Relationships are a vital component of our lives and play an integral role in our health and wellbeing. They lift us up, bring us joy, and allow us to grow and learn about ourselves. Everyone deserves relationships that are healthy, positive, and safe. Although all relationships are different, there are a few key elements that contribute to overall healthy relationships.
Trust is a foundational building block of relationships because it allows you to be open and vulnerable without the fear of needing to protect yourself. Trust in a relationship is the act of placing confidence in your partner, feeling a sense of security and loyalty, and creating a safe space for each other.
Trust is something that must be built over time. It is important not to jump too quickly into a relationship without the time to develop foundational things like trust. Building trust is a two-way street as it is important to equally trust and be trusted. This requires a shared effort and commitment to understand each other’s expectations regarding trust.
A lack of trust can create many problems within a relationship, such as isolation, negative impacts on mental health, and it can even be an indicator of an unhealthy or abusive relationship. There are several warning signs to look out for that may indicate a lack of trust, including:
- Asking for evidence to support information such as where you were or why you were late.
- Using technology to monitor activities, such as installing tracking apps, checking your phone, or demanding you share passwords.
- Feelings of jealousy or insecurity when you interact with other people.
At their core, healthy relationships are built on respect – respect for both the other person, as well as respect for yourself and your own boundaries. Respect means that there is an equal playing field in the relationship, where you value each other’s feelings and needs. Both partners are in a balance of power and control regarding decision making within the relationship, and both can set forward boundaries that make them feel comfortable.
In addition to the importance of respecting your partner in a relationship, it’s also important to respect yourself. Whether you’re single, in a committed relationship, or married, self-respect is key in building and maintaining healthy relationships with people throughout your life. A large component of self-respect are boundaries. Boundaries ultimately define how you would like to be treated by others and help to honour what is comfortable and healthy for you in a relationship. Communication is key to creating boundaries that are understood and respected. Boundaries can also change over time, but it’s important to keep the lines of communication open when they do.
If your partner is making unhealthy boundaries rooted in control, jealousy, the desire to harm or they continually overstep your boundaries, it might be a sign that the relationship is unhealthy. Additionally, a lack of boundaries can create an unhealthy attachment style that can lead co-dependency in a relationship.
Everyone deserves to be respected, and boundaries play an integral role in creating healthy relationships that respect your needs, goals, feelings and values.
Feeling safe in a relationship is essential. Oftentimes when the topic of safety comes up within the context of relationships, your mind may first jump to physical safety. However, there are several elements that contribute to safety within a relationship including physical, emotional, physiological, sexual, spiritual, and financial safety. In a healthy relationship, all elements of safety are met – not just one or two. What feels safe can vary from person to person, so is important to take time to reflect on what safety looks and feels like to you and then communicate this to your partner.
There are several types of abuse and common indicators to look for in a relationship including:
- Physical abuse: hitting, kicking, slapping, choking, punching, hair pulling, shoving, and physically restraining.
- Emotional/Psychological abuse: belittling, constant criticism or putting down, making threats.
- Sexual abuse: unwanted touching, forced sex, degrading sexual comments.
- Spiritual abuse: not allowing a person to practice their religion, not able to go to church.
- Financial abuse: controlling finances, unreasonable expectation of goods for funds provided, and the denial of funds to purchases necessities such as food and medication.
If you are experiencing any of these in your relationship, please reach out to get help.
Communication is another key element in any strong relationship. As you may have noticed, communication also plays an integral role in trust, respect, setting boundaries, and safety. Partners must be able to speak openly about their feelings and things that are important to them. When something is bothering or upsetting you, you should feel safe to communicate with your partner without fear or judgement, and have the other person listen and understand.
When arguments arise, partners should be able to talk through the issue in a respectful way, taking into consideration both of their needs to negotiate a healthy outcome. Many fights occur due to miscommunication or a lack of communication. Being able to communicate well in a relationship is fundamental to problem solving and ensuring your partner understands what you’re thinking and feeling.
There are several things you can do to improve your communication in a relationship, including:
- Recognizing that communication styles can vary and effective communication with your partner will come from acknowledging this and learning how you both communicate.
- Clarifying what you mean and asking for clarification from the other person to prevent any miscommunication.
- Being aware of non-verbal communication, including awareness of tone, volume, posture, facial expression, and body language.
- Remembering that one of the most important communication skills is active listening.
5. Asking for help
Everyone deserves to be in a safe, healthy, and loving relationship. If you are concerned that your relationship has become unhealthy, the first step is recognizing it and getting the help you deserve.
Many people experiencing unhealthy or abusive relationships will first turn to someone they know for help. These individuals are referred to as natural or informal supports and they can be a great starting point in addition to turning to professional service providers. Asking for help can sometimes make people feel uneasy because they’re concerned, they will be a burden to their friend or family member. However, it is important to remember that usually people are willing to provide help. If a person in your life is experiencing an unhealthy relationship, you would want them to reach out to you for help, and that feeling goes both ways. When looking for natural supports, identify people you have safe relationships with who you feel you can talk openly to and will have your back. However, it is important to recognize the limitations of the person you’re asking for help and accept supports that can help you with your needs.
If you do not have access to natural supports, please know there are many resources and agencies ready to offer support that can be contacted by calling 211. You can also visit the Get Help section on our website to learn more about resources available in Calgary. The Family Violence Info Line is available 24/7 at 310-1818 in more than 170 languages from anywhere in Alberta. You may also contact the Calgary Police Service by calling the non-emergency line at 403-266-1234, or 9-1-1 if you are in immediate danger.
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