Relationships are an important part of everyone’s life. When relationships are healthy and strong, life is seemingly easier to manage despite the challenges that come a person’s way.
But when relationships are unhealthy, they add to a person’s burden and drain away a person’s peace of mind. In fact, such problems – whether with friends or family – can lead to issues like anger management problems, anxiety, and depression. This is why it is important to know how to have healthy relationships.
3 Essentials for Healthy Relationships
Although there are many aspects to healthy relationships, the following are three essentials a person needs to consider when evaluating their current relationships, and when forming newer ones.
1. Define Your Idea of a Meaningful Relationship
In today’s world, it can be difficult to just accept what others claim to be the true definition of a healthy and meaningful relationship. Because of their access to other cultures, beliefs, and experiences people have realized that what works for one person may not always work for all, even if they come from the same family or similar backgrounds.
This is why it is important for an individual to look deep within and discover for themselves their idea of a “meaningful relationship.” Because the term “relationship” applies to the connections a person has with friends and family as well as what they have with their romantic partner, it also helps to define what they want for all such relationships.
This introspection will often include the person’s past experiences, both positive and negative, as well as what they may have learned from home, school, or from other sources (e.g. peers, self-help books). But rather than just piecing together the differing experiences and words of wisdom, it is best to break things down and consider just exactly what one wants.
Important Questions to Consider about Meaningful Relationships
The following are some key questions that can kick-start a person’s self-examination of what they truly want in their close relationships:
- Who do you consider “family?” Is it just biological members or are friends included?
- For biological members, is it just your nuclear family or are extended relatives a part too?
- When do you feel closest to your family? In joyful times? In sad times?
- How much are you willing to share with family about who you are? Everything? Just a little bit?
- What do you expect from family members?
Friends, Colleagues, and Community
- What values are you looking for in a close friend?
- Do you trust your friends with your inner secrets? Which ones?
- When do acquaintances become “friends” to you?
- Do you prefer being with large groups of people or just smaller groups?
- Is it important for your colleagues to become your friends? Or do you wish to keep things professional?
- Is it important for your neighbors to become your friends or just acquaintances?
- What are you expecting from your church? Do you see them as family, friends, or just fellow worshippers?
The Romantic Partner
- What values and traits are you looking for in your romantic partner?
- What are the clear red flags to be wary of?
- How much of yourself are you willing to give to your romantic partner?
- How much personal time do you need so that the relationship is not too suffocating?
- What important issues in your life (e.g. interests, goals, and relationships) do you expect your romantic partner to respect and possibly show interest in?
- What relationships (exes, close friends of the opposite sex, drinking buddies) do you expect one another to give up for the sake of your love?
Once all of these have been defined, it makes it easier to evaluate current relationships; and it gives a framework of what to look for in future ones.
2.Communication with Care
Communication is essential in all relationships . Through proper communication, important information is shared, essential instructions are given, and people are updated about one another’s lives. Yet when communicating with the really important people in life, sometimes the element of care is left out.
Many times people take their close relationships for granted, thinking that it is already understood that the love is there. Sometimes, when a person communicates to a loved one the communication might be brusque, lacking in detail, or very business-like without any inquiry as to how the recipient may feel about what was shared. While this may be okay if only done once in a while or in an emergency, if it has become the norm, then chances are that hurt and resentment may have already set in.
The way a person can communicate with care also depends on who the person is talking to. For children, the first thing to consider is that a child may not understand all the words or concepts that are being said, so it is often necessary for the person to carefully choose words they can comprehend. Depending on the child’s age and the concept involved, storytelling or role playing may also be appropriate.
Second, adults often give instructions without asking the child about how they feel. Inquiring about their feelings shows the child that how they feel is also important – though it does not necessarily mean that the instructions will be changed, especially when discipline is involved.
Lastly, caring communication for a child is not always about meaningful words. Many times it requires paying attention to what they are doing, be this dancing, drawing, playing, or singing. For it to be truly meaningful to them it may also involve active participation.
Marriage is another critical area where caring communication is needed. But unlike communication with kids where the parents can control the conversation, caring communication between spouses often requires much more listening and much more open mindedness as they need to understand their spouse’s perspective.
Additionally, there are often many conflict-filled conversations in marriage as two very different people try to live together as one. Such conflicts are normal and are to be expected. However, rather than always trying to win at all costs, in marriage, it is usually more important that the problem is resolved while keeping the union intact.
As marriage is a particularly crucial area in people’s lives, the following are some helpful tips so that spouses may communicate with care, particularly in times of conflict:
- Think things through before speaking to avoid careless and hurtful words.
- Focus on the problem at hand and not on destroying one another’s character.
- Be mindful of one’s facial expressions and body language.
- Truly listen to one another.
- Give sufficient time for one’s spouse to respond.
- Be truthful.
- Be willing to repeat yourself when asked, for the sake of clarity and understanding.
Other relatives and friends
Once a person has their own family, there is often a general tendency to neglect other relationships as the person is now focused on providing and caring for their immediate family. But though one’s nuclear family should be the priority, it is still important to connect to one another and maintain family bonds and friendships.
Something that can help here is for the person to take the initiative and reach out to family and friends rather than just wait to be contacted. This is particularly important if past hurts have led to a relationship gap between them.
Although it might not be the norm in one’s family or circle of friends, the key thing to remember when doing so is that this is done out of love. Moreover, if there are other hidden hurts within the family or group of friends, such a display of openness and vulnerability may encourage other members to seek reconciliation as well.
3. Setting Boundaries
The final important step is to create boundaries for oneself. Although loving others means the sharing of one’s resources, skills, and time, it should not be all. Many times conflicts arise when people feel that they have been taken advantage of by family, friends, or acquaintances because of their generosity.
In order to prevent this, personal boundaries should be set so that one knows just how much they will lend to family and friends. For example, when it comes to lending money, one may set a maximum of $50 for acquaintances and $200 for not-so-close friends. Only those who are truly trusted can borrow more than $200.
For material resources, while less costly items may be easily lent (provided the borrower has a good track record of returning items intact and on time), only trusted friends and family can borrow the laptop, car, or condo (for the weekend). With such boundaries in place, it becomes easier to make quick decisions regarding such requests, and the person does not feel uneasy saying “yes” nor guilty for saying “no.”
Similarly, boundaries need to be set regarding requests for one’s personal and professional skills as well as one’s time. Skill-wise, some people believe that they are often “used” when friends and family constantly ask for free or greatly discounted services (e.g. medical check-ups, car or house repairs). While such might be okay for really close loved ones, the person needs to set limits for others.
Personal time is another area where a person needs to know when to say “yes” or “no.” Although it sounds good to always be available when a family or friend needs one’s presence, doing so often compromises personal time with one’s immediate family or personal relaxation. Burnout is often a consequence when people cannot balance their time because of endless requests for their presence at parties, volunteer work, community meetings, or other get-togethers.
Christian Counseling for Healthy Relationships
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. – Proverbs 17:17
Healthy relationships are a blessing indeed. When a person has good friends and loving family members to count on, life’s problems become easier to manage because there is someone to count on in the tough times and share laughs during the lighter moments. Thankfully, there are ways to ensure that one’s relationships are really healthy ones.
However, not everybody is able to easily do such introspection or communicate with care to their loved ones, especially if some of their current relationships are already quite bad. In such situations, it is best to seek Christian counseling to have better relationships.
In Christian counseling, the latest in therapeutic techniques will be used to help the person open up about their situation and figure out what needs to be done. This is particularly helpful for someone who may be timid, indifferent, or dealing with past issues (abuse, betrayal) that are hindering them from truly connecting with others.
But most importantly, the faith-based counselor will introduce the person to the love and mercy of God through a true relationship with Jesus Christ. In the sessions, they will pray and be prayed for; and they will learn more about maintaining Godly relationships as they meditate on the wisdom found in the Holy Scriptures. With His help, the challenge of loving others will become more manageable.
If you or a friend is having difficulty with unhealthy relationships, seek help soon. As God transforms the inner self, healthier and happier relationships will become easier to have and maintain.
“Bridge,” courtesy of Tord Sollie, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Laughing with Friends”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friends”, Courtesy of Trung Thanh, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Great Wall”, Courtesy of Vincent Guth, Unsplash.com, CC0 License