Building Healthy Relationships

By Elizabeth Myers

We all want and need them, but relationships can be hard and we often don't do as well with them as we would like. The rules of healthy relationships are the same whether it is a relationship between partners, friends, family, parent/child, or co-workers.

For me, the most important aspect of any relationship is mutual respect. We need to respect everyone we interact with and treat them as we would like to be treated ourselves. Note, I do not say like.â You do not have to like everyone you interact with (or you may not like some of their behaviors) but you can still respect them as individuals, as children of God. Obviously respect is essential in a successful marriage, it is also absolutely vital in the parent/child relationship. We expect our children to respect us, but we model this behavior by respecting them, from the earliest age.

Healthy relationships allow for individuality, bring out the best in both people, and invite personal growth. Take a look at all your relationships do they meet up to these standards? And if not, why not? It takes two to tango, so be honest about looking at your own feelings and behaviors before you look at someone else's.

If you have been reading my telling your life story articles, you know that I did not grow up in a family of healthy relationships. I was allowed my individuality, but many things were unspoken, and unhealthy and at times dangerous anger permeated the household. So I had to learn to have healthy relationships when I grew up. It was not easy. Here are the major things I have learned:

1) Do not expect anyone to be responsible for your happiness. Often relationships fail because one partner blames the other for their unhappiness. Your life is solely under your control and your responsibility.

2) Make sure you are communicating. There are actually some fairly simple rules, if you want to call them that, that lead to effective communication. When expressing yourself, such as stating an opinion, sharing a feeling, making an observation, use the I statement's. I statements allow us to express ourselves directly and honestly, and to take responsibility for what we think, feel and need while avoiding blaming and accusing others. (By the way, this is also a valuable technique when we are having an internal dialogue, because if you can catch yourself in blame thinking, you are not assuming responsibility for yourself.) In contrast, you-statements blame the other person, put him/her on the defensive, and generally block communication. Step two. When other people are communicating with you, it is not appropriate to use I-statements. (Don't we frequently have conversations that go like this: I don't feel well today. Response: I don't feel well either.) Instead of using I-statements,reflect back, in your own words, what the person is saying. Reflection does not question, challenge, argue, approve or disapprove. For example, you can say it sounds like you're feeling, thinking, wanting this. By responding in this way, you are acknowledging that you received the communication and it gives permission for the other person to continue talking if necessary.
If all of this sounds artificial, it will probably feel that way at first, but with practice, it can become automatic.

3) Fight fairly. The effective communication style expressed above is also extremely effective in resolving conflicts. Listening to each other, validating each other's feelings and not assigning blame will lead to problem solving. When you fight with someone you love, you have to remember that what you are doing is problem solving; you are not on a power trip. The minute you start with the I'm right and you are wrong kind of thinking and feeling, you have closed the door to a healthy resolution.

Many people come in to counseling at the Samaritan Center because they are in trouble in their relationships spousal or parent/child particularly. I strongly recommend that you seek help before years of hurt, miscommunication and disrespect have permeating the relationship. It is very difficult (though not impossible), to forgive and start over. It is very difficult to trust again. But we live in this world in relationship with each other. So get the help you need if you feel you could be doing relationships better.