The art of creating healthy relationships
By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. -
Human relationships are strange psychological entities. They are very much like a tennis match. You can’t create a match alone. You never directly experience the quality of a match. Rather, its quality is based on your interpretation of how each of you play the game. You contribute only 50 percent to the nature and quality of the match. You have 100 percent of the power to stop it, merely by leaving the court and not interacting anymore. You have to remain on your side of the net in order for the match to continue. You can control only how you play, never how the other plays. A relationship is capable of bringing into your life both joy and sadness, delight and suffering. Indeed, human relationships are very odd things.
In our culture, we have relatively few positive models for relationships. We see, and often experience, people interacting in unhealthy ways. Self-abuse, abuse of partners, ignorance of healthy interactions, violence and hurt, and fear and distrust all seem to be what is highlighted in our lives. The news is rarely about healthy actions and relationships. Even our chosen leaders demonstrate few healthy interpersonal skills when relating to their perceived adversaries.
People break up relationships and leave the relationship court for many reasons. Some keep grudges and resentment over past events. Some fear the consequences of a continued relationship. Some simply stop talking to one another and the relationship withers. Some are focused only on themselves and ignore their impact on the relationship. Some fear commitment to any relationship. It would seem that we have little education on what elements make up a healthy relationships. We seem to have even less knowledge about how to behave in ways that create healthy and satisfying relationships. I know many people who go through life feeling alone, empty, and lonely because they were never taught effective relationship skills, or choose not to use those they were taught.
Relationships are born, grow, thrive, and end. They pass through phases of development. Some are brief in time. Some last a lifetime. Some are still-born. Some are destroyed intentionally. Some slowly fade due to neglect. Some thrive and deepen. Some enrich our existence. Some drain us of energy. Some fulfill our needs. Some remain barely noticeable.
Here are a few suggestions for developing healthy and satisfying relationships to your fellow human beings.
Let relationships grow slowly. Permanent healthy relationships aren’t based on emergency need fulfillment. They must be nurtured and attended to over time.
Accept yourself as you are and share that with another. Accept that others are never exactly like you. Differences are not bad or wrong. They are the elements that enrich relationships.
Choose to trust yourself and your partner. Trust is a choice you make. It is never “earned” or “deserved.” It is a free choice only you can make. You set the criteria for choosing to trust.
Develop “intellectual intimacy” with each other. Share your thoughts, ideas and opinions spontaneously and without fear. Talk with one another. Have discussions, even if the content is insignificant. The process of communication is more important to relationships than the content or topic of conversation.
Risk emotional closeness. Sharing feelings are perceived as more risky than sharing ideas and thoughts. To have emotional closeness, we must reveal to each other what we feel. Emotional revelation invites emotional closeness and is the foundation for building healthy, lasting relationships.
Forgive one another. Forgive yourself. Blame, criticism, resentment, fear, cynicism and negative memories cripple relationships. Letting go of these qualities through forgiveness refreshes and invigorates relationships. Become comfortable with the words, “I’m sorry.”
Make no assumptions and keep no secret expectations. Assumptions are rarely accurate. Unspoken expectations are more rarely fulfilled. No one can read your mind or heart.
Hug and touch. No relationship, indeed no individual, can survive without physical contact. Everyone needs physical expressions of affection and caring. Make a distinction in your mind between physical expressions of affection and sexuality.
Relationships. We can’t survive without them. We all need to know how to create, contribute to, and enjoy them.
Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach. He serves on the faculty of the International University of Professional Studies.