In happy relationships, there are five simultaneous relationships happening. Healthy relationships are based upon each person having a relationship with him-or-herself. The relationship with the self is the basic building block of a relationship. Both parties must have broken through their denial systems to some extent, achieved some modicum of honesty with themselves, and become willing to take responsibility for themselves. In general, each must be a person in his or her own right. If one does not have a relationship with the self, it is truly impossible to have a living process (healthy) relationship; it will not be possible to be honest with the “other” if one is not in contact with oneself.
This relationship with the self is a source of pleasure and expansion and needs time and nurturing in order to grow. In order to have a relationship with the self, it is necessary to have quiet time alone, time to enrich one’s spirituality. A relationship with the self takes time. Truly having a relationship with our own process relates us to the process of the universe.
The next two relationships that occur in healthy relationships are each person’s fantasized relationship with the other. Each person has a fantasy about what is go in on with the other and about who the other is. In healthy relationships, it is necessary to bring these fantasized relationships into the conscious self, explore them, and make them available to and share them with the others. These relationships can be the source of a lot of fun, and as long as we know them for what they are, can add richness to our relationship with ourselves and with others.
A fifth relationship in healthy relationships is the actual relationship that exists between the two people. It is dependent upon the previous four having been developed, maintained, and “cleaned up” if necessary. Not that we have to be perfect to have a relationship; relationships provide a major arena for growth and self-awareness, and paradoxically they have to exist consciously and be worked with for the relationship between the self and other requires taking risks. In order to have this relationship, it is necessary to be able to see the self and the other and to respect the process of both. This relationship is a rich source of information for the self. And it is more than that; it is an opportunity to know and be known.
In healthy relationships, the focus is upon respecting one’s own process. When this happens, each – almost be default – respects the others journey and supports it as well as his or her own.
Healthy relationships imply supporting each other, yet these is no focus upon “fixing” the other person. Each person’s process is respected and it is recognized that each must do what he or she must. It is understood that if I have feelings about what the other does, these are my feelings and I have to handle them as best I can. Commitment is not incarceration. It is each being committed to her or his own process, sharing that process, and respecting the process of the others.
A healthy relationship is an open system, which means that both information that is external to the parties and the relationship are sought, listened to, and resolved. Therefore, in healthy relationships, choices are very important,, and the generation of options opens the possibility to growth and creativity. Choices are not threats.
Relationships are mysterious. Never-the-less, it is fun to play around with some “lists” of ideas for “healthy relationship skills.”
To be able to ‘wait with” the evolution of a relationship.
To be able to be honest when one is not interested or cannot listen.
To recognize and accept one’s own needs and honor them.
To care for, not take care of, the other.
To know that dependency in any form kills relationships; to honor the integrity of the self and the other.
To know that one cannot compromise one’s moral values without eroding the relationship.
To be present to the self and the other and share intimacy where appropriate.
To know that physical loving evolves as intimacy grows.
To know the relationship is only one important aspect of one’s total life.
To be unwilling to turn one’s life over to anyone.
To accept responsibility for one’s own life and recognize the others responsibility for his or her own life.
To be honest with oneself about who the other is and what important values, hopes and fears are not shared.
To see the other and the self clearly, without judgment.
To know that blame has no place in intimacy and to be willing to own one’s mistakes without judgment.
To be able to share “worlds” while maintaining one’s own.
To be present.
To take risks and be vulnerable with the other.
To share feelings as one feels them.
To have and respect boundaries.
To know that suffering is not love – pain will occur; suffering is a choice.
To live one’s own process and respect the process of the other, whatever it is.
To know that love cannot be created or manipulated. Love is a gift.
According to Dorothy C. Hayden, LCSW, is a couples counselor and sexual consultant in private practice in Manhattan, “All of us are pioneers exploring the potential in relationships. We are learning together. In healthy relationships, we are always flying by the seat of our pants. When we are not trying to control, not trying to create an atmosphere of stasis or security, we are always evolving with the relationship.”