Healthy relationships are kind of like body positivity and self-esteem, in that until the concepts seep deep into your core, you need occasional reminders about your worth. Reminders about what makes a healthy relationship are about more than your worth, though. They're also (much like body posi and self-esteem reminders) road maps for a life where you're happy, getting what you want (and deserve), and celebrating all you have to offer other people.
My hope is that this piece will be like a dental cleaning (where they barely needed to do anything) or a quick trip to the chiropractor. Just something to reinforce how great you are and realign yourself with some important truths. When I worked with couples as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, a big part of my job was just reminding people about what makes for healthy and unhealthy relationships. And now I'm reminding you. Because even the best, most perfect relationships require check-ins, where you need to re-assess your boundaries, make sure you're communicating, and make sure you're doing your best to appreciate what makes each other great. Some of the hard work it takes to be in a relationship is the good kind, you know? Like remembering to tell your partner why they're the cheese to your macaroni. Because being the cheese to your macaroni is just as important as being a good communicator.
1. Respect Is Just A Minimum
Preach, Lauren Hill. At the very minimum, you should be in a relationship with someone who respects you. Someone who is nice to you. Someone who likes you and realizes what a treasure they have. Believe it or not, a lot of people haven't really grasped this concept. If your relationship, on the whole, doesn't make you happy more often than sad, lonely, angry, or frustrated, it might not be for you.
2. Trust Is Everything
No trust, no relationship. You are a good, trustworthy, adult person, and you do not need a babysitter. You understand the impact of your choices and the consequences (either good or bad) that come from your choices. You do not need someone monitoring where you go, who you go with, what you wear, who you're texting, whose pics you like on Instagram, and so on. No trust, no relationship.
3. Communication Is Key
Communication is the difference between a healthy, grown up relationship and one where two angry people slam a lot of doors and feel perpetually misunderstood. You need to communicate everything, from what you want for dinner, to how your future mother-in-law's mean comments make you feel, to how much you love it when your partner sings in the shower. Communication isn't just what you say, though. It's also body language, how you listen, and how you put your communications into action.
4. Love Isn't Always Beautiful
You can be in a healthy long-term relationship and have moments where you literally cannot stand the sight of your partner. This feeling can last for days, or weeks. And can be followed by the most blissful period of butterflies and romance. There will be times when you love but do not like your partner. There will be times when you want alone time, and maybe even when you question if the relationship is still something you want. Good communication and respect will get you through all these totally normal rough patches.
On the other foot, you can also be completely in love with someone who is completely wrong for you, even someone who abuses you. Sometimes love is a choice. Sometimes it's out of our control. Love is a strange and fickle thing, and it's not always the best barometer for what makes relationships worth the work it takes to keep them healthy, or to leave them when they're not.
5. Fighting Is Both Good And Bad
A good fight is just what the doctor ordered sometimes when there are nagging problems that you've been dancing around forever and just need to solve already. They show that you're passionate, that you care about your relationship, and that you're not the kind of pushover who automatically makes their partner's wants and opinions into their own. Fighting can be totally normal and healthy. When all you do is fight, when the fighting gets mean and hurtful, and when boundaries about name calling, violence, or respect in general, are crossed, that's when fighting is bad.
6. Abuse Is Never OK
You know that if your partner is physically violent, or sexually and emotionally abusive, that they're off the roll call. It may be difficult or impossible for you to leave right now, but you'll get there. You can do it. You're brave enough and strong enough. And it's not your fault. Even if you made them mad. Even if you provoked them. Even if you knew better. No person should ever physically, emotionally, mentally, or sexually harm another human being. Period.
7. Boundaries Protect Everyone
We have to teach others how to treat us and what behaviors are OK. Boundaries don't mean you're walling someone off or closing your heart to them. They get a bad rap as being some kind of buzz killing rule system. In truth, they're just like little manifestos about how we want to be treated. Boundaries can be about your privacy, how people speak to you, who you don't want to allow in your life, and what kind of sex you will have. It's important to establish them and to respect them when others do the same.
8. One Plus One Does Not Equal One
You are a whole, independent person. You have your own thing. You have your own friends. You have interests and hobbies and goals that belong to only you. In a healthy relationship, that doesn't change. You don't become half of a new whole. And while a breakup may devastate you, it's not something you can't survive. Because you can take care of yourself. Because you still do your own thing. Because you have healthy relationships with your family and friends. Because you chose to be with people out of want, not necessity. You're a person in a relationship, not just part of some defining couple.
9. We're All Liars
We all tell little white lies. In fact, sometimes little while lies are what keep healthy relationships happy. I'm talking about lies like "you look so beautiful in that dress" or "I would love to go to lunch with your sister." Lies about big things, like money, cheating, big, important feelings, and decisions that affect you both, are not OK. It's up to you and your partner to put boundaries in place about lying, and to always be honest and trustworthy when it counts.
Now you're more prepared to give insightful advice when your bestie asks if their relationships is better suited for the aisle or the toilet. Or whatever their relationships goals are.
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