Healthy Relationships Without Good Role Models

Who taught you how to do relationships?

Posted Aug 05, 2010

Who among us does not desire a partnership we can trust through thick and thin? The kind of relationship in which no one loses patience or speaks in harsh tones; a relationship in which we feel perfectly safe in the company of someone who truly digs our vibe.

Good relationships takes skill, and skill often begins with good role models. Unfortunately, many of us lack good relationship role models. Sometimes, maltreatment and chaos are the only examples we have seen.

Over at (my other blog), astute reader Karen asked this: How do you create a healthy marriage when you have never seen one and don't know how it is supposed to work?

It is a brilliant question because so many couples must find an answer with minimal guidance. I asked a few of my brightest colleagues to weigh in with their advice for Karen. Here are a few of their thoughts:

  • Don't settle for bad behavior in relationships. It may seem normal if bad behavior is all that you have seen, but you don't need to tolerate it.
  • Discuss your ideas of an ideal relationship with your partner. Talking about your values opens the door for new and better ways of operating.
  • Find ways to interrupt destructive patterns. It's easy to become blindly caught up in patterns that come to no good end. If you can detect the patterns as they are beginning to replay, you can avoid repeat performances.

You can read the rest of their advice at

The offered excellent advice, but it seemed rather... tame. So after the professionals had weighed in, I decided to ask my friends and family for their advice to the unschooled. Here are their thoughts:

  • When you marry someone, you marry their whole family.
  • If it is not a "yes," then it is a "no."
  • Trust is everything.
  • Long distance relationships never work... except when they do!
  • If the conversation is becoming disrespectful, it's time to walk away and try again later.
  • You can't change anyone but yourself.
  • Don't stay in a crappy relationship just to be IN a relationship.

There were two lighthearted bits of advice for men...

  • Don't buy a woman a Flowbee for her birthday.
  • Repeat after me: "Yes dear, I was wrong. I will never do it again."

...and one that was passed down from father to son, but is sound advice for both genders. (Warning to the sensitive: this one is bawdy.)

  • Make sure you want to be stuck with them before you stick it in, ‘cuz you just might be.

Since they offered no guidance specifically for women, I'll offer this:

  • If you want your man around more, don't nag. Instead, be pleasant to be around.

I want to know what advice you would give to someone who was short-changed in the role model department. Post your best advice in the comments section, or email me at I'll post the results and will of course keep your identity anymous (any good relationship begins with trust).

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Dr. Smith is a psychologist in Denver, Colorado and the author of The User's Guide to the Human Mind: Why Our Brains Make Us Unhappy, Anxious, and Neurotic and What We Can Do about It. You can read the introduction and find other goodies at

About the Author

Shawn Smith is a licensed psychologist in Denver, Colorado.

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