A Realistic ‘Happily Ever After’: Healthy Love
“Love can be healthy”.
When I said this to my friend the other day, they laughed - probably the biggest laugh I’ve ever heard from them. But it wasn’t a joke- love doesn’t have to be toxic, hurtful, and physically or emotionally damaging. Many of us have dealt with such harmful relationships, and oftentimes have put up with unhealthy behaviour for a variety of reasons including normalising bad treatment, insecurities, self-blame, and pressure from others. The truth is that everybody deserves a healthy relationship where they feel respected and loved. A relationship doesn’t have to be perfect or flawless to be healthy, and even the term ‘healthy relationship’ can vary from person to person depending upon personal preferences, beliefs and upbringing.
Healthy relationships revolve around respect; for boundaries (physically and emotionally), privacy, space, and for each other’s goals, needs and choices. You should never feel pressured to do or say anything, and have the freedom and ability to set your own limits - and your partner should listen to your voice. Additionally, your partner doesn’t have to know every single thing about you and your life, and you don’t have to spend all of the time you have with them. Healthy relationships are well described as ‘interdependent’, where you rely on each other for mutual support but still maintain your identity as a unique individual. Spending time with your own friends, doing your own work, and going about life as just yourself, a separate entity with your own choices, without having to worry about or face any consequences is incredibly important to feel respected in a relationship. A partner who truly loves you will want to see you happy, encouraging you to spend time with people you love and do things that fulfil you, and you should do the same for them!
Another facet of healthy relationships is communication. Expressing opinions, concerns, and thoughts should feel comfortable, rather than pressurised or made to seem invalid, unimportant or wrong. Communication ties back to respect - your partner shouldn’t disrespect anything that you have communicated with them, be it boundaries or emotions. It is also important in order to establish each other’s intentions and desires with the relationship, to get both sides on the same page and build the relationship accordingly. Playing question-based games like ‘We’re not really strangers’ can help ease tensions and build better communication skills even beyond the game setting.
Communication also ties into trust. Having conversations with your partner about anything that makes you uncomfortable or uneasy is an important step to build a relationship where you feel safe and secure. Open communication also means giving your partner all sides of you: the highs and lows, the successes and failures, and everything in between. Even with different perspectives or opinions, your partner should be someone who you feel comfortable confiding in, who will continue to support you and listen to you without making you feel inadequate or incorrect. Different couples have different levels of disclosure and openness, while it is easy for some to open up, it can be extremely challenging for others due to different attachment styles. Working through trust issues and miscommunication, which isn’t a linear process, over time and as a team helps to strengthen the bond and security. I myself find it very difficult to open up to others, my boyfriend included. However, making the conscious effort to be more open and trying to express my thoughts has helped us feel more connected and understand each other more.
In the times where it's easy to feel incorrect, or like the other side is incorrect, it's important to resolve conflicts with honesty, open conversation and respect. An argument doesn’t mean the relationship is unhealthy; disagreements and frustration are part of the relationship rollercoaster. What matters is the means through which you work through the difficult times, where compromise, teamwork, judgement-free or unbiased listening can go a long way. Rather than a debate, my boyfriend and I try to engage in a dialogue, where each of us takes turns speaking for extended durations without interruption while the other makes an effort to empathise.
Relationships are often a big part of our lives, and what goes on in our relationships can greatly influence our emotions and behaviour. Thus, when relationships are unhealthy, including controlling behaviour, constant criticism, pressure to do or say something, inability to have separate lives, or invasion of one’s space or privacy, it can have a much greater impact on our lives than we may realise at the moment. Looking back at any unhealthy relationships and pointing out red flags can become much easier after a rollercoaster of a healing journey. Noticing some of these red flags, whether it is lack of respect, accelerating the pace of the relationship beyond your comfort level, spending too little or excessive time together, feeling negative emotions around them or feeling fear of expressing yourself, is an important step towards setting your own boundaries and moulding healthier relationships. Sometimes, seeking external or professional help may be beneficial, both for yourself or for your relationship, in order to uncover aspects of yourself, feel more comfortable in your own presence, or to address interpersonal and relationship difficulties.
Please keep in mind that in some abusive relationships, trying to enforce boundaries, honest communication, trust, and other healthy behaviours could put your safety at risk. If you feel like someone is disrespecting you or is being abusive, do try and seek help using some of the resources below. You’re not alone.
Love can be healthy, and love should be healthy. You deserve to have relationships where you, your choices and your boundaries are respected, where you feel comfortable, valued and safe, and where you are treated with love.