Relationships are the school of life. They give us the opportunity to learn valuable life lessons that can help us to become healthier, happier people.
In my work as a psychotherapist, almost everyone who walks through the doors of my office is struggling with a relationship in their life. One question that people often ask me is “What is a healthy relationship?” I’m going to answer that question today and I’m also going to share 3 important keys to creating healthy, happy relationships in your life.
Before we get started, I just want to say that I didn’t always know the wisdom that I’m sharing with you today. I spent many years of my life struggling with relationships and always wondering what I was doing wrong.
The reason that I’m a good psychotherapist today is that I remember very well how it feels to be struggling. Everything that I teach you, I had to learn the hard way just like you, by falling down over and over and then picking myself up again and starting over.
I saw an interesting quote recently that said relationships are the only class we take in life where we get the test first and the lessons come later. That’s very sad to say, but it’s often true. We spend many years in school preparing for our lives and our careers, but how many years do we spend preparing for healthy relationships?
What is a Healthy Relationship?
So let me answer the question, “What is a healthy relationship?” A healthy relationship is one where you feel safe and comfortable be your real self and you still feel loved, valued and supported. I’m not talking just about a romantic relationship—I’m talking about any relationship, whether it’s with a partner, a family member or with a friend.
In a healthy relationship, there is trust, honesty, kindness, openness, vulnerability and support. There is also fun, laughter, joy, silliness and happy shared experiences.
All of us want healthy relationships, so why is it so hard to actually create them and sustain them over time? I believe that our inability for having healthy, happy relationships with others is very much tied to the relationship we have with ourselves. When we work to develop a better relationship with ourselves, our relationships with others will naturally blossom.
Know and Love Yourself First
So the first key for having healthy relationships is knowing and loving yourself. If you want to have healthy relationships with others, it’s very important that you know who you really are and that you truly love yourself.
Knowing who you really are involves knowing what you feel and being able to express your feelings in healthy, positive ways. When you don’t recognize your own feelings, or you don’t express them honestly and directly, they tend to come out in negative, hurtful ways that damage the people around you.
Loving yourself is about valuing and appreciating who you really are, instead of waiting for someone else to do it for you. It’s also about feeling empowered to speak your truth in the world and setting clear expectations and boundaries for how you want to be treated.
When you love yourself, you get clear in our own heart that you simply won’t tolerate control, manipulation or abuse in your life. Fortunately, it’s much easier for other people to respect you and treat you with love and kindness when you have clear expectations and boundaries for how you want to be treated.
Practice Healthy Communication and Win/Win Conflict Resolution
The second key for having healthy relationships follows very closely behind the first. It’s practicing healthy communication and win/win conflict resolution.
Healthy communication starts with really listening and trying to understand what someone else is feeling and why they feel what they do. When you can put yourself in their shoes and understand their feelings, it’s much easier to talk to them with kindness and respect.
Healthy communication also involves using ‘I messages’ rather than ‘you messages.’ Rather than saying, “You’re a jerk and you really hurt me,” you say, “When you tell me you’ll be home for dinner and you don’t call to let me know that something came up, I feel very hurt and frustrated.”
Win/win conflict resolution is still a new idea to a lot of people in our culture, because most of us grew up in situations where there was always a winner and a loser. Win/win conflict resolution involves both people in a relationship really listening to each other and taking the time to understand each other’s feelings and needs. Then, when you really understand your partner’s feelings and needs, you can brainstorm with each other to find a solution that’s good for both of you.
The key for win/win conflict resolution is to continue communicating and really listening to your partner until you both feel loved, valued and understood and you have found a solution that feels good to both of you.
Treat People the Way You Want to be Treated
The third key for having healthy relationships is treating the people you care about the way you want to be treated. Most of us like to be valued and treated with love and kindness, yet in our crazy busy world, sometimes we forget to think about how we are treating the people we love the most.
For example, it’s very easy to slip into old patterns, and use manipulation or control to get someone you love to do what you want them to do. But if you take the time to put yourself in that person’s shoes and think of how they must be feeling, you realize that manipulation and control doesn’t feel good, to you or to them.
Relationships feel much better when everyone has free choice. When you treat each other as equal human beings who all have important feelings and needs, you can communicate respectfully with each other and work together to support each other’s goals and dreams.
If you want to treat others the way you want to be treated it’s also important to let go of all criticism in your relationship and replace the criticism with validating, supporting and complimenting each other. Criticism never feels good, even when people say it’s constructive criticism. But doesn’t it feel great when someone takes the time to validate you or compliment you for who you are, or for something you did or said?
If you want to have healthy relationships, it’s important to remember that the people around you need love and support and kindness too. When you treat others the way you want to be treated, everything in your life starts to change for the better.
Rewards and Payoffs of Healthy Relationships
If you are just learning about how to have a healthy relationship, it’s very important to be kind and gentle with yourself in the process. Healthy relationships take work and effort. You won’t learn everything you need to know in a day. It takes time and patience to develop the skills you need.
The good news is that healthy relationships are worth every moment of time and effort you put into them. There’s nothing that feels better than connecting heart-to-heart with someone and feeling loved, supported and connected at a deep level.
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