Here are 18 things I wish I knew decades ago about healthy relationships.
1) Fanastising and being attracted to other people is normal.
YEP, I said it. I went there. You don’t need to beat yourself up if it ever happens to you. It doesn’t make you any less committed, any less in love, or any less respectful to your partner. Unless you are in fact not being committed, or respectful, or you are not in love with your partner of course. Only you know this. ON THE WHOLE THOUGH, totally normal thing to happen (especially in a long-term relationship) so you can stop feeling bad about it or thinking there is something wrong in your relationship. The difference is, in a healthy happy relationship, you don’t act on it unless you have a relationship that is nonmonogamous and you are both happy and agreed on that relationship dynamic. The thing to know is some people fantasize about others and some people don’t. Neither is wrong or more enlightened than the other. We are just all different in that way. I know some people are really gonna get their back up about this one and well, that kinda shaming and judgment towards people is why people don’t talk about it. They suppress it (cause it’s often not safe to admit it) and well that doesn’t work. If it did, infidelity wouldn’t be so high. We often say we want authenticity, but the truth is most people only want it if it doesn’t make them feel insecure or go against their beliefs and how things ‘should’ be according to them. I truly believe infidelity would not be so high if people could talk about this without fearing the raft of their partner or society. Rigid thinking is very convenient and it tends to hurt more than it helps. Also, I wanna make it very clear – I am not excusing when someone crosses a relationship boundary. I’m saying there is usually a lot more going on than is convenient to look at and accept. Rigid thinking is easy coz then we don’t have to look at how our thinking and how our beliefs and expectations might not be so enlightened, healthy, loving, or ‘right’ after all.
2) Your trauma shows up in your relationships and at some point (if you’d like healthy relationships) you have to face it.
Facing it doesn’t mean you have to talk about it (although many find that very helpful and also many don’t) – no, it means you acknowledge it’s showing up and face it in whatever way aligns for you. What you don’t address from your past lingers and impacts all your relationships. Your insecurities, wounds, past traumas, and fears come hella knocking in your relationships. And, FYI it’s way more than your attachment style.
3) Time is not a magic pill.
To follow on from the last one. You don’t need time. Okay so that’s not a complete truth, sometimes you absolutely do, but time doesn’t always heal. It’s not some magic trick. Sometimes what we actually need is the skills to process, accept and move beyond our trauma. We also need skills and tools so we can learn healthy ways of showing up in relationships after trauma. And, if trauma was caused in the relationship then they’ll need to be changes made for trust to be built and for repair to happen.
4) Under all your desires, fears and insecurities are needs.
You are worthy of getting them met. There are, of course, healthy are unhealthy ways to go about getting them met. Understanding your needs and not denying your humanness (the fact that you do actually have needs that go way before the obvious food and water etc, but emotional needs too) and learning to meet them in healthy ways is a game-changer for yourself, your well-being, and your relationships.
5) Great relationships don’t just happen. They are a skillset.
Like learning to communicate well, mindfulness, how to have healthy boundaries, emotionally regulate, etc etc.
6) No relationship that ends is a failure.
You always learn something. Sometimes its ending is a success although it can really just feel shit. It meant you were brave enough to end something that you knew was no longer aligned or healthy for you. Or if someone ended it with you, know that you didn’t fail. And whilst it may feel like that, that’s normal and valid to feel like that, again you didn’t fail. Some things don’t last and that’s hard. It’s important that we don’t make it mean something about ourselves that it doesn’t actually mean. Like somehow we are……not lovable, enough….insert the stories we tell about ourselves when things don’t work out as we would have hoped. These stories that we tell ourselves are simply not true.
Sidenote: also failure isn’t a dirty word. I think we’d all do well to own our ‘failures’ rather than instead make them mean something about ourselves and separate the two – to isolate the event from our innate worthiness and lovability. To our ego, it can definitely feel like something was a failure. So let’s own that so we can process it. Own that ‘failure’ is simply a part of being human and by ‘failure’ (coz I don’t really believe in it, it’s just a human concept, although, to the human us, it’s a VERY VERY real thing). So when I say failure I mean something not going as we would have hoped. The more we talk about it and not make it a dirty or taboo thing and validate to us it really feels like a failure/ is a failure to us, the more we can extract the lessons and allow ourselves to be fully human and process it.
7) You didn’t get into the next relationship too quickly.
Okay, sometimes people need to be on their own for a while and sometimes we enter another relationship quickly. It happens. This is often demonized in society. Truthfully though, there is no magic timeline. There is no one way that’s better than the other – no time is too long or too short, that’s simply society stigma. Sometimes we need to be on our own for a while to process things. Other times we find ourselves in another relationship and whilst it might be quicker than we planned it to be, we truthfully only learn about relationships and our patterns by being in them. There is no right way.
8) People do change (sometimes).
People just like you, fuck up and make mistakes. Everyone does at times. Nobody is so enlightened they never make mistakes or get things wrong. People DO change and some well, DON’T. What really matters is the overall pattern, not perfectionism. Only you can decide what you are and are not available for. Only you can honor that. If you wait for people to change then you hurt yourself. If someone says they are gonna change then the action will speak volumes for them. The big question to ask yourself is do their words and actions match? Now, nobody’s words and actions match all the time (if it does they probs hella stressed trying to maintain that coz stuff comes up), but on the whole, and for the most part, their words and actions need to match for trust to be built.
Things happen, and life throws curveballs, and we don’t need perfectionistic crap coz that hurts us all so we have to go one step further. Overall what is the pattern? See it’s easy for words and actions to match in the short term but what about over a longer period? Do their words have weight in general and overall? Do most of the time their words and actions match? Or are they simply just words and a week or a month (or insert a timeline here if there is a pattern) are you back to the same crap that hurt you before? Pay attention. Coz, if so then they most probably aren’t gonna change. Sometimes we fall for potential rather than reality and that will usually kick our arse. In the same respect, having such rigid expectations and perfectionist standards that we never allow people to be human is not good for anyone. So again, the overall pattern is where it’s at. And, also, people who honor the agreed relationship boundaries. You are not asking for too much here. That’s the bare minimum in a healthy relationship.
9) A healthy sense of entitlement is a must.
Both a lack of entitlement and rampant entitlement create unhealthy relationships. Not feeling enough often means we don’t feel worthy of asking for what we want, then we struggle to receive it and we end up putting up with all kinds of crap. On the other end of the scale if we are so rampantly entitled then we expect from others without attuning to if that’s actually in their best interests. We can become ignorant and think we know best when really we can never truly know what’s best for another. People who are rampantly entitled also expect from others whilst they are being complacent as fuck and put virtually no effort into the relationship. I bet you can think of someone who just expects from others and feels very entitled to get whatever they want.
10) You have to learn to fight clean.
Conflict is inevitable and healthy (if you have a past of trauma you might avoid it like the plague coz you learned it was unsafe and thus you avoid confrontation at all costs. Which in essence costs you greatly – as hard conversations are required for healthy mature relationships).
Fighting clean means conflict without insulting, shaming, or hurting each other. Without putting the other down. Often people when feeling activated say or do all kinds of hurtful things. Not cool and yet human when we haven’t learned to fight clean. Take a breather and come back when you are regulated enough to not say something that you know will hurt the other (or that you’ll regret later). This includes not using snarky remarks or passive-aggressive comments. This requires a level of emotional maturity. Something many don’t have when they are feeling big feelings. Emotional regulation work is therefore called for or it will hurt your relationships.
11) Boundaries and good communication matters.
No healthy relationships exist without them.
12) Emotional regulation is a game-changer.
Back to point 10. Learn how to do it. It takes effort and it doesn’t happen overnight, but it will positively impact all areas of your life. Trauma work is usually key for this.
13) Accountability matters.
If you mess up, own it. Quickly. Most things can be repaired if we have enough humility to say “I was wrong” and if we can get out of the mindset we are always right or justified. And, if again our words have weight. If we actually change our behavior and the ways we show up. If we don’t keep repeating the action that hurt. If we actually learn from it.
14) If it’s not active, then it’s not loving.
Love is active. Not passive. Words without action quickly become just that, words. You can’t be complacent and expect amazing relationships. An effort is required. Put it this way. Have you ever felt really loved and appreciated by someone who puts in zero effort? Nah, me neither.
15) You have to honor your capacity.
You can’t give what you don’t have. You not taking care of yourself, doesn’t serve anyone. You taking care of yourself does however serve you and your relationships. Or shall I say it serves those relationships that want you well. If people benefit from your lack of taking care of yourself pay attention. Sometimes we have to choose better for ourselves and walk away from people who are benefiting from our self-neglect.
16) A loving attitude and appreciation will do more for your relationships than you’ll ever know.
It sounds obvious but people often forget to show a loving attitude to those they love or to show active appreciation. It goes a HELLA long way.
17) Compromise is overrated and often leads to resentment.
I know right. This one is tooted a lot AND it’s not as lovely as it sounds. Sometimes, yes, absolutely. Context applies. Most of the time though, it would make a LOT more sense if we instead learned how to create relationships built on a genuine win-win for both parties. Which is something most of us weren’t taught how to do. Again, it’s a skill set that can be learned.
18) Not all manipulation is the same and we all have ‘red’ flags.
Some forms of manipulation are abuse. Learn the difference. See, humans manipulate all the time without realising. People pleasing is a form of manipulation, for example (your trying to control how someone views you), only it’s seen as kind in society. It’s not though. It is something we learned to do to survive and it hurts us and creates inauthentic relationships which then sets us up to have lose-lose relationships. The more you see the ways you and all humans at times manipulate without demonising it and learn the difference between what is emotional/physical abuse and what is simply someone’s unhealthy way they learned to cope/do relationships the better.
Nearly all behavior and how we communicate is about trying to meet our needs that we are often not even aware of (coz consciously or unconsciously your ego will try to meet its needs, it can’t not – hello people pleasing, lack of boundaries, or violating someones) and this is what creates ‘red flags’ or unhealthy dynamics. The more you realise we all have our conditioning and we all have things that we do that are sometimes, not the healthiest then the more we can actually change it and create healthy relationships. The more we see it, create self-awareness and admit it the better. WE’D ALL BENEFIT FROM THAT. All humans have things they do that aren’t the healthiest when they are feeling activated. This is because fight-and-flight responses aren’t designed to be healthy or rational but to keep you alive which means everyone at times will do unhealthy shit when they feel dysregulated and every human gets dysregulated at times. There is a big difference between that and someone who is literally a ‘red flag’ or abusive. Also, if someone’s unhealthy dynamics are hurting you, even if they don’t mean to, it’s okay and essential to put boundaries in place (or walk away). Just because you understand why someone is the way they are, it doesn’t mean that you have to tolerate it. In fact, it often doesn’t serve anyone to do so. You can only support them to the degree that honors your limits and capacity or you are not actually helping – you are enabling unhealthy dynamics, and in doing that you’ll never have a healthy relationship. One of the most loving gifts you can give someone is to honor your boundaries.
It Did Do Harm – An open Letter to Grandparents & Those With Adult Children
(Blog post on generational trauma)