What’s that? Never seen or heard of a “healthy relationship”? No problem. You can learn. You can do it differently. None of us have to remain victims of what we have observed and endured so far…we can change if we want to. But…the deal is…we can only change ourselves. We cannot change other people. This is not to say that people in functional relationships don’t make requests of each other. They do. Often the other person in the relationship responds affirmatively, sometimes not.
So, what, exactly, is a healthy relationship and how do I get one? Begin by looking around at people who are happy and have some sense of joy and peace in their lives, including in their relationships. Interactions with family, friends, coworkers, even others on the road, as well as spouse or significant other, tell us something about people. Note how they speak to and about other human beings. What do you like and what is less than admirable. For starters, look for the following attributes and add your own:
- Emotional availability
- Appropriate boundaries
- Giving, sharing of self, not withholding
- Appropriate independence
- Appropriate dependence
- Not controlling
- Not demanding
- Willing to risk vulnerability to be close
- Does not try to change other people
- Willing to acknowledge mistakes
- Willing to apologize, and change, when wrong
- Willing to grow emotionally and spiritually
- Does not take life too seriously. No “heavy does it.”
- Takes you seriously enough.
- Does not keep score
- Your Favorite Ingredient Here_____
Here is the catch: Be all of the things you want the people in your life to be. Be all of the above and then some.
Let’s take a closer look at #1. Respect. How do you speak to people? How do the people in your life speak to each other and to you? Is it respectful? Is it demanding, discounting, rude, name-calling? Do you answer them when they speak to you? Or do you ignore them, become unresponsive, inherently discounting them? Do you lie to them and to yourself? Are you overtly unkind and unfriendly, or do you make eye contact and acknowledge people?
How do you treat people? Do you smoke in your non-smoker friend’s cars or homes? Do you let your dog poop on property that is not yours? Do you return calls? Smile and say hello? Hold doors open? Extend courtesy in traffic? Follow the rules? Do as requested when on another’s turf? How about respecting the requests of other family members, including your parents? Or your adult children, especially when you are in their home? If you respect yourself and others, you can expect to be treated with respect in return…but you may have to teach others that requirement.
We mimic what we heard as children, not only at home, but at school and everywhere else. Some of us mimic our friends just to fit in, or because we really do not know how we want to be; we have to copy someone because we are insecure and unsure. Healthy people don’t continue mindless mimicking beyond teenage years, but make a decision to work hard to become the best person they can be, the person they want to be. If your models were not what you want to be, you can learn to pull certain qualities from several different people you admire, not necessarily your parents, but you must work hard at it. It is much easier to become just a reaction to your past or to what you think someone else wants, instead of a conscious and well-thought-out individual.
One absolutely vital ingredient for showing respect in a healthy relationship is owning your feelings and thoughts. Never “you” or “should” on anyone. No saying, “you should do it this way…” Or “you think…” or, “if you really cared about me, you would…,” or my favorite, “you think I am…”. How do you know what I think of you? Maybe I don’t think about you as much as you think I do. If you have a complaint about someone, own it. Try using “I” messages, like, “I request…you call me more, or explain this or do that,” instead of, “you don’t want to call me,” or “you never explain…” The point is to take responsibility for yourself and not resort to blame.
Could taking more responsibility for your own emotions and treating everyone with a little more respect change your relationships? Think about it.
More later on some others from the list. Any requests?