Ahhh… healthy relationships. Something we all want, right? Well, in theory, anyway. If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to fall into unhealthy relationships and then forgive the negative or harmful aspects. But isn’t that just being kind and empathetic? Doesn’t every relationship require a certain amount of give and take? Of course! That’s part of our collective human condition – we’re all brimming with flaws flowing through us and, often, bubbling over. The original stream may be our families of origin, our experiences as children at school, past romantic relationships that ended badly, among other things. Whatever the source, our challenges and hurts spring out of us, usually at the worst possible times.
So, what’s the difference between healthy give and take, forgiveness and remorse, and actual unhealthy relationships that leave us stuck and feeling like crap? At the core, the issue is usually the inability to set and respect boundaries. Again, though, if you’re anything like me, it can be difficult to figure out exactly where the proverbial line in the sand belongs. When am I setting a healthy boundary and when am I over-reacting? Am I consistently minimizing and under-reacting for fear of “being a bitch” or over-reacting? How do I even start to hash out which relationships are healthy and which are harmful?
This workbook has some really helpful tools. In the Partial Hospitalization Program, I did one called the “Relationship Report Card.” I found it really helpful in untangling the enmeshments and warped perceptions of “normal” in which I’d been trapped, in some cases, for years. I hope you will see some benefit in it as well. I can’t find a PDF of this, so I’m just going to give an overview. It’s pretty simple and it works for any relationship in your life. (Friendships, coworkers, and, of course, you primary relations – spouse, parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.)
It’s very straight forward: Pick a Person, Any Person – got one? Cool! We’re going to rate their qualities, both positive and negative. For an example, I’m gonna pick my best friend, Cassie (cause she’s awesome and I don’t want this to be a display of an unhealthy relationship in my life – I have plenty, but I’m working on the boundaries and self care there myself.) It’s easy as can be, as long as you answer honestly: if the answer is “yes”, your person gets a point. If it’s “no”, no points. Totals at the end help you assess whether the relationship is actually healthy or not. I’m just going to use “X” for yes, and nothing for “no” for ease of typing.
Here’s mine for Cass:
First, let’s look at positive qualities. Are the following attributes present in your relationship?
- Common Interests? X
- Good Communication? X
- Nurturing? X
- Accepting? X
- Trustworthy? X
- Loyal? X
- Fun to Be With? X
- Romantic? (Obvious, platonic friendships don’t require this category)
- Good Sex? (See above)
- Right Amount of Time Together? X (We both wish it were more, but we definitely make time through visits when possible and phone calls when not.)
- Open, Sharing, Supporting? X
- Appreciative of you? X
- Respectful of your privacy? X
- Shared Responsibilities? X
- Resolves Conflict Fairly? X
Total Points: Cassie gets 13 out of 15 (because we aren’t romantically involved. There’s a joke here that I won’t make, and hopefully Cass won’t either :P)
Now, let’s look at the negative qualities. Same rules – “x” is 1, “blank” is 0. Is this person:
- Do they try to change you?
- Do you feel like you “can’t be you” around them?
- Overly dependent?
- Do they avoid/mishandle conflict?
- Do they violate your privacy?
Total points: 0, because Cassie is literally none of these. (And, no, that’s not just lip service. She’s awesome.)
So, in my example, Cassie scored 13 in the “positive qualities” section and 0 in the “negative qualities”. That’s what we like to call a damn good friend.
This is Cassie and I at our Senior Prom. And we’d already been friends for 6 years before this, so, you can say, we’ve both been there and done that for just about everything.
If you walk through this checklist with your friendships and relationships, and there are far more checks in the “positive” than in the “negative” column, congratulations! That’s very likely a healthy relationship. (Unless you’re fudging the answers.) If the “negative” column is full of x’s, you may need to re-evaluate that relationship and establish firmer boundaries with the person in question, which could mean anything from spending less time together to cutting them completely out of your life.
In addition to helping me sort out the mess of unhealthy relationships in my life, this tool helped me evaluate myself as a friend. Being completely honest, there were a couple of “negatives” I would need to answer “yes” to about me in some relationships. I’m a big fan of avoiding and/or mishandling conflict, for example. And sometimes, I can be dishonest about reasons for cancelling plans out of embarrassment or shame: that said, since doing this for the major relationships in my life, I’ve started to catch these unhealthy habits I have. I’m doing this crazy thing now where, if I’m having a “bad day” (like, anxiety or depression or triggered day), instead of making up some lame ass excuse right before I’m supposed to be meeting up with someone, I’m actually either texting or calling and telling them the truth. Sometimes, that results in those same friends coming over or insisting that I come even if I’m “not the best company” (in cases of depression/no energy – because those fantastic friends are actively trying to prevent me from isolating) or they give me my space, but either way, they know what’s actually going on and I don’t feel like shit for lying to them. Handling conflict is something that comes with lots and lots of practice and persistence. But, within my truly good relationships, I can safely say, “Hey, I’m really bad at handling conflict, but I’m working on it.” And then they also know what’s going on if I’m kind of stuttering my way through a disagreement or, worse, coming on too strong for the situation at hand. (Both have happened.)
So, there ya have it, folks! A handy reference guide to healthy relationships. Obviously, it’s not the end all, be all, but I know sorting out and naming the positives and negatives in my relationships was very helpful to me. I hope you find it useful as well!
Quick aside not related to this post: my Mental Cleanse Challenge goal for today was to play Mario with my daughter. Mission accomplished, but I don’t think I can write a whole post about that, so I’ll just make note of it here.