Healthy Relationships

Value All Your Relationships—Not Just the Romantic Ones

The more good, strong relationships you have—of all kinds—the better off you’ll be when one of them hits a rough patch.

All healthy relationships have a few key elements in common:

Communication

We hear a lot about the importance of communication, and here’s why: People are pretty bad at reading each other’s minds. The good news about communication is that there are a lot of different ways to go about it. Talking is probably the simplest method, but there’s also writing to one another (or messaging, or emailing). There are non-verbal forms of communication, too, like high fives, or hugs (provided you have a relationship where that seems appropriate).

Intentionally and specifically letting people know what you’re thinking and feeling makes you less mysterious, cuts down on misunderstandings, and invites the other person to communicate with you. And the next time you’re wondering how someone is feeling, try asking them. Questions are a great way to open the lines of communication.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict can range from mild, mutual annoyance to physical violence. If someone is attacking you physically—conflict resolution can’t provide you an immediate solution, and you should seek protection and safety. But if your conflict is nonviolent and fairly civil, conflict resolution techniques can help you come to an understanding—and maybe forgiveness.

The basic steps of conflict resolution are:

  • Step back. Both parties should remove themself from the conflict for a period of time. Cool off, breathe deeply, and let your heart rate return to normal.
  • Make “I” statements. When you’re ready to talk again, keep your language in terms of how you’re feeling by starting your sentences with “I.” Avoid “you” statements: “You did this.” These tend to be heard as accusations.
  • Restate what you hear. Take the time to tell the other party what you hear them saying. It lets them know you’re listening, and they can restate things a different way if they feel you don’t understand.
  • Take responsibility. In most conflicts, both parties bear some responsibility for the conflict. Once you understand what part you’re responsible for, own up to it. And don’t make excuses. Going on the defensive is another invitation to conflict.
  • Brainstorm solutions. Once you’ve agreed on responsibility, it’s easier to propose solutions. Be open to others’ suggestions, and propose your own. Find compromises that can be agreed upon by both parties.
  • Affirm, forgive, or thank. Provide closure by affirming that you’re satisfied with the solution, or by forgiving or thanking the other person.

Empathy

Both sympathy and empathy imply feeling for another person. But we commonly think of empathy as suggesting the ability to put ourselves “in another’s shoes”—in other words, understanding or fellow feeling.

Empathy is important in relationships because it helps us understand how others may feel even when they aren’t telling us—and it helps us imagine the impact of our actions on others: We can guess, ahead of time, how they’ll feel if we say or do a certain thing.

We said above that people are pretty bad at reading each other’s minds; empathy may be the most common exception to that rule. But don’t give up if you feel like empathy isn’t your strong suit. One good way to learn empathy is to just ask people how they’re feeling.

Boundaries

Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Boundaries are like that in relationships. A good relationship has clear and well-defined boundaries that protect both parties.

Boundaries in a relationship can be physical, like having personal space or respecting a closed door. Or they can be other kinds of limits that are understood by the people in the relationship: not calling after a certain time of night, or not dropping by unannounced.

Boundaries can get tricky because they tend to differ from one relationship to another. Some people are okay with late phone calls. Some people like drop-ins. But there’s an easy solution to these tricky problems. Communication. Tell the other person what you like and don’t like. And ask them what they expect from you.

Abusive Relationships

Domestic abuse is any pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors used to maintain power and control over a person. It can happen in any relationship, including marriage, dating, family, friends, or cohabitation. Abuse can be emotional, financial, sexual, or physical. Methods of abuse can include threats, isolation, and intimidation.

If you are in an abusive relationship and need help, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org or call (800) 799-7233 [TTY: (800) 787-3224].