Is This Normal? Healthy Relationships

Written by: Ann O'Neill

  • Think your significant other should be offering you more massages, long-stemmed roses, or rides in hot air balloons?
  • Do you communicate with others by telling them every little thing about you from errands you have to run that week to your mother-in-law’s battle with dementia?
  • Are you inclined to check emails, texts, or review phone logs of anyone with whom you have a relationship?
  • Do you think relationships should make you happy (respectful, complete, safe…)?

Successful relationships are difficult to create because individuals are dynamic entities.  Just when you figured out how to engage a relationship so that everything is coming up roses, rainbows, and ponies, you change, your partner changes, or circumstances change.  These changes are normal and part of life, but adapting to these changes challenges relationships.  So, how do you go about forming relationships that are healthy, sustainable, and adaptable?

There’s so much written on what makes successful relationships.  Much of what’s been written focuses on effective communication  - telling your partner “How-You-Feel” or putting romance back in your relationship.  My experience tells me that these are secondary.  Successful relationships have more to do with ensuring that individuals involved are highly functioning and healthy.

For example, most people know that conflict is inherent in any relationship yet still struggle with resolving conflicts constructively.  Few people come to relationships with expectations free from the influences of Disney, Hallmark cards, and Dan Fogelberg lyrics.  Few people are aware they have these expectations.  Many people think they need to tell everything about themselves all the time in order to maintain closeness with someone.  Many think a relationship will make them happy.  Many think individuals must sacrifice their personal boundaries to the relationship.  Then it’s no wonder that maintaining relationships is tough work.  It’s also no wonder that successful relationships can provide such fulfillment.

Being involved in any successful relationship requires individuals to have certain skills and a strong sense of self.  Managing conflict effectively, realistically checking their expectations for relationships, respecting another’s privacy, accepting responsibility for fulfilling his/her own needs, a strong sense of humor, and committing to the relationship are qualities that will go a long way in making solid relationships.  If you want to improve a relationship, a good place to start is with yourself.

I have a few suggestions.  Please take what makes sense to you.

  • Most people are uncomfortable with romantic gestures.  It seems to make them feel too vulnerable or too cliché.  Most people do feel comfortable with kindness.  Instead of long-stemmed roses, you may find you have new snow tires on your car.  Recognize the gesture and do something nice in return.
  • Serious attempts at resolving conflicts are free of blame, judgment, sarcasm, name-calling, and story-telling.  Keep your sentences short and use “I” statements.  Focus on problem-solving not winning the argument, being a martyr, or hurting the other person.
  • Realize that you have to be happy before you will be happy in any long term relationship.  This is tricky business because what made you happy when you were 21 years old will likely not make you happy when you’re 42.  Take responsibility for making yourself happy.  This will strengthen all your relationships.
  • Have fun.  This is a highly underrated quality in relationships.  Studies show that bonds with others are strengthened when we laugh our heads off with them.  Find something that funny in every day and share it.  If you can’t find something funny, look harder.
  • Commit to improving the relationship by making sure that you are strong.  This is ongoing maintenance.  Follow what gives you satisfaction and joy.
  • If you’re concerned that you’re in an abusive or controlling relationship, it’s crucial  to get help right now.  Right now.

Difficulties in relationships are normal.  Strengthening yourself to improve your relationships is good health.

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