How can you tell if you are in a healthy relationship? I work with clients every day to try and answer this question, and it is always a hard question to answer. It’s hard to answer because it is different for every person, for every relationship.
Clients often come to me asking if their relationship is “normal,” “healthy,” if they are “supposed to be doing this,” or if they “should be doing that.” I continually tell people that although I understand the questions and ask them myself, those questions are a waste of our time.
The important question is “does it work for you?” Clients ask, “Is it normal to have sex only once a month?” I answer, “do you want more sex? Less sex? Is it working for you that way?” Clients ask, “should I spend so much time alone, or should I be out with my friends more?” I answer, “Do you like your time alone, or are you lonely? Do you want to be more social?” It is not about someone else’s idea of normal; it’s about what feels right to you. There is no one right answer.
Our culture of comparison makes it very confusing for us to trust our instincts about what feels right. It is hard to identify and believe in our own authenticity. We are so saturated with messages of how things should be, how you should be acting, what you should be doing, that people are in a constant state of anxiety about what they are doing wrong. This applies to relationships as much as any other area of our lives. We feel depressed or anxious if we think that we are not as good as others.
Another way we lose track of ourselves is in working so hard to please others. Sometimes there are people in our lives who want us to fit into a mold that they have made for us, rather than seeing us as we are. We find ourselves struggling to fit their mold, to make them like us or make them happy, to meet their needs. That leaves us empty and drained and often leads to a toxic or unsatisfying relationship.
In a healthy relationship, you feel like you can be yourself. You can express your wants and needs, your thoughts and feelings. You can compromise, sometimes getting what you want and sometimes giving to the other person. You can set clear boundaries, knowing and clearly communicating when things are ok and when things are not ok with you.
Wonderful relationships are those in which you feel like yourself. You feel loved for that genuine self. Of course, the first step is actually knowing yourself and trusting that knowledge. Only then can you share that with another person. The next step is taking the risk to share that genuine self with another. And that is always scary because rejection is so painful.
Healthy relationships, therefore, require insight and courage. And that is hard work, not for the faint of heart. Yet the payoff of being loved for who you are, just as you are, is unmatched!