Characteristic #5 of a Healthy Relationship

5. Each person can live without the other.

I think that this should be rephrased to, “each person can survive without the other.”

I know I’ve harped on this time and again, but I am a firm believer in each person, especially women, depending on absolutely no one else for their happiness or survival. Each person should be able to live without the other financially, emotionally, and physically. Depending on a person for your very own life and survival is not only co-dependent, but it’s not healthy. If you’re depending on another person to provide everything to you, then you start to lose a little bit of yourself. Slowly you lose your own identity, to the point of defining yourself by the other person’s existance.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a full believer that biblically, a man should be the head of the household and the provider, but I also have adopted some feminist views that women should be able to earn their portion of the income and provide as well. As a woman, having that financial stability, that feeling of, “I made this money, I’m contributing to this household,” is a feeling of security within yourself. As long as I’m living on this earth, really, I am all I can depend on for my financial and even physical survival.

Depending on another person for our survival is dangerous. We’re all human. There is a time to be born and a time to die. And if, God forbid, you’re so dependent on someone and something were to happen to them, what would you have? How would you live? This is not to say that “you better provide a living in case your spouse dies,” but it’s definitely been something that has gone through my head. I think, “If I were not have this person tomorrow, for whatever reason, could I survive?” If the answer is no, then there’s a problem.

I’ve explained earlier that I used to be extremely emotionally unhealthy. I was a constant worrier. I was always anxious about the smallest things. I never thought things would work out for me. And I was convinced that if I ever got serious with someone, that one of two things would happen: they would leave me or they would die. I know, it sounds absolutely ridiculous, doesn’t it?! I had justified that in my mind to the point of living and breathing by that philosophy, no matter how crazy of an idea it sounds. (You can laugh, because I am while I’m typing this!) I guess essentially those two things have the possibility of happening, but they’re not likely. And that’s certainly no reason to not be in a relationship in case, at some point, the person dies or leaves. But, let’s say that is true. Which it could be, because all things are possible. If it is true, and I’m left without this person, could I live without them?

Saying, “I can’t live without you,” is something I hear a lot of people say when they’re in love. I totally and completely agree with that statement, that when you’re really in love that’s how you feel, but I feel like at the same time, it is a hyperbole. I’d like it to mean more of, “I can physically survive without you, but I’m miserable without you in my life.” I did it for seven months–lived my life without my boyfriend who I was so, so in love with. It hurt so bad. I was miserable. I could physically “live” without him, sure, but my heart literally hurt. I was an absolute wreck without him in my life. Not talking to, seeing, texting, or anything with him for seven whole months was absolute torture. But, congratulations to us, within that separation we realized how much we love each other and couldn’t be without the other.

So, now, I’m focusing on getting to that point where I’m able to provide for myself, comfortably. That point where I’m in a stable career, making decent money enough to live off of, and I have my own insurance policies and brokerage accounts. Once I feel like I’ve made it on my own, then I can think about merging what I have created for myself with the person I love. That way, I’ve proved that I can make it on my own. I can live without him. I can survive on my own. But I sure as hell can’t be without his love.

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Characteristic #4 of a Healthy Relationship

4. Each person must have a separate identity.

Holy freaking cow.

How I love this one. So, so, so incredibly much.

And how I feel that this one is probably the least achieved by people in relationships, and probably the one to most easily justify and deny. “Of course we have separate identities!” Really? Define yourself without using the other person’s name.

Okay, so I’m a little heated and bitter about this characteristic. But I truly believe that this is crucial to a relationship. It’s so easy to become almost obsessed in a new relationship. Once again, everything is new, everything is exciting, and you have that high being around each other. While I believe that eventually wears off, how a person begins to define themselves after it all settles down is critical. Each person needs to like being around the other person, but also needs to find enjoyment outside of the relationship. (another characteristic to be mentioned, actually. Stay tuned.)

When two people start dating, what usually draws people together is the attraction each one has to the other person. Why? Because that person is different. That person has qualities that the other doesn’t have, perhaps, and that’s what they like. That’s the attraction point. Now, if the two people essentially mold into one person, defining themselves only by the other, where’s the relationship? There’s no separate identity because one person simply defines their existence by another person. (I know this may sound crazy, but I know so many people who fall into this trap during every single relationship they get into! It’s almost heartbreaking for me to watch.)

How do you know you have a separate identity from the other person? Let’s break down the words “separate” and “identity” and see what we have. (definitions from from dictionary.com)

[separate] verb: to set apart, dissociate, disconnect. adjective: distinct; unique; existed or maintained independently.

[identity] noun: the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another.

So, we set ourselves apart from another. We are distinct. We are unique. And we are maintained independently. We do not, do not, DO NOT define ourselves and our existence in life by the other person. You can easily be in love with someone and still define yourself as who you are, not who you are because of that person. You enjoy things that don’t involve the other person–such as an independent hobby you do on your own time. I enjoy making collages out of cut-up Vogue magazines on canvases. I enjoy writing in this blog or hand-writing in my journal. I also enjoy turning on Sade and lighting dozens of candles and taking a long bubble bath when I have absolutely no where to be. Sex and the City would call this “secret single behavior.”

Set yourself apart. Find happiness in things outside of your relationship. And please, please do not let someone else define you. Believe me, you are just as amazing without that person. That’s what attracted them to you, after all.

What’s your secret single behavior? That is, things that you love doing when you’re alone? And how do you define who you are?

Characteristic #3 of a Healthy Relationship

3. They are dynamic and evolving.

I really like this characteristic. Although this seems like an obvious one, I think it’s often a characteristic that a lot of people don’t realize or take seriously enough.

Relationships are always so exciting in the beginning. It’s a fresh start. It’s a new person. It’s someone new for us to learn more about and for them to learn more about us. We do new things that this person likes, we try new experiences with this person. Hardly anyone fights because again, like I mentioned in the first characteristic, everyone puts their best foot forward in the beginning. Gosh, new relationships can be so exciting.

Then, after a few months, you may start to fight or disagree. Putting your best foot forward is quite exhausting, to say the least, and is impossible to front for an entire relationship. (Unless, of course, you have someone who ends the relationship when the “newness” wears off, probably because they’re addicted to that “high” in the beginning of a relationship) So, sometimes after this “honeymoon” period is over, the relationship begins to get comfortable. Sometimes it hits a plateau. You know so much about the person, you’ve developed a routine, and things are just, well, easy in the sense that it’s secure.  No relationship can stay in that beginning stage forever. They all reach a point when that “high” wears off. This where the dynamic and evolving characteristic becomes so important.

The relationship should always be changing, for the good. You should be learning more and more about the person every day. What sets them off, what they like, don’t like, and how you can show them that you care in a way that they understand (also known as a “love language”). The people involved should want to try to make the relationship evolve into something bigger and better than it was the day before. I don’t think you ever stop learning about a person, even after years and decades of marriage. There’s always something to do to keep the romance there and to keep the relationship from going “stale” because of getting too comfortable or lazy.

And of course, the relationship should always be changing, becoming better, and evolving for the good of those involved and for the relationship itself.

Characteristic #2 of a Healthy Relationship

2. Change is brought about by changing ourselves, not the other!

When my professor was writing this characteristic on the laminate beaming onto the white sheet at the front of the classroom through the overhead projector, she had first written:

“Change is brought about by: insisting the the other person changes–NO! Changing ourselves, not the other!”

A common misconception people have in relationships is that we can change the other person. I know I’ve thought it plenty of times myself in previous relationships. One person may be disrespectful to another. One person may say hurtful things to another more often than not. One person may be needy or clingy to the point of driving the other person absolutely crazy. And for some reason, a lot of people think that they can change the other person. Or, they can “make” them change. Unfortunately the only person responsible for our actions is ourselves. Oh how I wish I could have controlled some people’s actions in my past, but I can’t. At the end of the day, only I am responsible for me, and the other person is responsible for themselves.

It’s a hard thing to accept, when you’re faced with a challenge in a relationship where someone is doing something to make you upset, to make the relationship difficult, or whatever the case may be. It’s hard to accept that all you can do is try to communicate your frustrations to the person and tell them politely how they can help fix the situation. It’s almost like thinking, “okay, if this person really cares about me and the relationship, all I can do is tell them how I feel and hope that they change.” After you’ve expressed your “side of the story” so to speak, it’s really up to them to decide how they will act from that point.

Then comes the hard part that all of us stubborn, strong-willed people cannot stand to hear. The other person needs to communicate with ME and tell ME what I’m doing to hurt them or the relationship. (It’s literally like nails on a chalkboard, isn’t it?!) One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter if I am intentionally doing something to hurt someone, make them upset, or put stress on the relationship–all that really matters is that the other person feels some sort of negative emotion based on MY actions and therefore, I MUST change. But, at the same time, there is no way anyone can know they’re upsetting someone else (or whatever the case may be) unless they communicate it. Once it’s communicated, my thought at that point is: if the person and their feelings means anything at all to me, I will change. So hard to hear, so hard to admit, and so hard to do, believe me. It’s how we are as humans. Criticism and being told we’re wrong or hurting someone is never an easy conversation.

But it’s necessary.

All we can do is communicate with each other, tell each other point blank what the other person can  do to change, and then control OUR actions of OURSELVES. Because it’s true, we really cannot change another person.

Characteristic #1 of a Healthy Relationship

1. They are challenging.

I remember when my professor started this lecture and she named this as the first characteristic. I don’t think any of us were expecting this characteristic to show up so soon on the list, but the reaction from the class when she said this was a, “oh yes,” with lots of head nods and mmhmm’s equally escaping the lips of boys and girls.

This characteristic is the foundation of all relationships. It is the given factor in any relationship that quite honestly, a lot of people do not want to admit. Whenever we enter a relationship, whether that’s a friendship, working relationship, a dating relationship, or even just acquaintance, each person is “putting their best foot forward.” Whether both parties are doing subconciously or consciously, whether they like it or not, people are always, always on their best behavior in the beginning of a relationship. A person may not know that the other tends to lie a lot, or that the person doesn’t do well under stress, or that they are difficult to get along with if things don’t go their way. Why? No one would dare let a new relationship be ruined or spoiled by their not-so-compatible qualities. So of course the relationship can appear to be perfect. Both people involved can be thinking, “we’ll never fight,” or “we get along so well.” To think that way in a new relationship is normal, but it is absolutely one of the most unreal expectations someone could ever have for a relationship.

There is not a single person in this world that will never experience a negative emotion in their life. There are also no perfect people in the world. Everyone has their flaws, everyone has things about them that will annoy someone else. No two people are the same. And when two people are put into a relationship (no matter the level of intimacy), they will face challenges together. They will annoy each other. They will be challenged. Their relationship’s core will be shaken at one point or another. And that’s when it becomes so important to have that strong foundation that isn’t based on superficially believing the other person is perfect, or basing your relationship on material objects or obsession. Having a relationship that has a firm foundation is what allows for it to stand the tests that these challenges will give the relationship.

And if there’s one thing I’m sure of: if you’re in a relationship with someone and you’re not facing a challenge right now, just wait. Because one is coming.

Characteristics of Healthy Relationships Series Introduction

In college, I majored in Interpersonal/Organizational Communication. When I was in my junior year, I took a class focused solely on interpersonal communication. This class might as well have been a relationship class because a lot of what we discussed was how to communicate in relationships and the communication between men and women (which is quite a fascinating topic to study, I found). One of the chapters we discussed from our textbook was titled, “intimate relationships.” In my notes, the first section is titled “Characteristics of Healthy Relationships.” I know I’ve touched on these sometime in the past, typically just in a list form, but now I am going to start a series where each post will contain one out of 18 characteristics as described in my notes. I happen to agree strongly with a lot of these characteristics and will go deep into my personal thoughts on each one. Remember, not everyone has to agree with me or what I’m saying, because these are just my opinions and personal narratives of why I believe these should never be taken lightly in any relationship.

Stay tuned for part 1, the first characteristic that is undeniable: “healthy relationships are challenging.”