There are many different kinds of relationships: spouse, parent, sibling, friend. Although they each serve a different function in our life, they all have the same characteristics that make them healthy and beneficial. How can you tell if your relationships are healthy?
How do cashiers at banks learn how to spot counterfeit money? They can recognize it because they become so familiar with the real thing that fake money is easier to identify. They learn about every aspect of it: how it looks, how it feels, and what happens to it when held up to the light. The more you understand what to look out for, the easier it will be to recognize the real thing.
Here are 7 things to look out for in your relationships:
- Communication. Good communication involves being able to share our thoughts and feelings as well as be receptive to the thoughts and feelings of others. This means listening to each other instead of attacking the other person or defending your own opinion. It means learning to talk to each other in a calm and appropriate way and to take breaks when you are angry. It means giving the other person space to process what they are feeling. (For more tips on good communication, see my blog post here.)
- Boundaries. Good boundaries in a relationship mean you can tell where one person ends and the other begins. You are two separate people but there is a mutually agreed upon space where you overlap. Lack of boundaries might look like being completely dependent on another person, never spending any time apart, or having interests or friends of your own. It might look like allowing someone else’s mood to dictate your own level of happiness. It might look like standing too close to someone and invading their personal space. It might look like sharing your opinions even though they were not asked for. It could look like blaming other people for your problems instead of taking responsibility for yourself. There are many different kinds of physical and emotional boundaries that need to be clearly defined in order for a relationship to be healthy.
- Respect. You have to respect the other person in order to have good boundaries and good communication. It means you believe that what they say and feel is important. You also have to respect yourself in that you believe that your words, feelings, and body are valuable and worth protecting.
- Validation. When you share how you feel, does the other person attempt to empathize and understand, or do they imply that you’re wrong for feeling that way? Feelings should always be validated even if you may not agree or understand.
- Honesty. Are you able to share how you feel and not worry about being judged? Are you able to make mistakes without being criticized? Honesty also requires being able to speak the truth to someone when you see that they are struggling. But this does not mean using the truth as a battering ram. It means humbly and lovingly speaking the truth for the purpose of building someone up and improving the connection in your relationship.
- Trust. When there is mutual trust, there is safety and a lack of fear. You are able to depend on them and know that they will show up for you on a consistent basis. They say what they mean and mean what they say, as opposed to saying one thing and doing another. There is no jealousy or questioning of motives. Trust also needs to be built over time. You cannot know you can trust someone in a day or a week. Reveal a little about yourself at a time as you gauge the other person’s response.
- Give and take. Healthy relationships depend on a give and take. One day your loved one may be struggling, so you are there to serve and comfort them. And then when you need help, your loved one is there to hold you up. If you are always giving or always taking, your relationships may be unhealthy because there is no balance. Important point: the person doing all the taking is probably not going to be the one to change because they are getting all the benefits out of the relationship.
It’s good to periodically “hold your relationships up to the light” to see if they pass the counterfeit test. A good way to tell is to reflect on how you feel after an interaction with someone. Do you feel refreshed and strengthened or do you feel exhausted and drained? If you are feeling the latter, then what is missing in your relationship? Then look for patterns. Is the same thing missing from several different relationships?
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You deserve to feel valued and supported. Don’t let anyone make you believe anything less. Sometimes when we are told that we don’t matter (either with words or with actions), we begin to believe that this is true. Our counselors would love to come alongside you and help you reshape your perspective of yourself and the people you allow around you. We also offer marriage and family counseling if your boundaries and communication have been struggling. Contact us today to set up an online appointment or schedule a free 15-minute phone conversation. Relationships take work but you don’t have to work on them alone.