You do not get into a relationship hoping it will be unhealthy, but you may not be intentional enough to work for a healthy relationship. Healthy relationships rarely happen without having certain goals and mutually agreed upon standards for the relationship. Healthy relationships need people with healthy identities, who want certain characteristics of their relationship, and who will agree upon and maintain boundaries.
Healthy vs Unhealthy Identity
You get many messages from society regarding what you should value and what you should be like. Choosing which messages to believe and internalize affects your identity. Women hear that their appearance is what really matters (skinny, sexy, beautiful), that they need a man to be happy, that men are basically dogs that need to be tamed, and as a woman you better have your act together. Men hear that they need to be tough, athletic, that boys will be boys when it comes to sex, and money is what really matters. Internalizing these messages leads to an unhealthy identity.
A healthy identity is based on God’s message to you. You are created in the image of God to have a relationship with God and to care for the world and others as God’s representative. Through God’s son, Jesus, you are given access to a relationship with God and the responsibility to be God’s representative. Therefore, you can have mutually respectful relationships, reach for positive goals, use your powers to help others, and enjoy life without having to use alcohol or have a lot of money. What are you basing your image on, the world’s message or God’s?
Characteristics of Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships
Unhealthy relationships are characterized by self-centeredness, abuse (physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, and withholding of care), lack of trust, lack of respect, secrecy, poor communication, an unforgiving spirit, and poor boundaries. Healthy relationships are characterized interdependence, trust, respect, open communication, honesty, healthy intimacy, forgiveness, and mutually agreed upon boundaries. Reviewing the list, you will unlikely find any of your relationships perfectly meeting the list of healthy characteristics. Perfection is not the goal, but progress. Are you and the other person willing to progress towards a healthy relationship? Are there more characteristics of the relationship being healthy than unhealthy? Are you settling on a partner because you think you don’t deserve better or cannot find another? What would God want for your relationship, for it to be improved, continued, or stopped?
Healthy relationships have positive mutually agreed upon boundaries. A boundary is like a fence in a yard. A fence protects what is valuable (keeps people out and valuables in like a child or pet), shows others where your property starts and stops, and they are not easily moved. Personal boundaries are designed to protect and honor important parts of our lives. They are created to clarify what are acceptable and unacceptable behaviors from others. If your goal is for sexual purity, then set boundaries. If you are single and on a date, mutually agree to not be alone in an apartment or bedroom together. If you’re married, your boundary could be to never be alone with the opposite sex unless you are related. Boundaries only help if you set them in advance and communicate them with others.
Hope Clinic’s prevention team aims to counsel and educate clients and the public about healthy relationships. While this article was not exhaustive on choosing and maintaining healthy relationships, we want you to know that we are here for you. We provide confidential consultation, individual counseling, relationship accountability, off-site group discussions, and other services. If you would like us to help you in one or more of your relationship(s), please contact us.
Patrick Hamilton, M.Div.
Male Prevention Coordinator,