes or ideals, then we’re likely to create an unhealthy relationship.
It can also plague a parent and child relationship. Kids will be kids—so as above, instead of having unrealistic expectations on who we think they should be, we should instead accept and embrace them for who they are in that very moment and try to understand the big picture of their growth. This will help us to respectfully guide them so that they eventually ‘get it’ and therefore undertake the appropriate development.
Again, this isn’t about just recklessly condoning the behavior of our significant other, or continually forgiving them in a way that doesn’t encourage them to take responsibility for their behaviors; it’s about caring for ourselves, our loved one and our relationship.
We’re not perfect, so we better bloody well not expect the behavior of others to always be too.
This one is obvious, but sometimes it isn’t in a relationship. If we’re always talking about the homework they haven’t done, the bill they should pay, or the problems in our own life, then how do we expect our loved one to know how much we love and respect them.
Life is sometimes taken too seriously and we get lost in the noise of our daily experience. We forget to stop and smell the roses. We forget to find awe and peace in every moment. And the same can happen in relationships.
We need to spend that time showing each other how much we love and respect them. If we do, we’ve got one of the most simple and fundamental aspects of creating and maintaining a healthy relationship covered—looking after the feelings of each other.
Love and respect is illustrated in many ways. It’s not just telling them—it’s also showing them. We can do something spontaneous and nice for them, we can go out of our way to make their life easier, and we can ensure that we exercise the hallmarks described above.
Another way is to hug them for 20 seconds or more. It has been scientifically shown that doing this releases oxytocin—the love hormone—into our bloodstream and therefore we feel high on love. So if we’re in a heated situation, or even a calm one, and we want to make our partner feel loved and respected—then open your arms and give each other an extended hug. It’s a win/win.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Pedro Ribiero Simoes at Flickr