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Healthy relationships bring happiness and health to our lives. Studies show that people with healthy relationships really do have more happiness and less stress. There are basic ways to make relationships healthy, even though each one is different…parents, siblings, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, professors, roommates, and classmates. Here are Ten Tips for Healthy Relationships!
1. Keep expectations realistic. No one can be everything we might want him or her to be. Sometimes people disappoint us. It’s not all-or-nothing, though. Healthy relationships mean accepting people as they are and not trying to change them!
2. Talk with each other. It can’t be said enough: communication is essential in healthy relationships! It means— Take the time. Really be there. Genuinely listen. Don’t plan what to say next while you’re trying to listen. Don’t interrupt. Listen with your ears and your heart. Sometimes people have emotional messages to share and weave it into their words. Ask questions. Ask if you think you may have missed the point. Ask friendly (and appropriate!) questions. Ask for opinions. Show your interest. Open the communication door. Share information. Studies show that sharing information especially helps relationships begin. Be generous in sharing yourself, but don’t overwhelm others with too much too soon.
3. Be flexible. Most of us try to keep people and situations just the way we like them to be. It’s natural to feel apprehensive, even sad or angry, when people or things change and we’re not ready for it. Healthy relationships mean change and growth are allowed!
4. Take care of you. You may try to please others in hopes that they will like you. Don’t forget to please yourself. Healthy relationships are mutual!
5. Be dependable. If you make plans with someone, follow through. If you have an assignment deadline, meet it. If you take on a responsibility, complete it. Healthy relationships are trustworthy!
6. Fight fair. This means several things. No ambushing. Present your argument sensibly. Always use "I" statements, NEVER use "you" statements. Listen carefully to your partner. Stick to the issue. Agree on what kind of behavior is acceptable. Keep all blows above the belt. Don’t over react. If you can’t settle the issues, table them for later and set an agreed upon specific time to meet. If you can agree, decide how to carry out your decision. If you later are dissatisfied with the decision, you must make an appointment for another discussion. See the “Tips for Fair Fighting” for additional information.
7. Show your warmth. Studies tell us warmth is highly valued by most people in their relationships. Healthy relationships show emotional warmth!
8. Keep your life balanced. Other people help make our lives satisfying but they can’t create that satisfaction for us. Only you can fill your life. Don’t overload on activities, but do use your time at college to try new things—clubs, volunteering, lectures, projects. You’ll have more opportunities to meet people and more to share with them. Healthy relationships aren’t dependent!
9. It’s a process. Sometimes it looks like everyone else on campus is confident and connected. Actually, most people feel just like you feel, wondering how to fit in and have good relationships. It takes time to meet people and get to know them…so, make "small talk"…respond to others…smile…keep trying. Healthy relationships can be learned and practiced and keep getting better!
10. Be yourself! It’s much easier and much more fun to be you than to pretend to be something or someone else. Sooner or later, it catches up anyway. Healthy relationships are made of real people, not images!
No ambushing. Make an appointment to talk: (a) for a certain time and place, (b) for a certain issue. Choose a time when you will not be distracted by family members, guests or television and when you both are relatively relaxed. Sit face to face and keep eye contact at the same level. Make a contract to discuss only the issue of concern and agree to avoid those ways of acting that sabotage problem solving. Make a commitment to use the rules of fair fighting.
Present your argument sensibly. As preparation for the discussion, work out for yourself exactly what you want, and the reasons why you want it. Organize your arguments. Be sure that what you are asking for is really what you desire. Express what is going on to the best of your ability. Talk feelings. Tell your partner how you feel about what is going on. Feeling first; solutions later. Get your point across in a constructive way by owning how you feel about the topic. Use the formula sentence: "When you _____, I feel ____ ." This simple statement allows you to take responsibility for your own feelings and behavior without blaming the other person. Always use "I" statements, NEVER use "you" statements.
Listen carefully to your partner. Every time your partner makes a point, restate the point in your own words to make sure you understand exactly what your partner means. Before you respond to any point, check to be sure that you understand how your partner feels. Ask questions. Show your partner that you really heard what he or she said. Repeat back what your partner just said. Say, "I heard that you said ______ and what I feel about that is __________." Listen for the feelings of hurt and threat behind their statements. Ask your partner for clarification if you do not understand what they are saying. Always use "I" statements, NEVER use "you" statements.
Stick to the issue. Fight about no more than two related issues at a time. If side issues are raised, these must be laid aside for another "fight." Past history is nearly always irrelevant. Don’t pin labels or attributes on your partner. ("You’re always…") Stick to the topic. Do not bring in other sore issues. Agree to discuss only the pertinent topic saying, "We are discussing______, not ________." Watch for ways you get off the track. Keep coming back to the issue under discussion.
Agree on what kind of behavior is acceptable. This needs to be negotiated between the couple. Some possibilities are: acceptable posture, (e.g. standing or sitting), tone of voice, etc. Stop using techniques that turn up the heat and move you both away from problem solving. Blaming, name calling, threatening, foul language and sarcasm decrease intimacy. Young children believe what they hear their parents saying. They are devastated when they overhear these forms of verbal abuse. These ways of communicating cut down on the possibility of you’re getting what you want out of the argument.
Keep all blows above the belt. By the time a couple has spent some time together each knows the sensitive areas of the other. They know just the area in which the other can be hurt. Attacking these areas is a "foul". This assures that the belt-line is not dishonestly set higher than need be. Stop using techniques that turn up the heat and move you both away from problem solving. Blaming, name calling, threatening, foul language and sarcasm decrease intimacy.
Don’t over react. While it is certainly appropriate and necessary to argue about relatively minor issues so that they don’t build up, do not fight with more force than the issue warrants. Are you hiding larger feelings behind something trivial? Watch your use of cursing. Cursing adds negative energy to the confrontation, placing the other person in danger of feeling shame. Cuss words are like waving a red flag at a bull and they increase the heat of the argument. Know that your use of cuss words only serves to shut the other person down and that they then feel the need to defend themselves further. Do not make empty threats. Do not threaten to leave the relationship or order the other person to get out unless you really mean it. Threatening to break up the relationship only brings up more fear and defensiveness in the other person.
If you can’t settle the issues, table them for later and set an agreed upon specific time to meet. Often a complicated issue cannot be resolved in one setting. A temporary truce can often be helpful in rethinking one’s own position, cooling off, or simply recovering from fatigue. Time and place to resume the discussion should be agreed upon. Schedule breathing breaks, or set a timer for every two or three minutes for a breathing break. During this time do not think of the argument and what you want to say. Think of being calm and relaxed. Say to yourself I respect my partner and his or her opinions. I respect myself and my opinions. When you start to become confused or upset, breathe deeply from your diaphragm to bring in more energy and stay centered.
If you can agree, decide how to carry out your decision. Who will do what, is there a deadline? Watch your need to be right and win. Remember this important thought:
Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Tell the other person what you do want. Remember that you won't always get it but you need to express what you feel is best for you. Keep coming back to what you want but be ready to compromise. Stand firm only on those decisions which compromise your integrity as a person. Offer compromises. Stop investing in winning and using power plays and figure out what is really important to you. Tell the other person what you will give up if they give up something of value to them. Keep the negotiation open. Stop every five minutes to sum up what you do agree on and note where the disagreements still lie.
If you later are dissatisfied with the decision, you must make an appointment for another discussion. When the discussion is over, evaluate yourself on how you did. Don't be a critical judge about your performance. Remember that you are learning new ways of acting. Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself credit for every time you remembered to "fight fair." Make a contract with yourself on areas that you still need to change. Learning to fight fair is about self responsibility and practice.
Unhealthy relationships can occur in friendships, while dating, and in marriage. Any association that is harmful to your emotional, mental, or physical well-being can leave scars. Helpguide.org advises that no one should be fearful of a partner. If you see any of the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship, seek help.
The Heart 2 Heart support network states that if the person you are with repeatedly hurls insults, he/she is emotionally abusing you. This may include comments that make you feel less than adequate, belittling you for any reason, or getting angry over insignificant things. Other types of insults may include putting down your friends, the way you dress, or acting as though you aren't worthy of his/her love or friendship. Swearing or yelling at you is another sign of an unhealthy relationship.
Jealousy and love have nothing to do with each other. When people are in love, they should trust each other. Jealous partners may question everyone you talk to, accuse you of flirting with someone, or try to limit your time with friends. Once a jealous person gains control, this can interfere with every aspect of your life, including him/her telling you whom to talk to, where you can work, or when you can go anywhere. He/she even may check the mileage on your car.
In an unhealthy relationship, your partner may put pressure on you for any number of things, according to the GirlsHealth.gov website. He/she may try to intimidate you to have sex when you're not ready. He/she may pressure you to use alcohol or drugs. If you don't want to do something he/she wants to do, he/she may try to pressure you into it by belittling you, intimidating you, or giving you an ultimatum.
If your partner lays all responsibility on you for whatever goes wrong, you are probably in an unhealthy relationship. Whether he/she physically hurts you or threatens to and then turns around and says you asked for it, he/she is putting the blame on you for his/her problems. Accusing you of being the cause of being overlooked for a promotion, making mistakes, or doing anything that doesn't get desired results is unhealthy.
Sudden Mood Changes
Some abusive partners have sudden mood changes--going from being nice and agreeable one minute to having an explosive outburst of anger the next. This type of moodiness is a strong warning sign of an unhealthy relationship with someone who may be emotionally unstable.
Emotional blackmail is a sign that you are in an unhealthy relationship. This may include threats of suicide or self-inflicted physical harm. Other types of emotional blackmail are threats to take your children or harm them, threats to harm you, or threats to take or destroy something that belongs to you.
No one has the right to strike, pinch, bite, or inflict any other type of physical harm on another person. If your partner even threatens to hurt you, your relationship is unsafe, and you need to seek help.
For additional information on interpersonal violence, warning signs of a potentially abusive relationship, and resources, please see the Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence Resources and Prevention website (link to the site).
Allow yourself to feel the sadness, anger, fear, and pain associated with an ending. It is okay to validate the importance of the relationship that you have lost.
Connect with others. It is crucial at this time to remember the caring and supportive relationships that remain in your life. Ask others for support in this time and tell them how they can be helpful to you. Share with supportive others how you are reacting to the ending of the relationship.
Recognize that guilt, self blame, and bargaining can be defenses against feeling out of control and being unable to stop the other person from leaving us. There are some endings we can't control, because we can't control another person's behavior.
Give yourself time to heal. Be kind to yourself and patient with yourself following the breakup. Follow your usual routine as much as possible. As a general guideline, don't make any large life decisions immediately following the breakup.
Take some time to pamper yourself. Attend to your overall health — eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and cut down on addictive behaviors (e.g., drinking excessively).
Use this time of transition in your life to rediscover yourself, to reevaluate your life priorities, and to expand new interests.
Consider how you have grown personally and what you have learned as a result of being in the relationship and coping with the ending of the relationship. Imagine how this personal growth will be a benefit to you in future relationships.
Spend some time focusing outside of yourself. For example, do something to help others.
Reaffirm your beliefs about life and relationships. Nourish your spiritual side in whatever way fits your beliefs, such as spending time alone in nature, attending a religious service, or meditating.
Get the help you need. If you feel "stuck" in a pattern and unable to change it or if your reaction to the ending of the relationship is interfering negatively with positive areas of your life over a period of time, talking to a professional counselor may help.
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Cava, R. (1990). Difficult People. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books.
Garner, A. (1991). Conversationally Speaking. Chicago: Contemporary Books.
Katherine, A. (1995). Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Axelrod-Contrada, J. (2003). Finding your niche. Career World, 31(6), 25.