This is the first in a multi-part series about healthy relationships. I'll be discussing what constitutes a healthy relationship,what patterns of behavior define an unhealthy relationship, and what to do if you're in a bad relationship.
First, what does a healthy relationship look like? Most healthy relationships heavily feature these qualities:
- Respecting each other as individuals, which includes accepting their thoughts, opinions, decisions, activities, and social network. If they want to be a professional dominatrix, we help them shop for whips.
- Excellent communication, including nonjudgmental active listening, willingness to compromise, and seeking mutually-beneficial solutions to problems. If they hate the way we put the toilet paper on the roll, we acknowledge how they feel and work out a solution that makes everyone happy.
- Fairness in financial arrangements, household and parental duties, and time allowed to devote toward individual pursuits. I'll change all the poopie diapers if you give me the time to go for a long run on the weekend.
- Honesty and accountability in all aspects of the relationship, which includes mutual trust and the ability to accept personal responsibility. If your emotional baggage is dragging the relationship down, admit it and fix the problem.
- Maintain an atmosphere of safety where each partner is free to express themselves in thoughts and actions. Each person should feel the freedom to say or do what they want, which could feasibly include ending the relationship.
A shortened version- each partner helps the other grow as a person.
So what about bad relationships?
There are a million possible negative behavior patterns found in relationships... here are a few:
- We try to change our partner. We spend a significant amount of time and effort trying to change others, which is always futile. The only people we can change are ourselves. If your partner doesn't want kids, trying to convince them otherwise simply will not end well.
- We expect perfection. We have a relationship ideal (think fairy tales) and hold our partner to that standard. If your relationship ideal comes from Disney movies, you're not going to be very successful in the love game.
- We expect early or better days of the relationship to last forever. Almost all relationships start off great because both partners are deluded by brain chemistry, which causes us to ignore faults. When that passes, we hold our partner to that same early standard. He's not going to give you flowers and poetry every day anymore. She's not going to give you enthusiastic blowjobs after a night out at the bar anymore. We're not in a relationship with the person that was wooing us; we're in a relationship with the person they really are.
- We expect our partner to meet the needs we should be meeting ourselves. We rely on our partner to give us affirmations to fuel our self-esteem, which eventually turns the relationship into a job for them. Need them to compliment your new dress to feel good? That's a problem.
- We try to force them to love us. We believe if we love them enough, all the relationship or individual problems will disappear. Contrary to popular belief, love doesn't conquer all.
- We ignore reality and fail to fix the significant problems. The relationship may be crumbling but we delude ourselves into thinking everything is okay (or it's just a rough patch.)This is the classic "They [insert relationship-ending behavior] with no warning at all! I thought everything was great!" situation. Everything wasn't great. You just deluded yourself into ignoring how shitty the relationship became.
- One or both partners have no ability to empathize. Successful relationships require partners to see things from the others' perspective, which makes it impossible to really love and trust each other.
- We expect our partner to know what we want and need. None of us are mind-readers (though it's not a hard skill to fake.) If we don't have excellent communication to express our needs, anger and resentment develop.
- We lack real intimacy. Intimacy is developed via open, honest reciprocal self-disclosure. We essentially make ourselves vulnerable to each other.
- We don't understand how trust works. There's a tendency to go to extremes of either blindly trusting a partner or having no trust in them at all. In healthy relationships, trust is adjusted based on relationship dynamics and situations. If you're blindsided by your partner's behaviors, see the comment above about ignoring significant problems.
- We have too much emotional baggage. All of us bring our childhood and past relationship baggage into our present relationships, which results in unhealthy relationship patterns. In essence, we don't know how to be in a relationship. When both people fail to acknowledge and actively work to learn to fix their emotional issues, relationships fail.
- We're in a relationship with the wrong person. Compatibility is a tricky issue. We like to think opposites attract. While we like the novelty, it soon wears off. In reality, we need partners with shared goals, values, and desires. Sometimes we look at a few "surface" traits (like hobbies or a mutual love of tacos) as an indicator of compatibility, but it's the stuff under the hood that matters. We often try to make a relationship work with someone that's fundamentally incompatible with us.
These are just a few behavior patterns that define unhealthy relationships. In my next post, I'll discuss what can be done if you are in a bad relationship. I'll give you a hint- it requires that both partners acknowledge that they're in a bad relationship.
Part Two: Fix it or end it!
Part Two: Fix it or end it!