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Healthy Relationships: Friendship and Marriage

Each of us exists in relationship to others. We connect in different ways to our colleagues, neighbors, casual acquaintances, friends, family members, and life partners. Some people enjoy having a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, while others prefer to maintain close relationships with just a few important people. Healthy relationships in all parts of our lives contribute to our emotional and physical well being.

Healthy relationships provide us with the emotional support that we need to grow, to handle challenges we face, and to heal from losses and frustrations. Beyond emotional well being, evidence also suggests that people with a strong network of caring friends and family members actually live longer! Friendships and other close relationships bring us the joy of sharing our experiences, thoughts, and feelings with others. They offer us the chance to reveal our true selves to other human beings, knowing that we will be loved and accepted for who we are.

Defining a Healthy Relationship

In a healthy relationship, both people like, respect, and trust each other. They accept each other for who they are, including the ways that they change and grow over time. Both people in a healthy relationship feel free to express their emotions and experiences.

Tips for Developing and Maintaining Healthy Relationships

  1. Be patient when you are developing a new relationship. Every relationship takes time to deepen.
  2. Pay attention. Listen to your own feelings when you are developing a new relationship. Be aware of the other person’s body language and responses to you. If you know that you and the other person are comfortable and you both enjoy spending time together, you will feel more confident in deepening the relationship.
  3. Strive for balance. Both people in a relationship should give and receive. Neither person should “use” the other one. We’re not talking about everything being exactly even, but if you look at the big picture, make sure there is balance.
  4. Communicate. Take time to share your experiences, thoughts, and feelings. If something about the relationship is bothering you, clearly express your feelings to your friend or partner. Listen openly to what they have to say.
  5. Work on your own self-esteem. When you feel good about yourself, other people will be more interested in spending time with you. This doesn’t mean that you have to be happy and confident all the time. However, your relationships will be healthier when you can accept and love yourself instead of relying on the acceptance of other people.
  6. Spend some time alone. Even best friends or lovers need some time alone. Your relationship will be healthier and more enjoyable if both people have their own interests and activities and take time for themselves.

Marriage/Romantic Relationships

The tips listed above for developing and maintaining healthy relationships are also useful guidelines for marriage and/or other serious romantic relationships. In fact, marriages are often most successful when they are based in a deep and respectful friendship. In addition to this foundation, there are a number of other factors that contribute to a successful marriage.

First, it is helpful for both partners to have compatible sexual expectations. Sexual intimacy can be a source of joy and can help strengthen a marriage if it is a positive experience for both partners. It is very important to communicate openly about expectations and experiences. Second, marriages are more successful when both partners are clear about the roles they expect each person to play within the marriage and when they share common visions and goals for the future.

As with any relationship, it is important for life partners to maintain boundaries. While they may act as a unit in many parts of their lives, it is essential for both partners to maintain individuality.

Do not expect your marriage to be perfect; neither you or your partner is perfect. Disappointments are inevitable. Honest communication and the ability to forgive mistakes are vital to a lasting relationship.

Marriages change over time. It takes work to maintain a healthy relationship. When problems arise, don’t ignore them, hoping they will go away. Instead, talk openly and honestly with your partner; avoid accusations and blame. As you try to work out problems, be patient; problem solving often requires more than one attempt. Sometimes couples counseling can offer the objective viewpoint you need to resolve problems you cannot.

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