No two interpersonal relationships are alike, but all relationships can be healthy when certain basic ingredients are included, experienced and maintained. No relationship is perfect and all require ongoing personal interest in maintaining their positive functioning in order to be healthy.
There is always a need to improve some areas of a relationship if the participants want it to remain healthy. It doesn’t matter whether the interpersonal connection is romantic, familial, a friendship, with co-workers, or in an employer-employee situation. Relationships are built on emotional foundations and can bring out the best or worst in reaction to them because the personalities of those involved in them differ from one person to another.
A healthy relationship enables individuals to be comfortable talking about what they expect from each other. Basic ingredients for a healthy relationship include, but are not limited to, honesty, respect, trust, transparency, acceptance of boundaries, and communication concerning the relationship.
It is essential for individuals to talk about what is missing from the relationship when there is a feeling that something is negatively affecting it. It is equally important to say what feels good or positive about the interaction. It means allowing for both participants to learn how to keep the relationship afloat and to talk about how to fix issues that arise, if and when that occurs. That keeps communication alive so that each understands the likes and dislikes of the other.
When your relationship is healthy, each individual is receptive and listens actively to what the other person says. Active listening means actually listening carefully and hearing what the other person is saying. “Hearing equals understanding the other person’s point of view.” That is, not just hearing the words, but understanding the meaning of the words in the other person’s verbal communication. The body language accompanying verbal interaction is also meaningful.
When I mention body language, I am thinking of how messages such as tilting of the head, a smile, a frown, a pointing of the fingers, a stamping of the foot might add emphasis to the spoken word. Of course, silence through not responding verbally may give a loud response, too. The interjection of certain sounds such as “ooohs”, “aahs” and “ums” also signal messages in “verbal” responses.
It is important to not simply wait to speak when the other person stops talking, nor is it just talking that conveys communication. “Doing” is always a way of communicating. That, too, is a critical or crucial part of any communication. If you don’t understand what the other person is saying, ask for an explanation – the “What do you mean” or “Please tell me more” kind of question. Communication or lack thereof can make or break a relationship.
You are not just trying to get the other person to change their mind and agree with your point of view, if you respect the other person. Nor should each participant have to change their thoughts completely in order to please the other. And, there are times when you might merely agree to disagree. Often it takes time to learn something different. Remember that no one is always right and we may not know that we do not know. Relationships can help in fostering learning especially when relationships are healthy. Positive communication assists learning experiences.
Certainly, persons in healthy relationships are likely to have some personal boundaries which they do not wish to be violated. Information about boundaries should be shared with anyone who needs to know and such information ought to be respected. For instance, if a person wishes to meet a new — likely to become a romantic — partner twice a week, that boundary ought to be respected.
Change can be expected if and when the relationship either grows stronger or fizzles out entirely. If one partner does not wish to be intimate, that, too, ought to be accepted and respected. And, certainly, efforts to control whom you see, hang out with, or how and when you continue with personal goals ought to be respected also. Failure to respect boundaries is a sign of abuse.
Trust is perhaps the most important basic ingredient for a healthy relationship. It takes time to build trust. Taking advantage of an individual or being continuously negatively critical of him or her are examples leading to a betrayal of trust. It is so much harder to rebuild trust after it has been torn down.
So many people feel that after they have betrayed the trust of their partner, and they have been forgiven it should be easy to move on in the relationship. This is not so. Not so fast. It takes a great deal of time and trust-building behaviours to restore trust. Additionally, the person who has been hurt cannot readily make themselves trust again. Trust is not really an action; it is a feeling that requires time to regain.
If you are looking for a healthy relationship, some basic ingredients are required in order for it to work. Those basic ingredients include but are not limited to honesty, ability to communicate, trust, openness or transparency, respect for each other, and acceptance of boundaries.
It is a new year. Make it a new year that enables you to live in relationships that are healthy.
• Norma Cox Astwood, PhD, also known as Lady Blackman, is the first woman to serve as Vice-President of the Senate of Bermuda, and is the founder of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Group