What is a healthy relationship, anyway?
Triune Therapy Group
“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 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||Supressing 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 joy and pleasure|
Borg, M. B., Brenner, G. H., & Berry, D. (2015). Irrelationship: 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.