Our relationships can be beautiful or a mess, but one thing is for sure—we can’t get through life without engaging in them. It wasn’t until I experienced an unhealthy relationship that I realized the extent of its destruction. It wasn’t until I experienced a beautiful relationship that I realized how deeply it could change me for the better. Ironically, both of these experiences happened with the same person.
When we think of unhealthy relationships, we usually think of the wild, dramatic, abuse and conflict-ridden worlds of narcissists and sociopaths. This article is not about them (the best relationship to have with them is none at all), but about the more subtle ways in which our everyday relationships are unhealthy.
I used to imagine an unhealthy relationship required a person to have done something wrong, that there must be someone at fault. And I’d spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out who was at fault and what was going on.
I used to imagine the only unhealthy relationship I could have would be with someone with a personality disorder. So if the person didn’t have a personality disorder, I wondered what was wrong with me.
But what makes our interpersonal relationships unhealthy is usually much more subtle—it’s stewing on things left unsaid, not giving people the benefit of the doubt, not taking self-responsibility, blaming others, refusing to heal, let go and forgive, then letting this all build up and live in the ether around the relationship.
Most people, when they take stock of their lives, will find a relationship that’s unhealthy in some way and often it’s the people who are closest to us. They’re the relationships where you’re constantly questioning yourself, you’ve got a lot of resentment or you linger on a conversation you had with the person because you can’t fully make sense of it. Unhealthy relationships can be with a parent who won’t respect a boundary, a lover who denies how you feel, or friendship where you feel taken for granted.
What most people don’t understand, however, is that in the realm of all the above, we—as in, you and me—the ‘recipients’ of all of these dynamics, have the power to transform them.
The relationship where we’re constantly questioning ourselves can be the relationship in which we become sure of who we are.
The parent who won’t respect a boundary can become the parent who honors your boundary with great love.
The friendship where we feel taken for granted can turn into a friendship that actually energizes us.
The person in charge of all of this is… us. If we don’t like the relationships, we’re in charge of choosing to either change it or let it go. But we have the power to bring the relationship back into a clear space, and in doing so we strengthen it tenfold.
But it takes practice and practice takes time. Relationships can be transformed overnight—I’ve seen it happen in my own life—but it takes a ton of work and preparation for us to get to a point where we can facilitate that. So let’s get started, because enough clear, healthy relationships, eventually create a clear, healthy world.
Here are 5 tips for creating healthy relationships:
1. Have Clearing Conversations:
Don’t stew on things. If someone behaved in a way that had a negative impact on you, tell them, clear it with them, share the impact they had. If they really love you, they’ll want to know. Just make sure you use the non-blame language below:
Blame language: “You made me feel x.” This makes your feelings someone else’s fault.
Non-blame language: “When you did x, I felt x.” This acknowledges that the person didn’t intend to hurt you or place fault on them for your response, while also sharing the impact their words or actions had on you.
2. Be Vulnerable:
So often, we don’t want to acknowledge someone hurt us because it’s scary to be vulnerable. Other times, our response to being hurt by others is so knee-jerk, that we immediately blame them without giving ourselves even the chance to realize we’re hurt in the first place. Being honest with ourselves and vulnerable with others is the foundation of healthy relationships.
3. Take self-responsibility:
Don’t blame others for how you feel. If you do this, your relationships will never be healthy. There are definitely situations where no doubt the other person is at fault, but these are much rarer than we all think and in the meantime, applying that logic to your other relationships will destroy them. Trust me, just keep taking responsibility until you’re sure the person is not going to change, then it’s your time to leave.
4. Let people have their own experiences:
Don’t get caught up in another person’s experience, or try to analyze their motivations or figure out what their intentions were. Don’t imagine you know them better than they know themselves. When you start making assumptions and projecting them onto another person, it really just muddies the waters of the relationship.
5. Assume good intent:
Humans do shitty things. That’s a fact. Sometimes they even do them intentionally. But in normal (abuse-free) interpersonal relationships, the best way is to always assume good intent. Speak to the highest in a person. Instead of hating on them for something they did, just give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re doing their best. It’s really the only way.
Unhealthy relationships aren’t inherently bad and they’re part of all of our lives. To understand that we have the power to transform them is profound and an incredibly powerful place to come from. And in transforming our relationships, we slowly, lovingly and gently transform our world.
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