Healthy relationships have been shown to increase our happiness, improve health and reduce stress. Studies show that people with healthy relationships have more happiness and less stress. There are basic ways to make relationships healthy, even though each relationship is different. These tips apply to all kinds of relationships: friendships, work and family relationships, and romantic partnerships.
1. Keep expectations realistic. No one can be everything we might want them to be. Healthy relationships mean accepting people as they are and not trying to change them.
2. Talk with each other. It can't be said enough: communication is essential to healthy relationships.
- Take the time. Really be there.
- Genuinely listen. Do not interrupt or plan what you’re going to say next. Try to fully understand their perspective.
- Ask questions. Show you are interested. Ask about their experiences, feelings, opinions, and interests.
- Share information. Studies show that sharing information helps relationships begin. Let people know who you are, but don’t overwhelm with too much personal information too soon.
3. Be flexible. It is natural to feel uneasy about changes. Healthy relationships allow for change and growth.
4. Take care of yourself, too. Healthy relationships are mutual, with room for both people’s needs.
5. Be dependable. If you make plans with someone, follow through. If you take on a responsibility, complete it. Healthy relationships are trustworthy.
6. Fight fair. Most relationships have some conflict. It only means you disagree about something; it does not have to mean you don't like each other.
- Cool down before talking. The conversation will be more productive if you have it when your emotions have cooled off a little, so you don’t say something you may regret later.
- Use “I statements.” Share how you feel and what you want without assigning blame or motives. E.g. “When you don’t call me, I start to feel like you don’t care about me” vs. “You never call me when you’re away. I guess I’m the only one who cares about this relationship.”
- Keep your language clear and specific. Try to factually describe behavior that you are upset with, avoiding criticism and judgment. Attack the problem, not the person.
- Focus on the current issue. The conversation is likely to get bogged down if you pile on everything that bothers you. Avoid using “always” and “never” language and address one issue at a time.
- Take responsibility for mistakes. Apologize if you have done something wrong; it goes a long way toward setting things right again.
- Recognize some problems are not easily solved. Not all differences or difficulties can be resolved. You are different people, and your values, beliefs, habits, and personality may not always be in alignment. Communication goes a long way toward helping you understand each other and address concerns, but some things are deeply rooted and may not change significantly. It is important to figure out for yourself what you can accept, or when a relationship is no longer healthy for you.
7. Be affirming. According to relationship researcher John Gottman, happy couples have a ratio of 5 positive interactions or feelings for every 1 negative interaction or feeling. Express warmth and affection!
8. Keep your life balanced. Other people help make our lives satisfying but they cannot meet every need. Find what interests you and become involved. Healthy relationships have room for outside activities.
9. It’s a process. It might look like everyone on campus is confident and connected, but most people share concerns about fitting in and getting along with others. It takes time to meet people and get to know them. Healthy relationships can be learned and practiced, and keep getting better.
10. Be yourself! It's much easier and more fun to be authentic than to pretend to be something or someone else. Healthy relationships are made of real people.
Adapted from Kansas State University (2006) and the Peer Advocates of Sexual Respect at Amherst College (2007).