A healthy relationship has these characteristics which center around EQUALITY: (1) Sexual Safety, (2) Financial/Economic Sufficiency, (3) Negotiation and Fairness, (4) Responsible Parenting, (5) Non-Threatening Behavior, (6) Trust and Support, (7) Connections With Others, and (8) Honesty and Accountability.
In this article, we will discuss the inclusion (= healthy relationship) as well as the exclusion (= unhealthy relationship) of these characteristics.
Sexual Safety - This one's pretty obvious. It means your partner (male or female) is not attempting sexual behavior by force, or by guilt. A healthy sexual relationship implies that you both are willing and able to attend to each other's needs, and (hopefully) are excited to do so.
If sex is the only thing holding your fragile relationship together, perhaps it's best to reevaluate your role in each other's life. And doesn't it go without saying that if someone is manipulating sexual favors from you, they're not worthy of any of your favors?
Financial/Economic Sufficiency - It doesn't matter if one of you is the "breadwinner" or how much income one or both of you bring home. What does matter is that financial responsibilities are shared in a way that is pleasing to both parties. Maybe your partner works full-time outside of the house while you stay home with the kids. That's perfectly fine. But there needs to be a give and take. Perhaps you could have the responsibility of actually "paying" the bills, or setting up the accounts to do so, balancing the checkbook, managing the household economics, etc., and your partner does his share of work raising the children. If that means he or she takes the kids to school, arranges babysitting, attends their extracurricular activities, or helps them pick up their toys at night, whatever you as a family provider need is up for consideration. The point is that a fair balance is maintained and each partner feels they are doing their share of work and contribution for the betterment of the family unit. If both partners work, this could simply mean that you have found a division of income to utilize for household economics that works for you both. If you aren't domestic partners, this could mean that you both are paying for dates, or financially maintaining the relationship in equitable ways. For the more old-fashioned couples who believe that the man should pay for all the dates, ask yourself as a woman, what are you doing for him that balances that load? Consider making him dinner at your house once in a while, surprising him with small gifts that show you appreciate him, or alleviate some of his decision-making by suggesting dates rather than forcing him to manage everything.
Negotiation and Fairness - This can compromise many components in a relationship, but it is general in its meaning. Every partnership comes with its own set of challenges, as we are each our own person, different in tastes, styles, likes, dislikes, hobbies, emotional maturity, and experiences. We all deserve a basic level of respect, and all else is a matter of compromise and justice. We can keep fairness in our relationships by not demanding anything of our partner we are unwilling to adhere to ourselves. In that spirit, we can compromise on most things as long as there are boundaries to what we will and will not accept. To begin to know our own personal boundaries, we must first know what it is we want. Knowing what we want defines what we absolutely do not want, and those things cannot, and should not, be compromised on.
Responsible Parenting - Obviously this only applies if one or both of the people in a relationship have children. When that occurs, there are two main areas of concern. The first: if you are in a relationship with a single parent, your responsibility as a third party is to ensure that your partner is able to focus on his or her child first and foremost. You must be able to cope with the child as more of a priority than your relationship. Whatever the situation is with the child, you should be looking at your partner as a responsible provider and parent. If you notice signs of abuse, neglect, or trouble of any sort, this is a huge warning sign. Also, a parent who tells you that they no longer have, or never did have, a relationship with their biological child, is someone who should be avoided at all costs. Children are our responsibility from the time we create them and must be treated as such. If a parent can simply walk away from the blessings of biology, that speaks volumes for their character. Someone willing to damage a child's emotional health by their negligence and outright abuse is no one to allow near your children. Also, if your child is abused, emotionally, or physically, by your partner, you have the responsibility to take charge and ensure that your partner is never given another chance to do so again. This is your #1 job until your children are adults. Take it seriously, please.
The second: if the two of you share children, you both have roles and responsibilities in the parenting realm. Are these responsibilities shared? The answer to this should be easily answered by your children. Ask them if they see and do things with your partner as often as they'd like to. Answer it yourself. Do you feel that your partner gives your children the attention they deserve, or are you constantly having to question why x, y, or z was more important than taking the kids to the park or reading them a book?
Non-Threatening Behavior - A healthy relationship is completely free of threats. One should not be afraid of their partner, have to walk on eggshells to prevent an emotional flare-up, or live in fear of emotional retaliation (someone who uses guilt as a basis for controlling and manipulating another person). A healthy person asks for what they need, recognizes others' limitations and abilities, and knows when to rely on his or herself to provide those needs, rather than look to another. A healthy person does not use guilt-trips, hold someone on emotional hostage, or use threats as a way to provoke action.
Trust and Support - This can entail any situation within the ramifications of a relationship, but most importantly, we look to our romantic partners for a safe haven, an emotional and physical respite from the rest of the world. This is not an "Us Against the World" mentality (anyone who has to use that attitude is already in a failing relationship - there shouldn't be a reason to be stacked against the rest of the world). It is simply a recognition that you are able to come to your partner and share things with him or her in safety. You should know your partner isn't abusing your trust, that they treat your trust with integrity. You should know that you have a support system there when needed. If your partner is seeking you out for constant support but is incapable or unwilling to be there when you, in turn, need support, then you are with a partner who is looking for an enabler, not an equal. A relationship of the romantic nature is not like signing up to adopt a pet from the shelter. If you find yourself needing to constantly care for an unstable person, then you are better off finding someone more self-sufficient. A relationship shouldn't be a full-time job without benefits. Unhealthy people (and Qi Vampires - see previous blog post) rob us of our energy and drain the joy right out of our lives. It's up to you to get rid of these people and elevate yourself to a higher plane. Others are not your responsibility - they have the power to get professional help and change their lives around. You can't do it for them. Best not to waste your precious time trying and blaming yourself when you fail.
Connections With Others - Many star-gazed romantics would love to believe that it only takes two to make a relationship work. Unfortunately, that's not really accurate in our practical world. No one should be expected to immediately take on a partner's friends and family as their own, nor spend a ton of time with either faction, but there eventually comes a time when reality sets it. Your partner's family especially, and friends definitely, have an influence of some kind over your partner. He or she respects and loves these people, and has looked to them for advice, support, and nurturing in the past - in most accounts, way before he or she met you. It is important that your partner's "others" like you and approve, and likewise, that your "others" like and approve of your partner. When they do, your partner is held accountable with these people to maintain good behavior to keep up the relationship. The Others are supporting and rooting for your coupledom. The Others are there to help, should you need them. And The Others will be, no matter your attitude on the matter, be spending time with you as a couple, and with your partner on his or her own. Isn't it vastly preferable to have connections with these people, too, rather than live on your side of the dividing line in contempt? Think about your Others. How many times have we had them say your partner was a "great" person, good luck to you both, I'm so happy for you? How many times, alternately, have you watched your Others attempt to warn you of red flags they have noticed, have given you the benefit of their wisdom because they sense trouble in your partnership, or have given up on talking sense into you and have therefore alienated you to figure things out on your own? Have you lost relationships with people close to you because you have chosen to stand beside a bad egg? Before you jump to rash judgments as a knee-jerk reaction to hitting sensitive spots, consider that your Others show their concern in different ways, but the root of it is always out of their love for you. When we don't care about someone, we likely don't care who they're wasting their time with, or who is damaging their life. Yet, when someone close to us is taking punches (literally and figuratively) we feel their pain, and we want it to stop. So ask yourself if your partner is someone your Others are proud of you for choosing, are happy to call a friend and family member as well, or are they patiently waiting for you to come to your senses and find that perfect partner they can feel good about including?
Food for thought.
A second consideration: the people your partner surrounds him or herself with, likewise, the people you surround yourself with, are a great indication of the person one is. If you think all of your partners buddies are jerks, chances are he shares a lot of those qualities, otherwise he wouldn't find camaraderie with those guys. If all of your friends are superficial and inconsistent, what do you think that says about you to outsiders? On the other hand, if you find that your friends are all people you trust and love to uplift you, then chances are you are an infectious person to be around. This is great news, no matter who your partner is. Likewise, if you believe all your partner's friends are good people who support him, who engage him in positive activities, then it sounds like you have nothing to worry about in that department. Unfortunately, if your partner is the anti-social type without friends, be prepared for a lot of unnecessary trouble. A friendless person raises a lot of red flags - why can this person not find connections with anybody but you? What does that tell you about his or her ability to maintain relationships? Also, that will likely entail a relationship where your partner is almost completely dependent on you, needing and wanting you to do every activity with him or her, and begrudging you your own private time or time with other people. Are you prepared to take on a remora-type relationship (unhealthy)? Or are you going to maintain your sense of freedom by choosing, instead, a partner who encourages your relationships with other people (healthy)?
Honesty and Accountability - We all owe it to ourselves to live a life of integrity, and our partners should be the first to be blessed by our honest living. We deserve a partner who will be honest with us in our dealings, both when we ask for the truth, and when we don't but they respect you enough to give it to you anyway. Honesty in words is nothing, though, without supplemental accountability. This entails that your partner is willing to prove his or her words are true and that he or she is worthy of the trust you have placed in them. When your partner screws up, he or she tells you so, immediately, and tries to rectify the situation. Apologies mean nothing without an action to correlate repentance and commitment to turning things around. Someone who is truly sorry for the mistakes they have made, hurts they have caused, will be motivated to take action to heal wounds, make things right, and show a trail of behavior that evidences their commitment to growth.
Everyone makes mistakes, and nobody is perfect. One huge setback should not, in itself, be the severing of an otherwise healthy relationship, but we need to consider what our partner has learned from their mistake, which is how they hold themselves accountable for their actions. If the same cycles keep playing themselves out, how is this showing growth? Example: man lies, gets caught lying, and cries that he is sorry, so you forgive him. He does it again. Again, you forgive him and hope this time will bring a true change. But he's not showing you change. Does this sound familiar? It is easy to say you're sorry, and it is pleasant to hear from another that they are in the wrong. It even feels good, sometimes, to bestow forgiveness on someone and deliver them a second (or third, or fourth...) chance that another person has denied them. But this doesn't make you a saint; it makes you an enabler and a person who clearly doesn't respect his or herself. As I said before, it is important to establish boundaries, and when that person has tiptoed over your boundaries multiple times, you have only yourself to blame for continuing to spin your wheels with someone who has not shown the same commitment to you, or basic respect.
In another vein, consider your own grasp of honesty and accountability. Are you honest about your dealings with your partner? Or do you hide things from certain people (or all) because you're afraid of being judged, afraid of admitting your weaknesses, or afraid that you might hear a negative criticism that you are trying to hide from? Are you holding yourself accountable for your own responsibilities and actions in the relationship? If you cannot be honest to yourself about the reality of your situation, it's natural that you won't be honest with others.
If you find yourself questioning where your relationship stacks up in one or two of these identifiers, it might be a good option to enroll in relationship counseling. A qualified counselor will be able to determine the overall health of your partnership and make suggestions as to improving communication and action in both parties, for the greater good of the relationship. If you find yourself nodding along with the healthy traits listed here, congratulate yourself (and your partner)! You should be the model your Others are using as a litmus test for their own partnerships. If, on the other hand, you find yourself going through stages of denial, anger, justification, and dismay over reading the negative traits, or noticing the lack of positive characteristics in your relationship, no amount of relationship counseling is going to salvage your relationship. Don't bother wasting your time, your money, or your energy on a partnership with a crumbling foundation. You owe it to yourself to find somebody who ADDS to your life, not takes away anything from it. A person you "love" should be bringing joy to your life, not causing drama and strife. And if you find yourself constantly going from relationship to relationship making excuses for yourself and your partner, it is worth considering taking some much-needed time to be alone - no dating, no sex, no relationship status whatsoever. Sometimes the greatest common denominator in a string of bad relationships is YOU. In that case, please take the time away to identify your levels of self-esteem, insecurity, and the baggage you're holding onto from previous experiences. You have to deal with these yourself before you can ever expect to have a happy and healthy relationship with somebody worthwhile.
For more in-depth analysis of your own personal situation, please feel free to contact me through the website, and I would be happy to set up a complimentary consultation and suggest options for your situation. Whether you choose relationship counseling, personal counseling, or to forego a nasty relationship altogether, I wish you the best of luck and the energy of positive love force in your life, forevermore!