When was the last time you did a “Life Relationship Review”? Maybe almost never. However, while the Harvard Multigenerational Study has informed the world about the importance of social connections for our overall well-being and longevity, the quality of those relationships is just as important.
In fact, while the Harvard University study reminds doctors to register and assess the status of patients social fitness – along with physical and mental well-being – we want to remind patients that healthy relationships are the key here.
Spending time in unhealthy or toxic relationships is detrimental to mental and emotional health, drains energy, and leads to burnout.
By the way: if you have children, this is a very valuable topic of conversation, and you can select it in an age-appropriate way. Tweens, teens, and young adults are being taken on a toxic ride fueled largely by the social media craze. Talk openly with your children and within your family about unhealthy relationships you’ve had and what they should look for—and avoid—in their own lives.
It doesn’t matter if you’re taking stock of your relationship with a partner, spouse, family member, or friend, healthy relationships have these clear and identifiable characteristics:
Friendships and partnerships should always be based on mutual respect. Differences of opinion are to be expected, but should never be a cause for embarrassment, judgment, or criticism among friends or loved ones.
Are you in a relationship with someone for whom bickering, arguing, or fighting is the norm? Pay attention and do everything you can to change the dynamic. Collaborative and supportive conversation should comprise 80-85% or more of healthy relationships.
Diversity of personality, interests, and abilities strengthens relationships. Fight the urge to “be like…” someone else. See if anyone feels like she’s trying to “be like you.” It pays to resist the urge to be a chameleon, to change ourselves to conform to the expectations of others.
If you’re always the giver and rarely the taker, or vice versa, ask some internal “why is that” questions. People pleasers tend to be generous because they fear not being loved for who they are, and this affects their health and well-being. Similarly, chronic “takers” often have a victim or entitlement mentality, a strategy to avoid their feelings of inadequacy or unwillingness to take responsibility for their lives.
Do your closest friends and family know how to express “shadow” emotions, such as anger, fear, frustration, sadness, etc.? If you feel like you’re dealing with a reactive toddler, you probably are. People can become frozen in emotional stages if they don’t learn to process their emotions in a healthy way.
This means that your 45-year-old best friends can still get mad like they did when they were six or 16. It is theirs to work with, not to assume, support or manage. You can calmly express that they can get back in touch with you when they feel calm and ready to communicate.
You should also feel that you and your friends, lovers, or partners have honest and trustworthy relationships. When issues arise, compromise should be the name of the game whenever possible to honor the value of each individual.
On the other side of the banner of healthy relationships are toxic relationships that cause us stress, burnout, and in the worst case, abuse. Here are some of the most notable warning signs that a relationship is more toxic than healthy:
- You feel more exhausted than nourished after spending time or chatting with them (you may even get a headache or notice your body is tense after walking away from their presence).
- They push your limits, but you are expected to respect theirs.
- They always need something from you or only contact you when they need something.
- Toxic people rarely take responsibility for their hurtful or hurtful actions and become defensive (or reactive) if you try to hold them accountable.
- They are always the victim with excuses and blame for everything they dislike.
- If you spend time with other people, they will be jealous or try to blame you.
- They diminish who you are (often through “teasing” or “sarcasm”), and if you point this out to them, they’ll accuse you of being too sensitive, interpreting too much, etc.
- They talk mostly about themselves, redirect conversations to their problems, and don’t really listen or provide comfort when you confide in them.
In most cases, you don’t need to have a big fight or end a relationship completely. However, it could feel that way for a toxic person! Healing a toxic friendship (or leaving it) requires:
- Easy going, honest, conversation.
- The willingness to see a therapist if necessary.
- Resetting limits and personal agreements.
- Genuine apologies for actions or words that have hurt you in the past.
- Inner work of both people.
If your attempts are unsuccessful, it’s okay to break up lovingly, wish each other well, and keep some distance between you. Some relationships are not meant to be forever; they fit us at one point in our lives and no longer fit us later. That’s normal, and there’s no need to hold hard feelings.
Fortunately, genuine friends are always willing to work things out because, well, they’re healthy!
The women’s team at Women’s Health Associates values our honest, trustworthy and healthy relationships with patients. Looking for an OB/GYN you can be yourself with? Schedule your next well-woman exam with Women’s Health Associates.