What is a Healthy Relationship?
No relationship is perfect all the time. But in a healthy relationship, both people feel good about the relationship most of the time. A great relationship takes more than attraction - it takes work, and both of you have to be willing to put in the effort. Here are some tips for building a healthy relationship:
Love yourself. Being comfortable with who you are means you’ll be a happier partner.
Communicate. Talk to your partner about your feelings. Ask questions and listen to their answers. If you’re upset, say so - don’t make your partner try to figure out what’s up. Talking through problems builds trust and makes your relationship stronger. And it’s not all about how to deal with your problems - don’t forget to let them know when something they do makes you happy.
Be honest. Be truthful with each other about what you do, think, and feel. Honesty creates trust. Few things harm a relationship more than lies.
Give each other some space. Couple’s time is great, but spending ALL your time together isn’t. It’s healthy to have your own friends and interests outside of the relationship.
Agree to disagree. You’re not always going to see eye to eye, and that’s OK. The important thing is to respect each other’s opinions and ideas.
Forgive and ask for forgiveness. Everybody makes mistakes. Be willing to apologize for yours - and accept your partner’s apologies.
Support each other. When your partner does something great, tell them! Your partner should do the same for you.
Talk about sex…openly and honestly. Telling your partner what feels good and what you like and don’t like helps you have better sex. Never pressure your partner into doing something they don’t want to do, or let your partner pressure you - consent is a must.
Take care of your sexual health. Talk to your partner about how you’re going to protect each other against STDs and unintended pregnancy. Practice safer sex and get tested for STDs.
Signs of Relationship Issues
The following are key signs and symptoms of an unhealthy relationship:
- Intensity. Having really extreme feelings or over-the-top behavior that feels like too much. Examples are rushing the pace of a relationship, always wanting to see you and talk to you, and feeling like someone is obsessed with you.
- Jealousy. An emotion that everyone experiences, jealousy becomes unhealthy when someone lashes out or tries to control you because of it. Examples can be getting upset when you text or hang out with people your partner feels threatened by, accusing you of flirting or cheating, being possessive over you or even going so far as to stalk you.
- Manipulation. When a partner tries to influence your decisions, actions or emotions. Manipulation is not always easy to spot, but some examples are convincing you to do things you wouldn’t normally feel comfortable with, ignoring you until they get their way, and using gifts and apologies to influence your decisions or get back in your good graces.
- Isolation. Keeping you away from friends, family, or other people. Examples can be when your partner makes you choose between them and your friends, insisting you spend all your time with them, making you question your own judgement of friends and family, and making you feel dependent on them for money, love or acceptance.
- Sabotage. Purposely ruining your reputation, achievements or success. Examples can be making you miss work, school or practice, keeping you from getting school work done, talking about you behind your back or starting rumors, and threatening to share private information about you.
- Belittling. Making you feel bad about yourself. Examples can be calling you names, making rude remarks about who you hang out with, your family or what you look like, and making fun of you – even if it’s played off as just a joke.
- Guilting. Making you feel guilty or responsible for your partner’s actions. Examples can be making you feel responsible for their happiness, making you feel like everything is your fault, threatening to hurt themselves or others if you don’t do as they say or stay with them, pressuring you to do anything sexual you’re not comfortable with.
- Volatility. Unpredictable overreactions that make you feel like you need to walk on eggshells around them or do things to keep them from lashing out. Examples can be mood swings, losing control of themselves by getting violent or yelling, threatening to hurt you or destroy things, and making you feel afraid of them. This can also be lots of drama or ups and downs in a relationship.
- Deflecting Responsibility. Making excuses for their behavior. Examples can be blaming you, other people or past experiences for their actions, using mental health issues or past experiences (like a cheating ex or divorced parents) as a reason for unhealthy behavior.
- Betrayal. When your partner acts differently with you versus how they act when you’re not around. Examples can be lying to you, purposely leaving you out or not telling you things, being two-faced, acting differently around friends, or cheating while in a relationship with you.
How are Relationship Issues Resolved?
Couples often seek couples or marriage counseling when relationship problems begin to interfere with daily functioning or when partners are unsure about continuing the relationship. Couples often approach counseling with the expectation that a therapist can help in some way - though they may not know just how they expect the therapist to help. Some couples may want to develop better communication skills, enhance intimacy, or learn to navigate new terrain in their lives. Others may expect the therapist to mediate their arguments, or take sides and declare which partner is right.
Several therapy approaches have been designed for couples in particular, such as Imago Relationship Therapy, but any type of therapy can help with relationship issues. In fact, many people address their relationship problems through individual therapy, and then they apply that learning in context with their partners. In addition, family therapy can benefit families whose children are affected by the tension in their parents’ relationship.
Relationship counselors are unlikely to take sides or recommend that a couple end their relationship. Instead, they will allow the therapy process to unfold naturally without a predetermined goal of “saving” the relationship. Trained therapists help partners by supporting the goals set by the couple and helping each partner to communicate his or her needs, thoughts, and emotions more clearly and to listen to the other partner more carefully.
For relationship counseling to significantly help a relationship, each partner needs to commit, at a minimum, to the relationship counseling for the time it continues. Each partner should demonstrate honesty, an interest in doing relationship work, and a willingness to accept personal accountability.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.