When we think of health and wellness we typically think about exercise, nutrition, habits that are healthy for our bodies. If you’ve read any of my posts, you’ll notice that I talk about things beyond the wellness and health cycles of the body and focus on strategies to keep the mind healthy. One area that is particularly important is having healthy relationships with those around you.
This topic is especially relevant this month because it is domestic violence awareness month, so I thought a post on healthy relationships would be appropriate.
I want to start out by saying that I have never been in a physically or mentally abusive relationship, but I have had friends and family that have. It is a tough thing to see someone go through.
Building healthy relationships apply to more than romantic relationships. It also applies to parents, friends, coworkers, really anyone you communicate with on a regular basis.
There are three parts to this relationship building guide, Part I: family (people you have to get along with) Part II: Toxic relationships (People you should let go of) and Part III: Long-lasting relationships (strong relationships that last a lifetime)
Family relationships: When you have to make work
The toughest relationship I’ve had to build, work on, and put back together was the relationship with my father. The relationships that are the hardest are the ones that teach us the most.
Family relationships are hard for 2 reasons; they can be very important to our self-worth and, for the most part, we have to make them work.
My father is a rather difficult person to deal with and struggles with a lot of his own issues. This can complicate our relationship because I never know what to expect or what kind of mood he will be in. When I was a child his mood could flip at the drop of a hat. This would make me feel on edge, anxious and nervous around him. As I got older, I learned how to deal with his personality and it actually made it easier for me to deal with difficult people in general.
So how do you deal with family relationships?
Give them space but show them love
Sometimes people need time to miss you, they need space, but you shouldn’t be cold towards them. Let them know that you care and don’t tell them that your relationship is better with a little distance, just do it. If they call a lot don’t pick up the phone every time they call but find some time when you are free to talk. Space will be healthy for both of you and you will end up having better encounters with them.
Don’t let them bait you or get under your skin
Family members know what makes one another tick and will try to bait you into an argument, don’t give in. Understand that fighting with them will never make anything better and will only make you both resent each other. If they are trying to start a conflict, get some space from them and let them know you will talk to them later.
Don’t take it personally
I know it can be hard. The things they do can cut deep and hurt your feelings. My father hasn’t given me a birthday or Christmas present in 3 years. It hurts more because he always gets my brothers something. I have learned to let these things go. It doesn't need to bother me or make me upset because at the end of the day I know him, I know how he is, and I know he loves me. Sometimes just being able to expect their actions allows us not to take things to heart.
Letting go of unhealthy relationships
An unhealthy relationship doesn’t mean it is necessarily abusive. It refers to a relationship where one or both people involved are exhibiting toxic behaviors. This can mean excessive fighting, disrespectful actions, dependence, jealousy and so on (check out the whole list here). While it is possible to work through these issues and improve bad behaviors, for the most part, they are a lost cause and you should let them go.
When you should let go of an unhealthy relationship
I was so unhappy in my last relationship, but I didn't know until it was over. Before that, I had anxiety all the time, I would cry all the time, I felt isolated and alone, I was paranoid and fearful. I wasn't afraid of my partner but, in general, I had an overwhelming sense of fear constantly. Despite all of that, I simply thought that my relationship was perfect and I was crazy. I thought, "wow my emotions are totally out of whack". The real problem was that I wasn’t listening to myself and being honest. I knew deep down it hadn’t been working but I was in denial. I should have communicated this with myself and my partner sooner.
I think this is the case for so many people so what do you do?
- Listen to that voice inside your head DO NOT ignore it. I will never make that mistake again.
- Listen to what other people are saying to you. They have an outside perspective and can sometimes see things more clearly
- If you find yourself feeling trapped or isolated take time and space to yourself to assess why you have those feelings.
Once you’ve decided to let go of a relationship follow these steps
- Help them understand the way you feel and why you feel that way
- Do not blame them or ask them to change
- Make it clear that the relationship is over but that there are no bad feelings between you two.
Life-long: building relationships
Like anything, good healthy relationships take time, effort, understanding, and love.
I have only a small group of close friends but I have been friends with them for a very long time and have built amazing strong relationships with them. My romantic relationships are similar. They are long-lasting and strong. Even my last relationship ended on good civil terms.
So, how do you build strong, long-lasting relationships?
Honesty, Commitment, and Rule setting
I have been friends with my best friend for 12 years. In our first couple years of friendship, we decided one thing, we would never let a man come between us no matter the man or the circumstance. Many have tried, all have failed. That one rule has made our relationship stronger because we set it in place a very long time ago and have always stuck by it.
The rule is less about men and more about our commitment, to our friendship. We have always been able to be honest with each other with the knowingness that the other won’t get mad.
Saying the difficult things when they need to be said
Be kind but be honest. Whether it is saying how you feel, what you think, talking out a difficult problem or confronting an issue say what needs to be said. Don’t tell half-truths, don’t sugar coat or beat around the bush but be raw and unapologetically honest
Know when to not saying anything at all
Knowing when to keep quiet is just as important as knowing when to speak up. A good friend can do both. This can make a relationship leaps and bounds stronger. This is especially important when you don’t agree with something your friend is doing but it is something that they need to learn and experience for themselves. As long as what they’re doing isn’t going to hurt themselves or someone else let them be.
Relationships are complicated, they are intricate, and can be difficult. Really good relationships are the fruit of life. They make everything in better. Having people you can't count on all the time, for anything, is such a good, securing feeling that can't be replaced by anything else.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship call 1800-799-SAFE or go to https://www.thehotline.org