I’m sitting on an airplane, drinking a gin and tonic, contemplating what makes for a healthy relationship. My husband, whiskey in hand, looks over my shoulder, raises his glass and chimes in with, “lying, sarcasm and alcohol. You’re welcome.” You wouldn’t know it by his suggestions, but he is actually pretty good at relationships.
There are a million and one things to read on healthy relationships – so many so that contributing without being trite or formulaic is a struggle. We’re in relationships with people every day. From our coworkers and neighbors to our family and friends – everyone we encounter on a consistent basis. Everyone is different; what works for some does not work for others. All too often, we know what we don’t want in relationships with friends and family because we recognize what unhealthy looks like, especially in relationships outside our own.
Unfortunately, too often in our own lives, even if we know we are practicing unhealthy relationships (which a lot of times we aren’t even aware), we don’t know how to do otherwise.
So how do we get from point A to point B? I firmly believe there are some fundamental beliefs about the people in our lives and that how we relate to them must evaluated. Instead of steps to be taken, as good and even necessary as those may be, think of these as my philosophies which allows one to relate to others in a healthy way.
Philosophy 1: At my core, I believe that people are of the utmost value. I am an incredibly efficient and productive person, very goal focused and ambitious. It is my natural tendency to see people, especially at work, as means to an end. Instead I have consciously and consistently chosen to make people my goal, my utmost end, more than money, credit, success, or power, because I firmly believe that people are truly the ONLY worthwhile investment on this earth. All else is shifting shadows. How can we expect to even begin to relate well to others if we don’t think they are worthwhile?
Philosophy 2: As with all aspects of our wellness, healthy relationships require intentionality. Relating well to people takes work, hard work. It requires being present with people, taking time and effort to get to know their stories and live life with them. This means you must choose to do so. It must be a regular part of your everyday life, just like you go to the gym to get in shape for a marathon. All relationships require that you show up, time and time again. Not because you need something from the other person, but because you believe they are of value.
Philosophy 3: Don’t expect perfection but also don’t expect to stay the same. Relationships where we are real with each other are messy. That is the way it is going to be when you come with your baggage and expectations and I come with mine. And that’s ok. The point is to find people who we can be messy with and who will make us better, challenge us to grow. No one is meant to stay the same their entire lives. But it is really hard to do that on your own. We need the mirrors of other people in our lives to keep us accountable.
Philosophy 4: Here’s to the nitty gritty: Balance and boundaries. These two concepts go hand in hand. Boundaries are difficult to define because they look different in different situations. Your boundaries with your boss are obviously very different from a best friend or a spouse. But I think balance means you have good boundaries. There are different spectrums on which the health of a relationship depends. So depending on your personality and the personality of the one with which you are relating and the circumstances surrounding it, a balance must be struck to keep it healthy. A give and take must occur. An ebb and flow with time and life. Here’s a couple of examples.
Commonality and differentiation: We cannot be entirely independent of one another but nor can we be entirely dependent on one another. Take time to show an interest in the activities of those you love and be willing to share your interests with them. But have your own interests that aren’t dependent on anyone else!
Honesty and grace: Honesty is crucial but there is such a thing as too much honesty. Honesty seasoned with grace is having the courage to speak truth when it is needed and the wisdom to hold your tongue when your words aren’t helpful.
Humor and truth: Life without humor is boring, but too much humor masks the truth. Everybody loves a good party and there isn’t anything wrong with it. However, parties, jokes and laughter become hollow when there isn’t any depth to the relationship. Life requires sorrow to feel true joy.
Disclaimer: I have to be honest, I believe all of these philosophies are pretty difficult to achieve on your own without a relationship with Jesus. He modeled all of these things in how He lived and related with people. Without His Spirit living in us, we are too self absorbed and insecure to fully embody these. However, no matter what you believe, I hope you consider them and what they may look like in your life.
But what the heck do I know? Maybe my husband is right and alcohol is the answer so have a drink!