What is a healthy relationship, anyway?

What is a healthy relationship, anyway?

Triune Therapy Group

Silhouette of couple holding hands at sunset. Healthy relationship Los Angeles, CA.

“What is a healthy relationship, anyway?” Karen asked the question in earnest as she plopped down onto the couch in my office. Having sought treatment due to her inability to achieve an orgasm with a partner, many of our sessions focused on unraveling the intricacies of her relationships with men. One relationship, in particular, dominated the forefront of discourse as it was in a never-ending start and stop the cycle, and its intensity upended Karen’s world. She didn’t know why she kept in contact with Dan. He wasn’t her “forever person,” but some invisible force was binding her to him and she could not walk away. Their connection was “stale,” and their only shared interest was “making a ton of money.” Karen knew she had to let him go, but every time she ended things, he’d pop back up in her life a few months later like clockwork. When asked why she answered his calls, Karen replied, “I feel bad. He loves me.” He pined for her, worshipped her, and went INSANE without her. “What do you get out of it?” I asked. She looked at me, dumbfounded. “I don’t know!” One tear escaped her eye. Her eyes revealed the vulnerability of her five-year-old self, a young girl who grew up taking care of everyone around her and rarely had the caregiving returned. “Why? Why would I waste 5 years on a man I don’t love?” Her bottom lip quivered. “Is this why I can’t have an orgasm?”

Karen’s story is not unique. Round and round the relationship cycle we go, often mistaking the intensity of the ups and downs for intimacy while replicating the relational models of our early years. Many people do not have a template for healthy intimacy. Below, you will find ten common comparisons between healthy and unhealthy intimacy that can help to begin examining the health of their relationships.

Healthy Intimacy Unhealthy Intimacy
Freely giving because you care about the other person instead of expecting anything in return Only giving in order to get something in return
Taking care of oneself and having healthy self-esteem independent of one’s relationship Neglecting oneself in order to take care of one’s partner
Accepting the other person wholeheartedly Wanting the other to change who they are in order to conform to one’s own needs and wants
Trusting each other and being honest with each other Lying and keeping secrets
Respecting one another’s boundaries Being overly needy, clingy, or intrusive
Honoring each other’s privacy, protecting dark areas of sacred matters from others Exposing one’s partner’s intimate thrust or weakness and perhaps even mocking them
Maintaining autonomy Giving up one’s friends or outside interests for one’s partner
Being able to authentically express oneself without the fear of consequences Suppressing feelings or opinions out of fear that the other person will not be able to handle it, get angry, or punish
Transform conflict into restoration, using the upsets to get to know the other person more intimately, gaining insight into how the other partner can be served much better, and growing together Yelling, emotional abuse, or physical violence during conflict
Being fun and playful Lack of joy and pleasure

Borg, M. B., Brenner, G. H., & Berry, D. (2015). Interrelationship: How We Use Dysfunctional Relationships to Hide From Intimacy. Las Vegas: Central Recovery Press.

Carnes, P., & Moriarity, J. (1997). Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred. Center City (Minn.): Hazelden.