Establishing Healthy Relationships

by Beth Granet, PsyD

Relationships can come in many forms whether they be familial, romantic, friendly, or collegial. As people, we are set apart from other animals by our ability to form meaningful relationships, rely on others, and contribute to a community. We choose the level of investment we want to make in people such as how much we want to share, how much time we spend with them, and how much mental and emotional space they occupy in our lives. With more of us spending time at home with our families, tensions are high and navigating conflict and the new routine is more difficult than ever. How do we know if we are going about it in a healthy way? Is it ok to spend time apart from people we care about? If a friend gives you a birthday gift, do you need to give them one in return? Can you trust certain family members with sensitive information?

These types of questions can easily turn into doubts or fears when it comes to maintaining healthy interactions and boundaries with the important people in our lives. Although there is nuance within each type of partnership, if we have chosen to become emotionally close to someone, there is a lot to look out for. Here is a short list of warning signs of an unstable relationship:

  • Fear of changing the way the relationship functions
  • Manipulation, trickery, or other attempts to gain power
  • Feeling stagnant as an individual
  • Relationship consumes almost all your thoughts or energy
  • Generosity is demonstrated with the expectation of something in return
  • Feeling distant or afraid of affection
  • Needing to drastically change the other person’s character
  • Sensing that your partner is trying to change who you are
  • Repeated experiences of negative emotions
  • Requiring reassurance to feel secure or increase self-worth
  • Breaking the agreed upon level of commitment to each other

As you may imagine, signs of a healthy relationship are almost the direct opposite of the red flags presented above. Some examples include:

  • Your relationships bring out your best traits
  • Openness to making changes in the dynamic between you
  • Acceptance of needing to transition or say goodbye
  • Supporting one another’s growth
  • Awareness of each of your personal limitations
  • Having a favorable view of yourself without reassurance from your partner
  • Trusting the other person’s memory of events
  • Comfort with the level of equality between you
  • Desire to feel closeness or intimacy
  • Knowing that anger or disagreement may happen and it does not need to ruin things

Consider these points and try to place them within the context of your various relationships. Perhaps you have some that generally match up with healthy and enriching habits. Maybe there are others that teeter on the edge of toxic or draining. When thinking about the different people and dynamics in your life, it can be helpful to be aware of your goals for each relationship. Ask yourself questions such as: what do I want out of this?, does this person add value to my life?, how deep of a relationship am I seeking? Set and remember these goals when creating or maintaining ties with friends, romantic partners, or family members. This will help you establish realistic expectations and healthy bonds.

If you are not sure whether a relationship is healthy, try not to make comparisons to other friends or loved ones. It can be useful to seek the unbiased and balanced advice from a mental health professional. Talking to your therapist can shed light on each person’s role in the relationship and help see the bigger picture. Remember that you are also half of the relationship equation. So, give the respect, boundaries, and compassion you would want to receive from others. Given the uncertainty and isolation we have all been facing over the past year, it is imperative to be mindful of your needs, stress level, and tendencies during conflict or other interactions. Consider what productive or unhelpful patterns you bring into your relationships and help others to do the same. By practicing patience and assuming that our loved ones are doing the best they can, many conflicts and red flag behaviors can be eased.