By Stephen Regan, Education & Outreach Advocate
It’s Valentine’s Day – world-wide day of love! Roses, chocolates and giant teddy bears are flooding the stores, bringing smiles and romance to many relationships across the globe. But sometimes we need to look beyond that romantic gesture to see if that relationship is a healthy one. Maybe you are questioning what that looks like or if it even exists.
Healthy relationships do exist and it is critical to be able to recognize what they look like because unhealthy traits can escalate into abusive ones before we realize it.
The foundation of a good relationship is based on love, rather than selfishness.
When both individuals put the other one’s needs first, this results in a healthy relationship. If this is one-sided, it can lead to an imbalance of power and put the selfless person in a vulnerable position. If both partners are selfish, the relationship usually won’t last.
Of course, not all relationships look the same, but all healthy relationships contain some combination of the following five categories.
Communication is perhaps the most difficult, yet most essential part of a healthy relationship.
So what does that look like in practical terms?
- Healthy couples fight fair. Having disagreements is not only normal, it is inevitable. The main thing is to always keep a voice in the back of your mind that says “If I say this, or if I go there, it may lead to permanent damage to my relationship.” It’s not only about what you say. Sometimes healthy communication is about what you do not say. If you are able to stay calm and then discuss the issue at a later time, your partner will respect that, and will be much more likely to open up to you.
- Healthy couples let each other know what they like and do not like. This one is pretty simple to understand but harder to put into practice. At some point in the relationship every one needs to be able to express what they like and do not like. If both partners respect each other, these kinds of conversations will not be an obstacle
- Healthy couples understand how to effectively give and receive love from each other. In short, healthy couples understand that affection is not one size fits all. It is human nature to attempt to show love the way we receive love, but we must remember that we are all unique as individuals. A common example is the tradition of buying each other flowers or candy on Valentine’s Day. Maybe your significant other does not like flowers. Maybe they would prefer that you help out around the house instead, or take them out for a nice meal. Find out what makes your partner feel loved, and ensure that your partner understands what makes you feel loved, and you will be on the right track.
Respect is a common missing component in so many relationships, yet very important. Everyone wants to feel valued, but this is one core value that much of our society has forgotten.
- Healthy couples do not refer to each other as “bitch,” “side-chick,” “booty-call ,“or “baby-daddy.” So how should we refer to each other? The first name is a good place to start. The way we refer to each other goes a long way in the respect area. I have seen many men, in particular, referring to their girlfriends by derogatory names in a playful way. Ladies, that is not okay and you should expect more. This has become “normalized” and has contributed to the objectification of women in society.
- Healthy couples show kindness and understanding toward each other. This is one of the easier concepts because one does not have to understand anything about a person in order to show kindness. Showing kindness and understanding means seeing each other as equals in worth. It means not being condescending! Healthy couples take each other’s opinions into consideration when making decisions. Healthy people also pull their weight (in their own way) because they care about not overburdening their partner. Expecting your husband or wife to be your servant is disrespectful.
Relationships are hard to establish if trust is not there. However, we cannot force another individual to be trustworthy. Many times trust issues are rooted in control. Is trying to control where someone goes a trust issue? Or is it a control issue? We need to learn to let it go.
- Healthy couples do not stalk each other. This may sound obvious, but clearly some haven’t gotten the memo. The truth is that it is okay to not know where your partner is at every moment in the day. Does someone show up unannounced at your house without invitation? That’s not healthy. In healthy relationships people look at each other as equal, or complimentary, not as a possession that must be accounted for.
- Healthy couples do not demand that their partner share their social media passwords. Does your partner demand that you share account passwords of any kind? Does your partner look through your phone without you knowing? If so, that is a huge red flag. In a healthy relationship, both people take each other’s words and explanations as valid. They also have enough confidence to move on if that trust is breached.
Having healthy boundaries may be one of the most overlooked aspects of a relationship. If you set firm boundaries in the beginning, you lay a foundation for respect.
- Healthy individuals have self-respect and dignity. This does not mean that one has to be bossy or obnoxious in order to get respect. It simply means that we must decide for ourselves where our lines are, and then not allow anyone to cross them. Ideally, these lines would be communicated from the beginning. If someone coerces you to do things that you do not want to do, that is a form of abuse. Coercion is selfish and has no place in a healthy relationship. Healthy couples set boundaries and then stick to them.
- Healthy individuals do not allow themselves to be isolated from their support system. For those of you who do not know, isolation is one of the key tools for abusers. It could look like your partner distancing you from your family and friends, or it could mean being forbidden to work or have your own money. If this is happening to you, please understand that you are in a vulnerable position. Healthy couples encourage each other to be on good terms with family and friends. They also encourage each other to work and have their own money if it is important to them.
Last but not least, having confidence in yourself is an essential part of being a healthy partner. Did you know that nobody else can do you better than you? Think about that for a second.
- Healthy individuals can walk away. This goes along with having firm boundaries. When your boundaries are crossed it’s probably time to get out, especially if the other person was aware of your boundaries. Abusers will attack their partner’s confidence and self-worth over time until they feel worthless and afraid. At that point, victims are usually isolated from family and friends as well. The earlier a person gets out of a toxic relationship the easier it’s going to be. Healthy individuals stay in a relationship because it is loving and fulfilling, not because they are scared to leave.
If you find yourself in an abusive or dangerous situation, please contact our 24 Hour Crisis Hotline at 281.342.HELP (4357).