When was the last time you did a “Life Relationship Review?” Maybe almost never. However, while Harvard’s multi-generational study has informed the world of how important social connections are to our overall well-being and longevity, the quality of those relationships is equally important.
In fact, while the Harvard U study reminds physicians to check in and gauge patients’ social fitness – along with physical and mental wellness – we want to remind patients that healthy relationships are the key here.
Spending time in unhealthy – or toxic relationships – is detrimental to mental and emotional health, drains energy, and leads to burnout.
By the way: If you have children, this is a very worthy conversation topic – and you can curate it in age-appropriate ways. Tweens, teens, and young adults are being taken on a toxic ride largely fueled by social media madness. Talk openly with your children and within your family about the unhealthy relationships you’ve had and what they should seek – and steer clear of – in their own lives.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re taking stock of your relationship with a partner, spouse, family member, or friend, healthy relationships have these clear and identifiable features:
Friendships and partnerships should always be founded on mutual respect. Differences of opinion are to be expected but should never be cause for shame, judgment, or criticism between friends or loved ones.
Are you in a relationship with someone for whom bickering, arguing, or fighting are the norm? Pay attention and do your best to shift the dynamic. Collaborative and supportive conversation should comprise 80 to 85% or more of healthy relationships.
Diversity of personality, interests, and skills makes relationships stronger. Fight the urge to “be just like…” another person. Notice if someone feels like they’re trying to “be just like you.” The urge to be a chameleon – changing ourselves to fit another’s expectations – is worth resisting.
If you’re always the giver and rarely the receiver – or vice versa – do some internal questioning around “why that is.” People pleasers are apt to be givers because they’re afraid they won’t be loved for who they are – and this takes its toll on health and well-being. Similarly, chronic “takers” typically have a victim or entitlement mindset, a strategy to avoid their feelings of inadequacy or unwillingness to take responsibility for their lives.
Do your closest friends and family members know how to express the “shadow” emotions, like anger, fear, frustration, sadness, etc? If you feel more like you’re dealing with a reactive toddler, you probably are. People can become frozen in emotional stages if they don’t learn how to process their emotions in healthy ways.
This means your best 45-year-old friends may still get angry like they did when they were six or 16. This is theirs to work on, not yours to take on, support, or manage. You can calmly express that they can get back in touch with you when they feel calm and ready to communicate.
You should also feel like you and your friends, lovers, or partners have honest and trustworthy relationships. When issues do come up, compromise should be the name of the game whenever possible to honor the value of each individual.
On the flip side of the health relationship flag are the toxic relationships that cause us stress, depletion, and – in worst cases – abuse. Here are some of the most notable red flags that a relationship is more toxic than healthy:
- You feel more drained than nourished after spending time or conversing with them (you may even get a headache or notice your body is tense after leaving their presence).
- They plow right over your boundaries, but you are expected to respect theirs.
- They always need something from you or only contact you when they need something.
- Toxic people rarely take accountability for their harmful or hurtful actions and are defensive (or reactive) if you try to hold them accountable.
- They’re always the victim with excuses and blame for everything they’re unhappy about.
- If you spend time with others, they are jealous or try to guilt you.
- They diminish who you are (often via “teasing” or “sarcasm”), and if it’s pointed out, they’ll accuse you of being too sensitive, reading too much into it, etc.
- They talk mostly about themselves, redirect conversations back to their issues, and don’t truly listen or provide comfort when you’re confiding in them.
In most cases, there’s no need to have a big blowout or end a relationship completely. However, it might feel like that to a toxic person! Healing a toxic friendship (or moving on from one) requires:
- Calm, honest, conversation.
- A willingness to see a therapist if needed.
- Re-establishing of personal boundaries and agreements.
- Genuine apologies for actions or words that have harmed in the past.
- Inner work from both people.
If your attempts are unsuccessful, it’s okay to lovingly part ways, wish each other well, and keep some distance between you. Some relationships aren’t meant to be Forever; they fit us at one point in our lives and no longer fit us later on. That’s normal, and there’s no need to have hard feelings.
Fortunately, genuine friends are always willing to work things out because – well – they’re healthy!!
The all-women team at Women’s Health Associates values our honest, trusting, and healthy relationships with patients. Are you looking for an OB/GYN with which you can be yourself? Schedule your next women’s wellness exam with Women’s Health Associates.