What makes a relationship a healthy one?
There is a saying that healthy families are alike, but unhappy ones are each unhappy in their own unique way. I’m not certain that this is strictly accurate. Still, there are certain attributes of relationships that tend to mark them as healthy or unhealthy.
Healthy intimacy is a dance that honors and enjoys our partner while not losing our sense of individuality. Time and activity with our partner must be balanced by activities we do by ourselves or with people other than our partner. There are gender patterns that seem to emerge in relationships: men tend to be good at maintaining individuality (perhaps at the expense of deeper intimacy) while women tend to value connection with the other (sometimes at a cost to their sense of individuality).
An ability to put the partner’s needs on a par with our own is something healthy relationships have in common. This rarely means splitting decisions right down the middle; it’s more likely that I give you what you want sometimes while I get more of what I desire on another occasion. We don’t keep score, but we have a rough sense of balance that works for us. When things get out of balance, we talk about it.
Communication between lovers is critical to healthy relationships; no surprise here. Communication involves an ability to speak our truth to the other, to express our desires and needs in a way that helps them to get met. (Of course, know what your desires actually are is an important first step here, and not always an easy one.) Equally important is an ability to listen to what the other person is saying, and to be able to respond.
This may be quite a challenge when emotions are close to the surface – or out in the open. For this reason, some couples fall into the trap of avoiding conflict. While most of us dislike conflict, an ability to express differences in a way that helps us to work things through is a critical attribute of a successful relationship.
Handling differences or disagreements with skill helps to keep a relationship safe and growing. Avoiding conflict often results in storing up resentments and grievances. One or both partners start withdrawing from the relationship and it begins to fade.
A commitment to working things through and to each other’s well being helps to keep a relationship safe for intimacy. If every disagreement results in a threat to leave, the relationship will not feel like a safe container for one’s innermost thoughts and feelings.
Finally, passion is an important component of enduring and “juicy” relationships. It’s not unusual for the erotic energy to shift in a relationship as the partners grow more familiar with one another and the everyday demands of life intrude on the passion that may be all consuming early in a relationship. Identifying our desires, communicating them, not judging, trying new things…. all of these approaches can help to maintain or increase the level of sexual excitement in a relationship. Some couples find that as they grow more familiar with one another and more skilled at bringing the other pleasure, sexual excitement in a relationship can actually increase.
Healthy relationships require patience, creativity, skill and commitment. It can be hard work, but few accomplishments in life are more satisfying.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems. My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate. If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.
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Whether you've worked with a therapist before or are exploring counseling for the first time, you probably have questions. It is important to have the information you need to make a good decision when selecting a therapist. I welcome your questions -- about your specific situation, about me or about my approach to therapy. Making things better can start with an email, or you can call me at (404) 874-8536.