You were designed with the innate desire to love and to be loved. You were made to do life with other people. Healthy relationships are one of the ways the human race can indulge this longing. Often when hearing the word “relationship,” people assume a romantic relationship, however friendships are significant and important as well.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a relationship as, “the way in which two things are connected.” Relationships are about connection, and human relationships go a step further—they’re about belonging.
It is important to know what a healthy relationship looks like so you can make changes if you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship. Fight for redemption. Fight for goodness. Fight for love. The most important quality of a healthy and thriving relationship is a foundation of love.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 ESV
Even though love is the bedrock of strong relationships, there are other signals that the connection is healthy and thriving.
1. Servant Leadership
“Love does not insist on its own way.” Our innate desires lead us to selfishness and insisting on our own way. In a relationship, there has to be a conscious effort to be a servant leader. Servant leadership shifts vision from an inward focus to an outward focus. It seeks to bless others rather than ourselves. In a healthy relationship both people operate as servant leaders. Both people will make sacrifices to serve each other and both in turn, will be served.
Think about the best gift you’ve ever given. Do you remember the recipient’s reaction and the joy you felt in that moment? You will experience joy like this over and over when you graciously serve others. The more you serve others, the more natural it feels and the easier it becomes. Servant leadership will change your heart as much as, if not more than, it changes the person you are serving.
“Love rejoices with the truth”. Honesty is core to a healthy relationship. To be dishonest in a relationship is one of the most toxic qualities a relationship can have. To be unclear is to be unkind. Living by this phrase has the power to change your life and relationships. The word clear is defined as “easy to perceive, understand, or interpret.” If you make it difficult to perceive what you mean, you are not being kind. If the person you are in a relationship with is unclear, they are not being kind. Open lines of communication are crucial. If someone doesn’t know how you feel, you can’t expect them to change. You have to be honest with yourself and with each other. Learning how to deliver honesty with clarity is a form of art and once you master this, and you both receive clarity well, your relationship will be unstoppable.
3. Healthy Conflict Resolution
We live in a highly confrontational society. Challenging ideas and actions is healthy, however we need to shift our perspective from confrontation to conflict resolution. Confrontation says, “I’m right and you are wrong” whereas conflict resolution says “something isn’t right between us and because I love you and want our relationship to be healthy, I would like to discuss and resolve this conflict.”
The first step to healthy conflict resolution is going directly to the person who the issue is with rather than discussing it with other friends. Next, practice what you are going to say. Think about a time when someone came pointing their finger at something you did. It is likely that you became defensive. Consider moments like this when you approach others. If you can approach the conversation with a willingness to acknowledge any part you played, even if it is miniscule, the person you are addressing will be more willing to listen because you are laying down next to them rather than standing over them. Be direct, be loving, be honest. Work to resolve the conflict.
If the conflict cannot be resolved between the two of you, ask a neutral third party to help mediate the situation. Conflict will always exist in our world, so the quicker you learn how to address it in a healthy way, the sooner your relationships will thrive.
Forgiveness is a key indicator that your relationship is healthy and thriving. In another version of the definition of love from 1 Corinthians, it says love, “keeps no record of wrongs.” Forgiveness is the follow up to conflict resolution and is one of the most powerful things a person can do. Forgiveness does not mean you forget or no longer feel the pain caused by someone or allow them to continue hurting you. Forgiveness says, you don’t owe me anything, I will not seek revenge and I will bless you. Forgiveness is not easy, but it is powerful. You reach a point of maturity when you are able to forgive someone who has not asked for forgiveness. When we hold onto anger, bitterness, or hate, it is crippling. When we experience forgiveness, it allows us to forgive others.
5. Having Fun Together
Part of every relationship is friendship and part of every friendship is laughing together and enjoying each other’s company. Look for creative ways you can enjoy each other’s company. If a long-lasting relationship is the goal, it is important to know how to have fun together. You may have common interests and enjoy the same things, you will also likely each have differing personal interests. When it comes to differing interests, balance is important. The more you love someone the more joy it will bring you to do things they love and enjoy. Choose to have fun—when you decide something is fun, it will be.
6. Moving at a Comfortable Pace
Some people like to cannon-ball into the pool and others like to ease in, one...inch...at...a...time. It is important to have conversations in a relationship to make sure you are moving at a healthy pace for each other’s level of comfort. This is an opportunity to respect each other and serve each other. If someone feels rushed into things, they may pull back or step away completely. Others may move on if the other person is moving at a significantly slower pace. A healthy and thriving relationship acknowledges each other's needs and is patient. Again, this is where communication plays a crucial role.
7. Challenging Each Other
A thriving relationship by definition involves growth and living life together fully. At times, this will require you to challenge each other. Challenging each other results in a healthy outcome when it is done and received in love. Similar to the process for healthy conflict resolution, it helps when you can acknowledge ways you want to grow while encouraging the other person in ways they can grow. If you are complacent and don’t encourage each other to grow, you lose intimacy.
8. Surrounded by Community
Healthy relationships invite others alongside them. Relationships surrounded by community, give each person an outlet outside of the immediate relationship. Community is fun. Community helps you face challenges. Community sticks with you. Community encourages you. Community is there for you when you can’t do it on your own. Community loves you. It is life-giving and makes you better together. Community acts as another voice to observe the health of your relationship. If your community supports your relationship, that is a sign that your relationship is healthy and thriving.
Love “is not arrogant or rude.” If your relationship is marked by humility your relationship is healthy. We live in an ego-centric world. Our ego is often inflated or deflated, meaning we are either puffed up and prideful or we are deflated because our ego has been hurt. Living in true humility allows you to consider others better than yourself. In a relationship, it means you are not seeking acknowledgement for the ways you have loved someone. Humility takes practice and perseverance but it leads to a healthy and thriving relationship.
Servant leadership is lowering yourself to show the other person how important they are to you. Honesty requires humility by caring less about your own comfort and more about the other person knowing the truth. Conflict resolution and forgiveness demonstrate humility when you can acknowledge how you have contributed to a situation even when you’ve been hurt or are irritated.
Having fun together requires humility because sometimes you choose to do something you don’t want to do and choose to find joy in it regardless. Conversations about moving at a comfortable pace require humility because it can be uncomfortable sometimes, but your honesty and acceptance require humility to articulate your emotions. In order to challenge each other in a healthy way, you have to approach the conversation with humility. Surrounding yourself with community acknowledges you can’t do this on your own and that you need others to walk alongside you.
Thankfulness changes your heart. If you feel upset with the person you are in a relationship with, write down the things you are thankful for about them. To take it a step further, share with the person what you wrote about them.
Thankfulness covers a multitude of emotions. Tell people why you are thankful for them. It’s really hard to be bitter or angry towards someone you are thankful for. Be someone marked by thankfulness. If you are thankful, you will experience freedom, you will see the world brighter, and your relationship will thrive. Practice thankfulness by writing down 5 things you are thankful for each day.
Bonus: Love and Respect
According to Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs, men and women both have unique needs that must be met in order for romantic relationships to be healthy. Men need respect and women need love. In his book, Eggerichs introduces the concept of the “Crazy Cycle” with a sentence that sums up the heart of pain for both sexes: “Crying is often a woman’s response to feeling unloved, and anger is often the man’s response to feeling disrespected.” And these aren’t the only common responses. When a woman feels unloved, her response is often to disrespect her mate, and a disrespected man often responds in unloving ways to his partner.
Healthy relationships are places where respect and love exist in abundance, but they’re also places where unique needs are met. Practice these postures with the people you are in relationship with, especially in moments of tension for a healthier, happier relationship.
Everyone wants to be loved. Remember this in your relationships. Relationships are a way we can experience love. You can love someone and not always like them. So remember what love entails and choose to love the person you are in a relationship with even if you don’t like them. Liking someone is temporary, loving someone never ends.