Friday, February 14, 2014

Healthy Happy Valentine's Day

As we observe Valentine’s Day this week, much of society’s attention is directed toward relationships. While the true winners on this occasion are no doubt the florists, card shops, candy stores and jewelers, many people judge the strength of their relationships on the size of their gifts.   In the eyes of some, the size and cost of the gift determine the health and strength of the relationship.  This, however, is not one of the hallmarks (no pun intended) of a healthy relationship.

Relationships, like people, come in all shapes and sizes.  There are romantic relationships, family relationships, friend to friend relationships, workplace relationships……and the list goes on.  When most people talk of relationships they refer to the romantic relationships.  What is a healthy relationship?  Do they truly exist?  How do you make that happen?  As a domestic violence advocate/counselor, I see unhealthy relationships daily.  Sometimes when I talk with victims about healthy relationships, they look at me as if I was talking about unicorns or mermaids. Healthy relationships do exist, but not without effort and commitment.

Healthy relationships require mutual respect, honest and open communication, love and concern for the other person, and lots of hard work.  As I child, I grew up on a farm.  I remember the old farmers saying “Good fences make good neighbors”.  That philosophy applies to good relationships as well; healthy boundaries are also necessary for a successful relationship.  In fact, healthy boundaries may be the most important factor in developing healthy relationships.  Just as the fences kept each farmer’s livestock from infringing on his neighbor’s fields, we set boundaries to establish our personal limits as to the behavior we will accept from other people.  When we set boundaries, it is our responsibility to communicate those limits to the people with whom we interact.  It is important that we take responsibility for our feelings, by using “I feel” and “I think” language, being careful not to be casting blame on our partner.  Each of us has the right to have our own thoughts and feelings without apology to anyone; we also have the responsibility to “own” those thoughts and feelings.  It is also important that we recognize the right of the other person in the relationship to have their own boundaries; indeed, we need to encourage them to do so.  While fences are usually permanent and immovable, boundaries are often more fluid.  They may change a little from situation to situation, or from relationship to relationship, but with a healthy boundary there will be a point where compromise stops.  You may refer to this as your “bubble” or “personal space” but you will learn that you feel happier and more settled when you have established your limits.

A healthy relationship does not mean that everything is always happy or that you will never disagree.  Differences of opinion occur in healthy relationships but they are dealt with from positions of equal power, and handled with respectful discussions.  Sometimes an answer is worked out………sometimes you just agree to disagree.  When communication is open and honest and carried out without fear of repercussions or elements of power and control, it is perfectly acceptable if a couple do not agree on everything.  In fact, the world would be pretty boring if we always agreed.  When you have true love and concern for your partner you always want the best for them and for yourself.  Sometimes, relationships are referred to as a 50-50 proposition.  In reality, they are 100% propositions, with each partner providing some of that 100%.  Rarely is it 50-50.  Quite often it may be 60-40, or 90-10.  But in a caring, healthy relationship, each person will have the opportunity to be the 90 and to be the 10 as circumstances dictate.  Superman only exists in the movies.  In a healthy relationship, each partner gets the chance to be Superman (or woman) and an equal chance to be not so super.

The era of instant communication……..Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc….has added new avenues of communication and new problems to be dealt with.  A friend recently gave me his idea of a healthy relationship………one that has never been mentioned on Facebook.  So on this “holiday” devoted to love, I wish you all healthy and happy ……and Facebook-free……..relationships!  Happy Valentine’s Day!!
Susie Kensil, Shelby County Domestic Violence Coordinator

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“have you talked to a trained domestic violence advocate?"

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