Contributed by Kristen Fuller, M.D., Sovereign Health
This series of posts has focused on recognizing toxic traits in a relationship and navigating through the feelings that can result. We conclude by providing the ingredients that constitute a recipe for a happy, healthy relationship.
Every relationship has different interactional conflicts and needs. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. These ingredients are only part of one recipe. Recognize that it could take many more than these seven to build a healthy relationship—perhaps you have ingredients of your own that you would like to share.
“I will be happy when...” is a common phrase many of us can complete with that one thing we're sure would secure our eternal bliss. But our happiness does not depend on anything external, because happiness is a choice we can make. The science of positive psychology has discovered that, as humans, we need a few basic necessities to be happy, including food, shelter, warm clothing, and other such items. Once we have these, the rest of our happiness is completely up to us. A romantic partner or a good friend may add pleasure to our life but only we can find our own happiness—and two independently happy people create a harmonious environment.
Sharing thoughts and feelings honestly through direct, face-to-face interactions can prevent unnecessary ill feelings. Keeping in mind the other person’s feelings, and communicating those feelings, can help to bridge any communication gaps. Even the happiest and healthiest people become upset at times, so being transparent with our emotions and words also prevents misunderstandings that can escalate into arguments.
Life is all about balance, and relationships should be too. It can be difficult to maintain a balanced relationship all the time. One person may need more attention while going through a tough time, or perhaps one is working extremely long hours leaving the other to pick up the slack. At times, relationships can be 80/20 or 70/30, and you may feel like you are doing most of the work, but that is OK for a time, as long as the relationship has a healthy balance overall. Learning to compromise to alleviate your partner’s stress brings positivity to any relationship.
Shared interests are important, but it is also vital that individuals take time to themselves and partake in their favorite activities to de-stress and recharge. Take one day a week, or one hour a day, to do your favorite activity by yourself, or maybe just take time to reflect and collect your thoughts. Maintaining your individual sense of self is often difficult in a relationship, but it's incredibly important.
Many people try to avoid conflict, but it is important to share different opinions. The ability to have controversial conversations with loved ones in a diplomatic way is a positive trait, but sometimes you might have to agree to disagree to avoid conflict. Two individuals in a relationship are never going to agree on everything. Respect yourself and your partner’s feelings, and agree that having a difference of opinion is OK; after all, different opinions and views are what make each individual unique.
Most arguments in relationships are about superficial issues which cover and obscure the true “elephant in the room.” Take the time to find and discuss that elephant with a willing partner.
This may be the most obvious key to a happy relationship, and yet we often become so consumed in our own lives that we forget to slow down and be kind to our partners, even in times of stress and despair. Putting the relationship first, before your needs, can really help put things into perspective. To avoid saying or doing something you’ll later regret, always be kind.
Outside strains can enter into a relationship and result in stress and hardship. Whether it’s your in-laws, an ex, your parents, or others raising the tension, your relationship with your loved one is what is important. Sometimes it is better to establish healthy boundaries and not let these outside forces dictate your thoughts and feelings. Instead, stay focused on the two people in the relationship.
As we end this series and navigate our way through the holidays, perhaps we can reflect on the past year. If we endured any form of toxicity, hopefully we can recognize the signs, and gain the tools and wisdom we need to learn from the past and pave the way for a brighter, healthier future. After all, everyone is deserving of love and happiness.