“The right person makes your life take off, not settle down. The right person doesn’t change you, you change yourself when you feel free enough to be loved for who you really are.” ~ Brianna Wiest
Understanding the components of healthy relationships has been an underlying theme in many of my recent conversations with clients, friends, and family members prompting some further digging. The simple fact is that all of us are engaged in all types of relationships, in some form or another, whether it’s with a romantic partner, business partners, friendship, co-workers, children, or employee/employer. Unfortunately, for many of us our relationships are pain points in our lives, and can be challenging to navigate and can be the source of sadness, disappointment and heartache.
The need and desire for human connection is an innate need and a deep source of fulfillment in our lives, yet the ability to form healthy relationships is something we must learn. Many of us haven’t actually been taught or learned how to develop healthy relationship skills. On top of that, ads, television, film and media inundate us with unrealistic ideas of romance, friendships, and other relationships. Romantic illusions, unrealistic expectations, and negative stories ultimately lead to feelings of dissatisfaction, disappointments and overall unhappiness within us and within our relationships. For many of us, we may need to learn, let go and unlearn some of these ideas and beliefs about relationships if we desire healthy, fulfilling relationships in our lives.
One of the most damaging myths is the notion that you need someone to complete you. This belief is especially prevalent when it comes to our romantic relationships. If you believe that you need to be in a relationship in order to be “complete” or feel “complete”, you will always be looking for something you will never find. When you seek someone to “complete” you, ultimately you’ll end up caught up in a codependent relationship, obsessing about the other person, what they’re doing to us and/or what they’re not doing for us. And, PS, this can happen in any of our relationships, not just our romantic ones.
Fulfillment and satisfaction in any relationship comes from within us first. You can’t fully and effectively give yourself to someone until you’ve found it within yourself first. By whole, I mean that we’re showing up as the truest version of ourselves. A healthy relationship involves two people who are supportive of each other and each others’ pursuits and goals, and are looking forward with a common vision that they are working towards. They don’t obsess or objectify each other, or need someone’s company all the time. They are together because they truly respect, love, and value the other person for who they really are, not their idea of who they “should” be.
How to Create Healthy Relationships
Like anything worth pursuing, nurturing healthy relationships requires knowledge, skill and practice. We can’t fully give to others until we really know and understand ourselves or if our cup is empty and our energy is depleted. Essential to filling your cup is adopting a self-care practice that involves gratitude, service to others, and truly getting to know yourself.
1) Know thyself first
First, and foremost, we need to cultivate a relationship with ourselves. Pursuing healthy relationships always starts with discovering who we are, learning about our core needs, triggers, deepest fears and uncovering our limiting beliefs. We need to learn how to be kind and compassionate with ourselves, and with our unique journey. While I may not have it all together in my relationships yet, I have put a lot of time and energy into my own self-discovery, and in showing up as the most authentic version of myself in all of my relationships.
2) Fill your cup
You can’t give to others when you’re cup is empty. Relationships take energy and if we’re depleted, we have nothing left to invest into creating a good relationship with another person. Before you can give to another, you need to create your own energy. You create energy by practicing self-care and nourishing your body, mind and soul, something I’m currently working on. Nourishing your mind might involve reading, watching shows, listening to a podcast or music, journaling, or conversations with people that give you pleasure. Meditation, prayer, charity, and breathwork are just a few examples of nurturing your soul. Lastly, nourishing your body typically involves food and exercise, such as walking, stretching or yoga, drinking water, taking a fitness class, or simply slowing down and savoring your food. It’s only when your cup is full that you’ll have the energy to really look at another’s preferences, love languages, specific needs and wants, because if it’s not your specific need, it will take a lot of energy. It’s much easier to serve another person when your cup is full.
3) Practice gratitude
One of the most fundamental ways to fill your cup is practicing gratitude. Focusing on what you appreciate and are grateful for in your life will fill your heart, boosts your immune system, and contributes to your overall sense of well-being, which will naturally overflow into your relationships. Extensive research has shown that practicing gratitude is key to improving your relationships. Specifically focusing on what you appreciate and value about the other person rather than focusing on negative feelings such as regrets, anger, blame, what you’ve lost, and complaining about what you’re not getting will have an immediate positive effects on your relationships. Feelings of gratitude are directly linked to feelings of joy, happiness, and abundance. It also improves our overall well-being, self-esteem, and improves depression. In relationships, it’s particularly powerful when both people practice gratitude otherwise the relationship can easily derail.
4) Service to others
Showing and communicating gratitude to our friends and loved ones is a great way to make them feel good, makes us feel good, and overall improves the quality of our relationships. It also improves our personality by making us more positive, optimistic and decreases our self-centeredness. Many of us are fixated on wanting others to do for us before we are willing to give to them. Becoming less obsessed with getting our own needs met first, or how the other person is treating you, or getting caught up in what the other person is not doing for you, is a key to nurturing healthy relationships. Of course, don’t forget that it’s still important to maintain healthy boundaries about what you’re will or not willing to tolerate in a relationship. Waiting for others to meet our needs before we open up creates co-dependency, misery, miscommunication results in unhealthy relationships. It takes a lot of energy to give to others, especially if it is riddled with negativity or if the other party isn’t willing to work with you, so remember how important it is to know yourself first, fill your cup, and practice gratitude. If improving your relationships is important to you, then it’s worth making the first move in serving them first.
5) A shared vision or goal
Love and relationships are not about being attached, wanting or obsessing over each other, but about looking outward together in the same direction. A healthy relationship typically involves two people who support each other in the pursuit of their own dreams and path, however, still share one vision in common that they are both working towards. I recently wrote about creating a vision board. One of my clients decided to take it one-step further and organized a “date night” with her partner, and over a bottle of wine, they created vision boards. You can read about her experience on her blog icovet.ca. What a fun way to get to know each other and what is important to them and also identify your shared vision for your life. It’s also a fun activity to do with your family, and a great way to get your business partner or work team clear on business priorities.
6) Accept someone as they are
When you think about it, the very nature of a relationship almost makes it impossible to succeed. We’re always going to be mismatched on our preferences, love languages, wants or needs, not to mention needing to match or blend backgrounds, personal taste, communication styles, and values. When you start with two unique individuals and put them together to co-habitat, work together, love and grow together, you need to accept them as they are. I hope we all know by now that we shouldn’t enter into a relationship with the hopes of molding someone into who we want them to be. To have a healthy relationship, it’s more important that both partners motivate each other to become the best versions of themselves. This is not the same as trying to change someone’s nature, but understanding, respecting and valuing our differences. In a healthy relationship, both people challenge each other to pursue adventure and personal growth rather than settling for complacency, all while supporting each other in a safe and nurturing way. Ultimately, they help to bring out each other’s best selves. All of us have both an actual self – the person we currently are – and an ideal self – the person we aspire to become. In the best relationships, partners support each other to bring out their ideal self.
7) Becoming whole
Healthy relationships are always about two “whole people” who are not dependent on each other for their happiness or validation, but involve two fully functioning people who facilitate each other’s voyage of self-discovery and personal growth. So what if you’re not this “whole” person, and want to be? Realize you already have everything you need to be whole – you just need to let go of the insecurities, and realize your awesomeness is already there and then shift to self-discovery and skill-development, such as improving your communication skills. It’s incredibly powerful when both partners embark on this journey of self-discovery together as two of my clients have done (read about their story here).
A healthy relationship is one where two independent people decide that they will help make the other person the best version of themselves. If you can only do one thing, fill your cup by practicing gratitude. When your overall happiness improves, it will spill over into your relationships. Before you put the focus on someone else’s behaviour make sure you’ve put the mirror up in front of your face and invest in learning about yourself and your behaviour. Relationships require constant and consistent nurturing however, when two complete (or at least, fairly complete) people come together because they appreciate, support, love and respect each other it can be one of the most rewarding human experiences.
Now, it’s your turn.
How do you nurture your relationships? What is your biggest pain point in your relationship(s)? What do you value the most in your relationships? Share in the comments.