Humans are social beings. We depend on relationships with others for survival and fulfillment. We begin forming relationships at birth with our caretakers and family members. As we grow up, we form friendships and romantic interests, which tend to be particularly important during adolescence and young adulthood, including the college years. We also develop work and community connections. All of these relationships require time and attention in order to be healthy and beneficial.
It is important to establish healthy patterns and strong foundations early in our relationships. This promotes satisfaction and longevity. Each of us is responsible for making good choices in our relationships, and that includes being willing to let go of those that are negative and destructive.
Most of us will have many more friendships than romantic relationships in our lives. Even when we find ourselves involved in a romantic relationship, it is important to establish and maintain good, solid friendships. Too many young people make the mistake of dropping their friendships when they fall in love. Don’t let that happen to you! Follow these tips for healthy friendships:
- Respect boundaries: Do not overwhelm friends with constant attempts at making contact via phone, text, or email. Make sure there is balanced effort between friends.
- Avoid competition: Healthy friendships do not include comparisons of money, attractiveness, accomplishments, or anything else. Don’t try to “one up” each other.
- Maintain a healthy self-image: Extreme vanity or constant self-criticism can be exhausting for friends.
- Be genuine: Good friends should feel safe expressing honest feelings.
- Avoid judgment: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t overreact to small, rare transgressions.
- Be positive: Try to find humor in life and enjoy laughing together. Incessant complaining is a turn off.
- Listen: Try to understand your friends. Avoid giving advice unless it is requested. Try not to dominate conversations with your own interests, but ensure that you are represented.
- Be open-minded: Allow room for change and mistakes. This is how we grow.
- Preserve confidentiality: Keep personal information about your friends private. Be trustworthy with the information that they confide in you.
Romance can begin in all kinds of different ways. You may have been introduced by a relative, met online, had the same math class, or even grown up together for years. When deeper feelings strike, we often seek confirmation that the relationship is worth pursuing…that it could be “the one.” Understanding these essential factors of healthy romantic relationships will help us determine that.
- Closeness: Partners genuinely like being connected to one another. They offer emotional support during times of hardship. They feel a sense of comfort and relief just by being together.
- Shared goals and beliefs: Companions hold similar life philosophies, values, priorities, and goals. Each partner holds the relationship as a priority that deserves to be nurtured.
- Trust: Each expects that the other will act in the best interest of the relationship.
- Respect: Couples feel loved and accepted even when they disagree. They know they each have a right to individual opinions, feelings, interests, and friendships outside the relationship.
- Individual self-worth: Partners feel good about themselves when they are close to one another, and they are also comfortable alone.
- Positive communication: Happy couples make a point of expressing positive sentiments like “thank you" and “I love you” to their partner, rather than focusing on mistakes their partner has made. Problems are addressed through calm, rational and respectful discussion in which each partner feels heard, understood, and appreciated.
- Affection & intimacy: Companions are comfortable sharing intimate thoughts and vulnerable feelings. Sharing of affection is reciprocal and they enjoy a mutually satisfying physical relationship.
Tips for maintaining happy, healthy relationships
- Apologize: Show your partner that you are willing to be accountable for your words and actions. Apologize when you have been hurtful.
- Agree to disagree: When reaching an impasse, it is better to let the issue go than continue trying to persuade your partner, which may result in feelings of resentment. Adopting this philosophy supports the goal of preserving the relationship.
- Embrace change: Change is inevitable. It is helpful to recognize change for what it is and seek opportunities for enhancing the relationship, rather than trying to prevent change from happening.
- Check in: Take time periodically to clarify your understandings of goals and expectations in the relationship.
- Choose your time wisely: Agree on times to discuss and resolve conflicts. Couples should avoid engaging in conflict resolution until each partner is calm and clear about what he/she really wants.
- Fight fairly: Conflicts are normal, and they can be handled in healthy ways. Listen to one another. Express and respond to your partner’s thoughts and feelings. Avoid blaming, name-calling, and defensiveness. And don’t forget to work on a solution together.
- Clarify your message: Say what you mean. Saying you’d like your partner to hold your hand more often is more specific, and more effective, than saying you would like more affection.
- Show restraint: Choose your words carefully. Some thoughts are best kept to oneself and processed internally before sharing. Some thoughts don’t need to be shared at all.
- Time together: Partners may vary on the amount of time they want/need to spend together in order to feel satisfied and secure. Discussing your feelings about this issue can prevent inaccurate assumptions and hurt feelings.
- Extended families: Just as partners vary on their preferences for “couple time,” their expectations may differ regarding time spent with one another’s extended family as well. Discuss your expectations without judgment or criticism.
- Friends: Support your partner in developing and maintaining healthy friendships. Friends meet important needs that partners may not, so having good friends actually supports the relationship. Discuss which friends you may wish to enjoy time with individually or together.