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Ask Kindred Place - What is a healthy relationship?

This month's Ask Kindred Place segment addresses the topic of Healthy Relationships. Our Clinical Operations Director, Dr. Amanda Russell, along with therapists Ashley Leary and Flo Yarbro discuss what a healthy relationship looks like. Below you will find an excerpt from their conversation. 

Last month we covered the topic of Isolation During the Pandemic. Did you miss that conversation or want to read it again? You can do so here.

What is a healthy relationship?

Ashley: It’s important to recognize that before you can have a truly healthy relationship, you, as an individual, need to be emotionally healthy first. And, of course, we aren’t 100% healthy in our emotional life all the time because we’re all human. Still, if someone, for example, has a dependency issue or an addiction that they haven’t healed from, it’s best for them to focus on themselves so they can heal and be a whole person when starting a relationship.

Flo: That’s a good point, and it reminds me of how sometimes we expect our partner to fulfill all our needs in a relationship. But that’s a heavy burden, and it’s why we have other people, like our friends and family, to help fulfill our needs.

Ashley: Some level of independence within a relationship is also healthy. If you can’t be without a person, that can symbolize that you’re not healthy and that you need to be able to be functioning on your own to bring equality to the relationship.

Amanda: Right, having independence in a relationship, your own life, and your own friends is a must, but it’s equally important to have those things that you enjoy doing together and bring you closer, so it’s not two people living separate lives side by side.

Ashley: You can also never go wrong with being a kind and nice person. Sometimes when you get close to someone, it can be more challenging because emotions are high, and situations can become more intense. You might get angrier with your partner than you would with a family member or a friend. So always remember that your partner is human and to be kind and nice.

Amanda: A lot of times, your partner is someone that you say you love, yet you’re treating them in a way that you never treat your neighbor or someone that you’re not as close with. Sometimes with intimate relationships comes the lack of boundaries where you feel like you could say whatever to that person, even if it’s negative or hurtful. There need to be boundaries in intimate relationships in order to keep them healthy.

Flo: It’s crucial to forgive, too. Regardless of the relationship, whether it’s with our children, friends, or partner, we must be willing to forgive because we’re all going to make mistakes.

Ashley: When you are in a close relationship—whether that’s with a friend, family member, or an intimate partner—it’s important to respect their boundaries and give them space to be their own person and be supportive of each other.

Flo: And it’s a journey learning about that person. You go through those ups and downs, and you begin to understand and learn. It’s important to understand that there will be challenges, even in healthy relationships.

Amanda: Right, and one thing that typically causes problems in a relationship is wanting the other person to just know, without you having to tell them, and being upset when the other person can’t read their mind. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and speak up for what you need, not knowing whether the person will be receptive.

Ashley: Being able to communicate to your partner what your needs and wants are in a relationship rather than having the person guess is so important. Learning the love language of that person, trying to meet those needs because you care about the person and want to show your love, is important, but you must communicate them because if you don’t, then people don’t know, and it can be frustrating.

Flo: Honest and open communication is essential, so there’s no resentment. As issues arise, you should try to solve those problems instead of letting them pile up and, eventually, exploding. It would help to hear each other out without getting defensive. And if you’re having a hard time understanding, then ask them to explain it to you.

Amanda: Often you change as you grow older, and many times in healthy relationships, you see that both people change in a way where they complement each other. Commitment in a relationship is critical because you’re not always going to be on the same page with that person, so sometimes it’s going to take that level of commitment to get you through hard times.

Flo: Yeah, because there are growing pains. Being committed is really important. You work through those hard times, and those hard times make that relationship better if you know how to get through.

Amanda: I want to end by noting that just because you’re in a healthy relationship, that doesn’t mean you’ll be happy all the time. Your relationship isn’t going to be perfect, and you will have disagreements. Take the time to appreciate the positives, make an active effort to have lives outside of the relationship, say thank you, and support each other.  And when you notice unhealthy behaviors start slipping through and occur more frequently, these behaviors could start lingering on abusive or toxic behaviors. 

Kindred Place has a useful tool called the Relationship Spectrum that can help you think about what aspects of your relationship are working and which ones could use some help. You can download the document to use as a guide to thinking about the relationships in your life.

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