Relationships: What is a Healthy Relationship?

If you are someone who often wonders whether you are in a healthy relationship but do not know what to look for, you are not alone.  Many people find themselves in unhealthy, even sometimes abusive relationships and wonder how they missed the signs and are unsure of what  a healthy relationship even looks like or feels like.

Healthy relationships are obtainable and once established are worth the work required to maintain them.  Healthy relationships involve a mutual respect and equality in the relationship between partners.  Each partner should be able to say what they think or feel without any fear of negative consequences.  Opinions should be valued, even when not agreed with, and decisions should be made with compromise.  When mistakes are made in a healthy relationship, the person is able to acknowledge it and take responsibility while working to change the behavior.  Partners come together and agree upon the distribution of work in the household and they share parental responsibilities while making family decisions together.  Each partner feels as though they are supported, are treated fairly and find comfort in the relationship when they are together as well as apart.

Another way to define whether you are in a healthy relationship is to examine characteristics of unhealthy or abusive relationships.  These relationships often involve the use of intimidation from the use of looks or gestures to the severity of physical abuse.  The presence of emotional abuse occurs when partners are made to feel bad about themselves, are humiliated or even harassed.  Isolation may also be used to limit social activities and control any outside interaction. When abuse does occur, it may be minimized or completely  denied without any responsibility being taken.  Children can also be used to control a partner’s actions through visitation issues or threats to take them away.  Children may also be used to relay messages between partners as a form of manipulation.  Abuse is also  displayed economically when a partner is denied getting a job or when money is taken or denied from one partner.  If you feel that you may be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, you may want to seek professional help to improve or even end the relationship.  Healthy relationships do make people happier, ease stress and are worth working toward.

Even when a relationship is healthy, arguments do occur and compromises are not always easy  to make.  Relationships require a lot of work and continued effort from both partners in order to sustain over time.  When working out important issues or even when having the same  argument over and over again, there are rules that partners can abide by in order to keep the discussion on track and help avoid unnecessary harm to each other.

Rules for Fighting Fairly (by Dr. Arnold Lazarus, “The Practice of Multi-Model Therapy…,” 1981)

  • Do not criticize a person by name-calling or judging.  Focus the argument on specific behavior displayed because behavior can be changed and criticizing a person directly will cause them to shut down and end the discussion.
  • Do not tell the other person what they are thinking or feeling.  Allow the other person to explain what they are thinking or feeling because it shows their opinion is valued and is their own.
  • Do not say “You always…” or “You never…” because it is distracting from what the argument is really about.  It changes the focus to these statements which are usually not true.
  • Do not categorize someone as being right or wrong. Partners have different preferences and working towards compromise is the most effective way to resolve these conflicts.
  • State how a behavior has made you feel rather than insulting or name-calling the other person. There is no denial of how a behavior made someone feel, but stating that someone is “selfish” will lead to another argument and can be hurtful to the other person.
  • Be direct and honest when you want to say something or ask for something. Giving a person clues or hints is not effective and leads to miscommunication.
  • Do not discount what the other person is saying or feeling.  Each partner counts in the relationship and allowing each one to be heard and valued is at the heart of compromise.  Once these rules are put in place arguments will be more focused and less hurtful to each partner.  Keep in mind that healthy relationships are sustained through mutual respect and working together to reach your goals through compromise.