In today’s world, it is pretty difficult to define what counts as a “healthy relationship.” Does it mean a man and woman, married and living together to raise a family? Can a long-distance relationship be healthy? And what about swingers and other open relationships?
No matter how you define healthy relationship, one thing is clear: most relationships aren’t healthy. If they were, we wouldn’t have a divorce rate of 50%.
Ironically, most of us start off thinking that we are in healthy relationships. At first, everything seems great and you can’t get enough of the person. You feel like that person “completes you” and imagine the life you will build together. Then, as time goes on, you start feeling wounded, angry, bitter, or simply growing apart. What went wrong???
I like how Leo Gura at Actualized.org describes healthy relationships. He says that a healthy relationship is like a ballet. The two dancers come together in sync to perform. The longer they perform, the more opportunity there is for them to become out of sync. I’d like to add to this that, as the dance becomes more complicated (kids, careers, financial difficulties, etc.), there are also more opportunities to get out of sync.
Relationships Don’t Happen by Themselves!
Going along with the ballet metaphor, let’s point out that you’ve got to know how to dance before you can dance with someone. If you put two crappy dancers together, they are going to put on a terrible show. If you put one crappy dancer with a master, then the dance is still going to suck.
And how do you get better at dancing? By practicing.
This applies to relationships too. Relationships take hard work and practice (which is why you shouldn’t necessarily feel bad about all your failed relationships).
For some reason though, society tells us that relationships aren’t something which needs to be worked at. They have this romantic Disney-like idea that relationships somehow will come together on their own. This might seem true at first when our hormones and the laws of attraction are ruling our emotions. But hormones cool down quickly, bursting the bubble and leaving us with a lot of hard work to do.
Types of Relationships
Psychologists have identified 3 different types of relationships: codependent, independent, and interdependent. Of these 3, interdependent relationships are the ones considered most “healthy.” These are also the relationships which most of us don’t have.
In order to build a healthy relationship, it is really important that you understand the different types of relationships. Note that these don’t just apply to your love life. Think about your many relationships (family, friends, colleagues, lovers, etc.) and which type of relationship they fall into.
Brace yourself, because this is probably the type of relationship you’ve been in up until now. No, I don’t necessarily mean abusive relationships, or relationships with drug addicts (these are extreme examples of codependent relationships). Codependent/dependent relationships are actually the relationships that society tells us we should have.
How many times have you heard these things said about “love”?
He/she completes me
I’ve found my other half!
I couldn’t live without you.
I would be nothing without you!
In a nutshell, a codependent/dependent relationship is when one or both partners are needy, and they use the other person to fulfill that need. Hence the phrase, “you complete me.” Even though society tells us that codependent relationships are what we should strive for, they are unhealthy.
For the dependent, there is strain and burden as the codependent eats up all the emotional, physical, financial, and other resources. They feel guilty about the idea of limiting help, even when they know it is only supporting the dependent’s shortcomings.
For the codependents, anger and resentment forms when the other person doesn’t live up to their standards. And that person will never live up to their standards; only you can make you happy. Codependents also become so reliant on the other to make decisions for them that they don’t bother to voice their own opinions or desires, which leads to more resentment and unhappiness.
Signs You Are In a Codependent Relationship
- You spend all your time together
- You don’t have your own friends social life
- You get sick of each other
- You feel that the person “completes” you
- You blame the other person for how you feel
- You’d rather distress yourself than upset partner
- You feel guilty all the time
- You feel jealous or possessive
- You are constantly worried that you will lose your partner
Independent relationships are quite the opposite of codependent relationships. As the name implies, it is a relationship between two independent people. Each party is doing its own thing and only really thinking about themselves. At a surface level, this may seem like a healthy relationship (independence is an important quality for a relationship). However, no real bond is formed and the two people will eventually drift or split apart.
Why is an independent relationship so unhealthy?
Independent relationships are often led by people who have been hurt in the past. They are afraid of becoming dependent on another person and keep their distance.
As Psychology Today points out, independent relationships may also be narcissist relationships: “It suggests a superficial investment in interpersonal interaction that is superseded by self-interest. This does not always portend a narcissistic relationship or relationship style, but does suggest a style where true investment is lacking.
An independent relationship is definitely much better than a codependent relationship. And the good thing is that, with work, it can turn into a healthy interdependent relationship.
Signs You Are In an Independent Relationship
- Your actions only affect you
- You are a workaholic
- You don’t like to share (splitting the check, don’t want to live together, etc.)
- You don’t want to give or take
- You lie to your partner because it is easier than explaining the truth
This is what a real healthy relationship is. It is when both parties are independent and happy by themselves, but enjoy the other person and enrich each other’s lives.
As Melanie Tonia Evans defines it,
Interdependence can be termed as: being a whole and balanced person who is able to share with and join in the healthy resources of life and others. This facilitates an even greater expansion in life than the independent stage, as we now have unlimited access to even more love, success and happiness than we could have provided for ourselves.
Think of it like this: when we work together, life is easier. You might be able to lift a heavy table by yourself, but it would be a lot easier with someone to help you.
This is how interdependent relationships work. You don’t need the other person, but you want that person.
Signs You Are In an Interdependent Relationship:
- You enjoy giving
- You don’t feel guilty or in debt by receiving
- You make decisions together
- You have your own friends and social life
- You make time to see each other
- You can disagree without fighting
How to Go from an Unhealthy to Healthy Relationship
If you have a history of unhealthy relationships and codependency, or are in an unhealthy relationship now, the good news is that it can be fixed. You can have a healthy relationship. But it is going to take work!
By “work,” I don’t mean you convincing your girlfriend to be less clingy or to assert herself, or getting her to be less bossy. To have a healthy relationship, YOU MUST WORK ON YOURSELF.
Until you are independent (i.e. capable of being on your own, and are happy with your own company) there is no way you can be happy in a relationship. You will just end up in the codependency trap. Likewise, you’ve got to be emotionally stable enough to allow yourself to be put in the vulnerable place of a relationship where you could get hurt. Otherwise, you will end up in an unhealthy independent relationship.
Remember, like attracts like. We attract people who are psychologically similar to us. So, if you’ve said before, “Why do I always attract crazy psycho women?!”, think about what it says about your psychological state.
How do you become more independent and confident? Interestingly, it is the same way that you meet women. By following your passions and interests, getting new hobbies, and engaging in social activities like outings or even volunteer work. These actions help build our sense of self, make us feel good about ourselves, and give us the practice needed for building meaningful, healthy relationships. And you might just meet that special someone in the process!
Keep up your own social life, goals, dreams even after entering a relationship. Otherwise you end up becoming dependent on the other person.