Over the past several months, I’ve been writing about qualities of healthy relationships. In prior posts, I’ve explored empathy, vulnerability, and curiosity. This time I’m diving into boundaries - how we communicate what we want and do not want in our relationships.
I met up with dear friend, Jordan, a couple of weeks ago for what felt like some glorious stolen quality time. We’re both therapists and moms - so coordinating schedules can be tricky. And since we’re also deeply passionate about our work, this conversation led to a lot of shop talk and I found myself thinking about lots of things for several days.
There was a moment when I told Jordan that I’ve come to realize that I need to seriously evaluate what I’m saying to people about healthy relationships.
I told her that I’ve been telling people for years that I believe we each get to decide what makes for a healthy relationship. I’ve said it over and over again with conviction and have thoroughly believed this to be true.
But what I’ve come to realize is that I only believe part of this statement to be true.
Here’s what I was thinking about when I said that each one of us gets to decide what makes for a healthy relationship: Structuring and agreements. Whether a relationship is structured in monogamy or ethical non-monogamy. How often people spend their time together in relationship. How often people allow for touching or sexual play or no sexual play. Whether the relationship is between a guy and a gal, two guys, two gals, nonbinary folks, or any variation. These are examples of the diversity of experiences in relationship that, in my opinion, are all totally valid and can be healthy, regardless of how different one relationship looks from another from the outside.
It’s often not until we’ve had our first experience with a relationship that felt unhealthy that we start to differentiate between what felt toxic for us versus what we may want in our next relationship. I’ve encouraged people in this stage to write out what felt unhealthy first and then try to connect with positive relational attributes that they may want with the next partner(s). This can be a helpful exercise because many of us humans need to start with the bad before we can understand what good looks like.
I’ve realized that there are enough nuances for a person to figure out regarding how to make their relationship healthy for them (in terms of structuring and agreements)… so why not make it easier by listing out some things that seem like basic human relational needs?
Here are the qualities that I believe we all need in each one of our relationships:
Sure, adding all of these things up requires something that most people will also say that they value in a healthy relationship - decent COMMUNICATION skills. And the other thing that most people will say is what is cultivated by practicing all of the above skills - TRUST.
How could one have trust for another if they don’t feel enough emotional safety in the relationship? How can emotional safety exist without the presence of empathy, accountability, curiosity, or good boundaries?
Lots of these skills are inter-dependent on one another. Nobody gets it right every time because none of us are perfect beings - and that’s where accountability comes in handy. In fact, you need all of the other things listed above to have the ability to do the repair work that’s needed when conflict arises (as it most likely will - because conflict is normal in relationships).
We aren’t taught these skills in most schools or many homes. This means that there are lots of people who make it far into adulthood and have to figure these things out on their own. I know that merely listing off the words is not enough for a lot of us. We have to have the willingness to do the work for the sake of our relationships (and this includes the relationship we have with our selves).
I have been absent from this blog for a few years now. It’s been intimidating to start back up again because I’ve been afraid to commit to doing this regularly. I’ve been working hard on my own boundaries and attempting to overcome a tendency to over-commit. Also, as with many writers, I’ve wrestled with a fair amount of writer’s block and felt distracted by everything else but my writing. This has created a void in my life because writing has been one of my favorite tools since I had the ability to pick up a pen.
So I’m back for now, but won’t say for how long. It’ll at least be long enough to explore some of these concepts in more depth over the next few months.
thanks for reading! It’s nice to be back. :)
That’s me and Rocky. She’s not mine, but belongs to one of my besties up in Philly. I’d like to think that we have a healthy relationship…