As a relationship counselor, conversations with my clients often revolve around what a healthy relationship looks like. Humans are wired for connection and relationship, so it's only natural for people to ask questions about this. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years, many of which are my go-tos when working with clients.
Know yourself - Whether it’s sitting down for coffee with a friend or family member who knows you well or a licensed therapist, take the time to understand how your lens on the world affects what you need, how you perceive yourself, and how you perceive interactions with others. This is tough work but is a crucial step in navigating conflict, feeling safe enough to let your guard down, and creating an environment of trust. Without awareness, it’s so easy to continue in patterns that leave us confused, hurt, and ready to swear off relationships. This will affect how you do the rest of these tips too. :)
Have standards - There may be some common standards, but ultimately these are things that, after taking the time to understand yourself, you can then identify what you need. And it’s okay to stick to them. Hear that - your needs matter and it’s okay to stick to them.
Know what you’re willing to live with - The follow up I often hear to having standards is, “what if my standards are too high and unrealistic?” I also hear patterns of running at any sight of imperfection. Standards are essential AND part of this is also identifying what you’re willing to live with. Imperfection is part of being human. If we can take a look at the imperfections we are willing to live with (such as someone being forgetful, running late, and other quirks), it then allows you to make a decision.
Stay in the moment - Anyone else out there trying to get 12 steps ahead?? Dreaming about future family together, envisioning your life in the next 10 years, whether or not they will become besties with your besties, and how they may or may not break your heart, all within the first 2 weeks of knowing someone? Woof - that takes some serious future predicting skills. These attempts to predict the future often come from a place of wanting to feel safe and secure. Now, thinking about those things isn't inherently “bad,” but if it gets in the way of giving someone an honest chance, it likely becomes unhelpful. Try asking yourself, “Do I like what I’ve seen up to now enough to see them one more time?” If the answer is yes, then give yourself permission to go on one more date. When the answer becomes no, that’s the time to refer back to the first three tips.
Communicate - The thing we all know is important, but have a difficult time with. One of the most humbling realities is, you don’t know what you don’t know. Whether that’s how to have healthy communication or how to understand your partner's needs with communication, we all have habits and norms for communication (or lack thereof). Take the time to understand your needs and understanding of communication and start there. Talk to your partner about how you tend to communicate and what you need.
Regulate yourself - We all have those moments. We feel frustrated, hurt, unheard, invalidated. It happens. What we do with this can be a game changer. What we know is that when we respond out of an activated system it’s tough to stay fully present, and then we say or do things we later regret. It sounds simple and silly but take a moment to calm your system. Take a break, ground yourself, then you can re engage. It is your responsibility to regulate yourself. Your loved ones can absolutely support you in this, but no one can do it for you.
As a reminder - without Tip #1, the rest becomes more difficult. Working with a licensed therapist can be highly beneficial to understanding yourself, healing from past hurts, and ultimately helping you have fulfilling relationships.