Before we dive into this interesting and often complicated subject, let me welcome you to the very first Ask Momma post at YM&TT. For 20+ years, I had the privilege of counseling individuals and families just like yours as a marriage and family therapist. As my girls will attest, there was also a whole lot of “free therapy” going on in the neighborhood, long before I ever received my graduate degree in Social Work. And since my retirement a few years ago, it hasn’t really slowed down. This isn’t a burden. It’s what I love to do — help people move forward, heal, evolve and establish and maintain healthy relationships. It’s in my blood and I am so excited about the opportunity to reach and communicate with all of you through this wonderful community.
Of course, it’s not shocking that the most requested subject for this inaugural post would revolve around relationships. It’s what life is all about and it’s what drives most of our actions. And even in this digitally dominated world, love and connection are central to who we are, what we want and why we do what we do. It’s also what YM&TT is committed to – growing and evolving a healthy, strong and positive community. So, thanks for joining me here. I hope, together, we can move the needle toward a more compassionate and connected world.
Let’s get started!
Do healthy relationships exist?
There are as many different opinions on this subject as there are humans on the planet, but the simple answer is, yes. It’s the “how” you create and maintain healthy relationships that gets complicated.
Let’s look at the big picture. To have the chance at a good relationship (romantic, family, professional or friendship), you must first answer one very important question: Do you want one? Or more importantly — Do you want one bad enough?
Life is a series of choices. And a healthy relationship is no different. It’s not something that magically happens, and making it work is not the sole responsibility of the other person involved, relationships are two-sided. They are a shared commitment that requires action, patience and dedication. The good news? What you learn from this commitment, what you receive in return is something money can’t buy. And when everything else is washed away, when you ultimately evaluate what truly matters and what has brought you the most growth and joy, nothing else compares. So, let’s get to how you can make it happen.
Working with countless couples and families over the years, I’ve been able to zero in on a few common denominators that need to be in play for a healthy relationship to grow and flourish. For the sake of this post, I’ll be focusing more on our romantic partnerships, but most of the tips (excluding “sex” of course) can be tweaked for any other important relationships in your life.
As you read through the below, think about a specific relationship, and ask yourself if you (and your partner) are willing to do what it takes to make it work.
This is the foundation and the load-bearing walls, floors and roof of any healthy relationship. Is your partner who they really say they are? Are you being honest in your feelings (or your doings)? Look, it’s normal to put your best self forward at the beginning of a relationship, but of course, it’s impossible to sustain that perfect facade in the long term. That’s okay. Moving past this initial phase is a natural and normal evolution in every relationship, and not necessarily a trust issue. What I’m referring to today sits at a deeper level.
Ask yourself this. Are you in a relationship with someone who would never intentionally hurt you? Someone who thinks about the consequences of their actions, works hard to be honest and has your back? This doesn’t mean mistakes and disappointments won’t, or don’t happen. We’re human and humans are inherently flawed. But if you or your partner are willing to commit and learn from mistakes, there’s always hope.
On the flip side, if you feel alone on the island, lies have been discovered and steps have not been taken to improve behavior, or if there is a lack of concern about how their actions impact you, it may be time to reevaluate who you’re with, and why. We’ll get much deeper into this in future posts, but understand that improving upon or moving on from this type of relationship will require you to take a long, hard look at yourself.
So, you might be asking: What do I do if trust has been broken in a relationship? If there are cracks in the foundation, is the relationship beyond repair? The short answer is, it depends. It is possible to move toward a fulfilling, long-term relationship, but both parties must be dedicated to putting in some hard work to heal the wounds caused by broken trust. This is a good time to bring in a professional counselor. They can help guide you through the steps necessary to get things back on track. I’ll get more specific about this as well in future posts. Whew! We have a lot to talk about!
Communication is the glue that keeps a relationship together, and to keep things running smoothly, it’s good to practice the lost art of negotiation and compromise. We are all different, and no two people blend perfectly together. If you don’t speak to each other with respect and work to resolve differences, your relationship can quickly dissolve into a pattern of anger, resentment and, ugh, silence. A good tip to improve communication is to set aside time each day – or even once a week – to sit down with your significant other and talk about any issues that have come up. It might be slightly uncomfortable at first, but that will quickly diminish. And if you can establish this new habit, you’ll be well on you way to avoiding the trap that so many couples (or friends or coworkers or family members) fall into: ignoring tough topics.
Since the beginning of time, people have tried to figure out what it is that makes two people fall in love. Is it chemistry or fate? Is it something that grows steadily over time, or is it instantaneous? It’s a pretty mysterious happening and likely as unique as each couple. But one thing I do know for sure, for your relationship to have a chance at surviving, there has to be love.
We all know when that inexplicable THING happens; when you meet someone and your world is turned upside down. Over time, that burning fire evolves into a warmth and a comfort that remains long after the “honeymoon” period. If I stick with my home construction example, love is the “kitchen” of the home, the heart. But while love is necessary to have a healthy relationship, you can’t build a relationship on love alone.
Be honest. Your eye was drawn to this headline wasn’t it??! Well, you’re not alone. The topic of sex is intriguing, exciting, a little bit scary and in relationships, it’s a constant source of pleasure, confusion, and in many cases, guilt. In our society, many people were raised to avoid talking about sex. (Can you see me raising my hand?) This fact has only made the topic that much more mystifying, when the truth is, it’s simply a basic biological need.
The physical (and emotional) connection we get from sex is a very important element in healthy relationships. However, this does not mean you need to be hanging from the chandelier every night. If that’s what you enjoy, go for it. But it’s not a mandatory. No two couples, and no two people have the exact same needs, the same sexual experiences, or the same drive. And those needs are rarely in perfect sync. That’s why it’s extremely important to have open and consistent communication about any physical, biological or emotional issues that might be effecting your drive.
Keeping the flame alive is possible, but it’s not going to be burning hot, day in and day out. Raising kids, unmet emotional needs, menopause and much more can easily impact your sex life. But these can all be managed and improved and sex can be a healthy and vibrant part of your relationship. We will be talking A LOT about this in the future. Hang on to your bedpost. It could be a bumpy ride!
It’s a fact, opposites attract. In the beginning of a relationship, those differences are exciting. As time goes on, the traits you found interesting and adorable can start to wear on your nerves. So, how do you get past these feelings of irritation and, on occasion, utter disgust? Acceptance is a crucial step, and part of that process is understanding that the way he brushes his teeth, or the way she cleans the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher does not mean the relationship is doomed.
Think of it this way — if you were dating, or married to an exact replica of yourself, would you be satisfied? Or would you yearn for and appreciate your differences? Would you crave something new to talk about or something interesting to learn? When you practice acceptance, you often find that doing things a different way is more efficient, or somehow improves your life.
If you find it hard to accept certain habits or traits, lean on your communications skills to work through it with your partner. He may not realize that leaving the toilet seat up is not only annoying, but a safety hazard, or maybe she doesn’t understand that taking up 90% of the bathroom counter is, well, selfish. Communicate respectfully, maybe toss in a little humor (see below), and you might be surprised at how open your significant other is to change. In the end, there are just some things you have to learn to live with. It’s that damn two way street thing. When you take your foot off the brakes and open your mind to a different route, a whole new world can appear.
What’s better than laughing til you cry? Having so much fun that you can’t imagine being with anyone else? What about that time you were in the middle of an argument and one of you said something silly, made a joke, and you both dissolved into laughter. Do you remember the relief you felt? It was like seeing the sun after days of rain.
Maintaining a sense of humor is essential in a long-standing healthy relationship. Look, life is serious enough. Your partner should be a source of comfort and ease, a person you turn to for relief when the world is knocking you down. And you should be the same for them. This doesn’t mean you gloss over issues or avoid talking through problems. It just means that you sprinkle a little laughter into your lives, for no reason at all, or when you need to bring some light to a tense situation. As with life, approach your relationship with a good sense of humor. It makes everything better.
I know this was a long one, but setting the groundwork is important, and I appreciate your sticking with me to the end. I hope the information in this, and future posts proves helpful to you and those you love. As stated earlier, I’ll be diving deeper into a number of the topics discussed here, and we’ll get into some real-life examples.
And remember, YM&TT is a community. We help each other. Please send your questions, or suggested topics. I would love to hear from you, and odds are, your situation will help one of your fellow Treehuggers.
To reach me, just reply below, or you can send your question or comment through the Contact page. Until next time, hold your head high and give thanks for the good things in your life. xoxo