Building Healthy Relationships

When we hear the word healthy, what comes to mind? I asked this question to over a dozen people recently. Every answer included these three basic components  – eating healthy food  – getting enough exercise  –  not having too many physical ailments. The other fairly consistent idea was not smoking or drinking too much, and getting enough sleep. However, no one said anything about mental toughness, emotional strength or spiritual health, nor anything about healthy relationships.

Now some of this might be due to the inundation of the concepts behind health. For example, we have buildings filled with health food stores, health clubs, and multi-storied health care complexes. Since the focus often centers on our physical health, these other areas can often be pushed to the side.

What does it mean to be healthy anyway?

In reality, the idea of health should not be limited to just our physical well-being.   According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, Health is defined as – The condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit.  Being free from disease or pain. Enjoying health and vigor of body, mind, or spirit.  Showing physical, mental, or emotional well-being.

As we can see, being healthy goes beyond the physical. Thus, a more academic definition of being healthy would include finding a place where every part of our life is sound, thriving or doing well. But that’s easier said than done.

In this series, I would like to cover the idea of building one’s relational health. This five part series will cover healthy relationships using various ideas, research, opinions, and concepts to convey the what, why, how, when and where of healthy relationships.

healthy relationshipsWhy do Healthy Relationships Matter?

To begin, let’s look at a not so famous (but applicable) quote from Albert Einstein: “Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men.”

In other words, in daily life, we are here for each other. This is also why our relationships with others are what give life meaning and is often where we find the most joy.

I’m fully convinced that we are social beings with the ability to build relationships with pretty much everything we interact with.  I know it may sound odd, but people can build a relationship with pretty much anything and everything.

We can build positive relationships with everything from people to pets and cousins to cats (don’t tell me you’ve never talked to a dog, cat or other cute creature).

We can even build unhealthy relationships with inanimate objects from food and alcohol, or cars to clothes.

We can even build relationships with entities like sports teams or brands we love. Just ask the person married to a sports fanatic, or living with a brand loyalist.

I believe the reason we can build a relationship with pretty much anything is because people have a tendency to humanize things they hold dear. Once we humanize something, we give it a persona and then bond to it.  Once we have personified that object we can begin to interact with it like we do other living beings.

When we personalize something, it’s easier to relate to that item and build a relationship. Don’t laugh, I know many a guy and girl that have quite the relationship with their car. You know the people who name their car, assign them genders, give them a personality and then spend more time and money pampering their car than they do their kids.

This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it does show how we humans place such a strong emphasis on personalizing things and then building strong relationships to those things we value.

Now that we’ve established our need for relationships, let’s take it a step further and look at what it takes to build a healthy relationship

Building healthy relationships

There is an interesting article entitled 8 Keys to Healthy Relationships, written by Will Meek Ph.D. in which he compiles 3 different relationship research projects into a list of 8 relationship principles.

  1. Taking Interest – Being truly interested in one another.
  2. Acceptance and Respect – Accepting each other’s strengths/weaknesses and respecting these even if they are different than ours.
  3. Positive Regard – Seeing negative things as honest mistakes and recognizing a person’s positive actions are done because of their positive personal traits (and not just done by accident).
  4. Meeting Basic Needs – Making an effort to understand and support someone’s need for companionship, affection and emotional support.
  5. Positive Interactions – Relationships are more satisfying when positive interactions surpass negative interactions (more balanced towards positive experiences).
  6. Solve Problems – Solutions are not always possible, but compromise can be found by working together.
  7. Rupture and RepairRecognizing problems and dealing with them quickly.
  8. Reciprocity – Not just one side, but both sides need to take interest in 1 -7 (in other words relationships go both ways).

Now, these are great tips and summarize nicely what it takes to build a good relationship. It is, however, interesting to note that relationships can vary wildly depending on age, race, religion, culture, societal pressures, personality, occupational variables etc. These we will cover in part 3, but next time we will look at the four main things that can keep a relationship together and strong.