I’m pretty lucky. My parents are celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary this year. I grew up with loving parents to model what a healthy relationship should be. But for some reason I have yet to find one. I have been in a few (okay many) and it always seems to end in a realization that this is not a healthy situation. Sometimes it started out unhealthy and other times it ended that way after years.
As I said before I just came out of a relationship of two years. We were really going places I thought. But the relationship started to have affects on me that I couldn’t deny anymore. I was starting to suffer from anxiety and after our last fight I had to take a close look at our dynamic. That’s when I realized he wasn’t in love with me, he was in need. His need to have me around, do only the things that he felt were fun, not allow me to be independent in any way. He wouldn’t flat out say “You can’t do that”, but when I would say I had work to do, I knew that he would not text me that day or call or offer support, but would just wait for me to call and say goodnight and put me into deep freeze (manipulating me because he didn’t get to see me that day). It wasn’t acceptable to just need a little “me” time or just time to do the laundry and chores and handle the responsibility of being a single mom (a fact he was well aware of when we met) (oh that sounds bitter…more healing to do). And as the relationship progressed I found myself feeling increasing stress and anxiety. Now that there is some distance I can see very clearly how unhealthy this was, but I am looking forward to realizing it sooner (I mean my goodness I met him before I turned 40..that was precious time).
So what should a healthy relationship consist of? Here are the ingredients:
- TRUST AND MUTUAL RESPECT: This is a big one. It is not only the trust that your partner would never lie, or cheat, but that they actually are looking out for your greater good (and vice versa). You know without a doubt that this person has your back in all situations. And when they offer advice you know that there is no self-serving motivation. You honestly want whatever is in each other’s best interests and the decisions the two of you make together will support both your needs and greater good.
- FIGHTING: Yes I said fighting. Disagreeing in a relationship is perfectly healthy. But it is all in how you do it. You don’t need to get down and dirty and roll around in the mud. It’s okay to not have the same opinion on different topics and have healthy debates about them. Disagree and debate, maybe at the end of the day you agree to disagree, but you go to bed knowing that this person has your best interests and you have theirs at heart. As you go through the conflict you are both willing to see the other’s side and try to learn from the conflict you had. You are willing to hear your partner without being a right-fighter (Dr. Phil-ism) or being defensive.
- COMMUNICATION: The ability to speak your needs, fears, vulnerabilities and dreams with this person and not be judged or criticized. Like in Old School, this is a safe tree. Your relationship should afford you the ability to be completely who you are and say completely what you feel. If you really didn’t like that thing he did in the bedroom the other night, while it will take tact to handle it, you should feel safe to bring it up.
- INDIVIDUAL and JOINT IDENTITY: A healthy relationship starts with a healthy individual. One that is well rounded with past times, friends, work, outside interests that are their own. When two well rounded people come together they do not lose that, they simply overlap it in the middle and now have a joint identity. That should not change. And both partners (if it’s a healthy relationship) will support and encourage those separate identities. I mean that’s the reason you are in love with this person right (and they you), because of all he had when he came to your life.
- CHEMISTRY: We know that feeling when we first start failing for someone, we can’t get enough, the taste, the smell, everything they do is funny or adorable. But then after time (about 18 months) that tends to wear down a little. The relationship evolves, but the chemistry shouldn’t fade. You should still have that spark, emotionally, intellectually and physically. If you are in a healthy relationship you will still have the spark, it may look a little different, more comfortable, (more planning with children) but it’s there. And when the kids go to grandma’s or you get a chance to get away the spark is really still there physically. On a more often than not basis you and your partner stimulate each other in not just a physical way, but an emotional and intellectual way as well.
- HONESTY: A healthy relationship is one of joint honesty. Not only are you honest with your partner, but you are honest with yourself. You need to own your feelings and be able to communicate those with your partner in an honest fashion and not try to make your problems his or her problems.
This is the core foundation to having a healthy relationship. Like I say we are not perfect all of the time. We may go through periods in our life when we are feeling a little more insecure and it could have nothing to do with our partner, but maybe something that is going on in our external world. We are all human. Sometimes we screw up and resort to childish behavior, it happens, but it should never be unhealthy all the time.
What are some unhealthy traits that might make you feel like you are more in need than in love? I’m glad you asked:
- Neglect yourself or your partner
- Feel pressure to change, to quit activities, or to agree with your partner
- Worry when you disagree
- Feel like you have to justify yourself, actions or choices
- Feel pressure or obligation to have sex
- Lack of privacy
- Attempt to control or manipulate
- Keeping a relationship scorecard (a tally of all done right and wrong in the relationship)
- Passive-aggressive comments instead of direct communication
- Buying your forgiveness – attempt at fixing problems with objects or trips. The problem will always be there when you get back and will usually resurface larger than ever.
- Unequal control of resources (utilities, phone, money, car, etc.)
- You are to blame for their unhappiness
- You feel worse about yourself
- You are feeling drained emotionally, like the life is being sucked out of you.
- Controlling your contact with your support systems
If you feel these behaviors most of the time it may be time to consider checking out.
Of course if you ever find yourself in a situation where you are being physically assaulted please seek help either through a crisis center or the police department. Seek a professional to help you make a safe plan to get out of that relationship as quickly as possible. There is never any circumstance that warrants physical abuse of another human being. Please know it is never acceptable no matter what! But you will want to have an exit strategy to help you leave that situation as safe and as quick as possible so you can start healing and start on a new chapter of your life.
We are all human, but the foundation should be a solid one built on pillars of healthiness. If it’s not you might need to ask “Am I in Love or Am I in Need?”
Have you been in an unhealthy relationship? Tell me about it and maybe I’ll write a future post about it.