I look around and see friends in relationships that obviously are not making them happy and yet, they stay… why? The most common response, of course, is “because I love them” however, a few of those friends who use this excuse also tell me they will consider moving on when someone better comes along. Suddenly, I don’t think its so much about love. I feel as if many people stay in relationships that obviously are not working out because they are afraid of being alone. Obviously I’m not talking about everyone, at eighteen I am in a relationship that is well over two years old – the difference? I’m not waiting around for anyone better. I’m still dating my boyfriend because I love him, both for who he is and for who he encourages me to be.
When I have friends ask me for relationship advice I always try to ask one thing: is their relationship helping them to spread the love they feel for that person both towards towards the world, and inwards towards themselves? This advice really goes beyond romantic entanglements and touches upon all close relationships. So, here is my simple guide to recognizing and developing relationships that are go beyond healthy and help both parties involved blossom into the people they truly want to be.
1. The other party in the relationship helps you to love yourself by loving you exactly as you are.
(Directing the love inwards)
This may seem silly but I see people talking, both in real life and on the internet, about how they’re “not good enough” for a significant other or a friend – when I see this it always makes me think that the person they are writing about is the inadequate one. I’m not saying your friend or your partner should be completely positive about everything you do. What I am saying, however, is that a healthy relationship is built upon loving encouragement coming from both sides. For example, a boyfriend or girlfriend who encourages you to work out more, eat healthier, take a writing class, or just generally take steps to improve upon yourself is good. However, a significant other who tells you you’re fat or you’re a horrible writer is not a good influence.
A very wise person (okay, it was Liberty on Degrassi, so more a television character than a real person, but close enough) once said that the only true mistake is one you do not learn from. Everybody makes mistakes but not everyone’s friends, family members, and significant others encourage them to learn from those mistakes. A truly good relationship will help you to recognize when you’ve made a mistake, while also reminding you of what a valuable person you are regardless of the mistake. They will encourage you to learn and grow from your errors, rather than letting those mistakes drag you down.
Basically, it’s all about being constructive – relationships should make us feel strong and good about ourselves, while also encouraging us to grow and change even more.
2. Your relationship helps you to build other relationships.
(Directing the love outwards)
A major trap people tend to fall into is to become totally dependent on a single relationship to fulfill all of their needs. This is bad, not only because it puts undue stress on both parties, but also because it deprives other people of the ability to build lasting relationships between the two parties involved. I have to admit that I fall prey to this one easily, I find it comforting to have one person I can depend on for everything, tell anything to… to the point where I used to avoid building friendships with other people in favor of spending all of my time with my best friend, or my boyfriend. Relationships should provide a person would a strong foundation of which they can build off of and bring other people into the mix. I’m not saying everyone should have hundreds of friends to spend their time with, but a strong network of supportive and caring people is always a good backdrop for a happy life.
In addition to developing many healthy relationships, a good relationship will encourage a person to develop themselves in the public arena as well. Whether it be through volunteer work,
Incidentally, did you know that isolation is one of the warning signs of an abusive relationship? Just remember: no one person should require all of your attention. Look out for people who try to manipulate you into dropping friends in favor of focusing on them – these people need outside help, they need to learn how to be in a healthy relationship.
What I’m trying to convey here is not a need to terminate all relationships that do not fit this criteria. I simply present these two pieces of information as my own personal guidelines; use them as you choose. I will say, however, that it is much better to be single (“alone”) than to be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. If you find that a romantic partner or a platonic partner is causing you to think less of yourself or manipulating you in some way I strongly encourage you to first, sit down with that person and attempt to rectify the situation (provided the issue at hand is not violence – if your partner is violent get out. That is the best advice I can give.) Secondly, if the relationship does not show improvement after you have a discussion – do not be afraid to end it, even if that means being “alone” for a period of time. At the end of the day you deserve to only be in relationships with people who appreciate you and challenge you to be the best person you can be, every day!
What do you think a healthy relationship requires? Don’t be afraid to be heard in the comments!