Characteristic #12 of a Healthy Relationship

12. Both talk and demonstrate care and concern for each other.

Disclaimer: I am not a relationship expert, doctor, or counselor. This is a review of a class I took in college. Please read the series introduction for further background.

If you’re in a relationship with someone, it’s almost a given that you care deeply for that person and are concerned about their well-being and happiness. After all, that is why we are in a relationship, right?

This characteristic is what deep companionship means to me–having a deep relationship that is not only based on trust and honesty, but also knowing that there is someone that cares for you and is concerned about your happiness and safety. We can say that we feel this for the other person all day long, but do we act like it in a way that demonstrates it to the other person?

It actually worked out that I held out on this post for as long as I did, because a great example of this happened to me just last night actually. My boyfriend and I were at a restaurant in my neighborhood where we frequent almost every week for trivia. We are there so much, and sometimes even bring Cal, that we have made some friends and now have formed a trivia team with them. Both couples are all attorneys so naturally, they fit the stereotype of being loud, argumentative, and never wrong. One of the questions that we got wrong last time we were all together for trivia was a true or false question, and it supposedly cost us placing third overall that evening.

Magic Johnson is a member of the NBA Hall of Fame.

If you know my boyfriend, you know that he is, in a word, obsessed with all-things basketball. He lives and breathes by that game and knows every team, every coach, and every player by heart. So of course he knew the answer to this question right off the bat. “False! There is no NBA hall of fame.”

Well, it turned out that the host had a different answer in mind. True, he is a member of this alleged “NBA Hall of Fame.” So, last night, he started talking about it with one of the lawyers, trying to explain that there is one hall of fame for basketball and that is the Naismith Hall of Fame. It’s basketball as a whole–no separate “halls” for NCAA or NBA… they are all together. So yes, Magic Johnson is in the Naismith, but not the “NBA Hall” because that doesn’t exist. He pulled out documentation on his phone and had her read it and she was absolutely adamant that there was an NBA hall of fame and that he was wrong. She wouldn’t listen to him and kept shooting down everything he said. I could see the frustration on his face and read his body language, and I felt like he was upset with her not wanting to listen or even say something unheard of, like “you’re right, I agree with you.” My heart sank for Ryan as he gave up on trying to convince her. I told him that I of course believed him and agreed that the question was poorly worded.

After we left, I told him that it upsets me to see him feel upset, or defeated even. If he is upset, I am upset because I care deeply for him. He told me not to be upset because he didn’t care about it, but it was more of a situation of a strong-willed girl (and attorney) not wanting to back down and admit she’s wrong. He said he didn’t take it personally, but I certainly did because I could see it on his face. Maybe it’s different for men since they don’t internalize as we do as women, but I certainly felt hurt last night and I didn’t even add one word to the conversation.

How do you demonstrate care and concern for your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend?

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Characteristic #11 of a Healthy Relationship

11. Equality

Third post in a row! I’m on a roll! PS: I am not a relationship expert, doctor, or counselor. This is a review of a class I took in college. Please read the series introduction for further background.

The 11th characteristic of a healthy relationship is simply one word: equality. This one word holds so much weight in any relationship. To me, equality means that each person within the relationship is seen as equal to the other. No person means more, or less, to another in the relationship. They are each the same to each other. Their feelings matter the same to one another (which should actually matter a lot!). And they are on the same team, so to speak.

This is something that my boyfriend and I are currently working on in our relationship. It’s no secret to him or my family that I can get defensive during an argument or disagreement (no matter the cause or subject matter) and then it becomes almost like a battle between each of us standing our ground and being stubborn together. Not to mention my typical feeling during a disagreement–feeling as if it’s me against the world, or so I’m told. So, with all of these personality traits combined, our disagreements turn into a battle. Once we both get over it and apologize to each other, I have found myself saying more than once, “We are supposed to be a team. Not against each other, but with each other.” We don’t disagree or argue often, but when we do, it’s upsetting to me that I automatically go into defense mode and cause an even worse fight.

So, with that said, equality is something we are working on, big time. We need to see each other as part of the same team. We need to not view each other as battle opponents or in the “versus” one another mode, but with each other. And though I am strong-willed (again, not a surprise to those that know me), I have to remember that as the man, he will become to head of the household and I still have to submit to him as my husband.

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:24)

Further, the Bible also points out how a man should treat his wife.

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life. (1 Peter 3:7)

A relationship contains two people. Two people with different personalities. Two people that were brought up differently. Two people with different feelings. And two people who should be thought of as equal to one another. Neither person is more important than the other, nor are the feelings of one person less than that of the other.

Do you think your relationship has equality? Why or why not?

Characteristic #10 of a Healthy Relationship

10. Keep the romance alive.

I’m happy that I am posting the tenth characteristic today, because I have had this draft sitting in my “to be published” file since January 31 of this year. Let’s see if I can keep this up and finish this series by the end of next week!

Characteristic #10 of a healthy relationship says to “keep the romance alive.” This is actually a more difficult task than people think, as more time passes while in the relationship. Of course, it’s easy to do romantic gestures in the beginning of a relationship when you’re both on that “high” of a new relationship that’s unknown and exciting. But what about after years and decades pass? Are you still feeling that tug on your heart when that person walks into the same room as you? I feel as if a lot of couples I know that have been together (or even married) for a long time would answer that with a “no.” You just get so used to the person, and they’re always around, that perhaps that feeling just sort of… fades.

But then you have the few couples who have been married since their late teens and have two grown daughters (one of which is married herself) and the husband says in front of an entire youth group that he still gets giddy when his wife walks into the same room. Even when I heard that man say that when I was 15 years old, it was so very apparent that he still keeps the romance alive. He still does those out-of-the-ordinary gestures for her when she leasts expects it and tells everyone that she is just as beautiful as she was the day they met. (If this couple or their children are reading this, please know that I truly admire your marriage and relationship!)

And “keeping the romance alive” doesn’t just refer to the men in the relationship doing all of the “romantic” gestures–women can do it, too! This goes back to what I’ve mentioned in nearly every characteristic for one reason or another–the love languages. Of course most women love to be surprised with flowers for no reason, or a phone call just to say “I love you” or whatever it may be, but men appreciate “romantic” gestures as well. Although I don’t think a man would appreciate flowers being delivered to their office as much as a woman would, they still appreciate something in the form of their love language. Maybe a night off of doing the dishes after dinner, or helping out with raking leaves in the fall. (Both are examples of the “acts of service” love language which is in fact, my father’s) Whatever their love language is, do something that will communicate to them that you love them. Do something that’s romantic not so much to you, but also to them.

What do you do to keep the romance alive in your relationship and/or marriage? (Or if you don’t usually do anything, what will you do next to restore the romance?) 

Characteristic #9 of a Healthy Relationship

9. There is fun and playfulness.

This post has been sitting as a “draft” on this blog since January. I actually had comments from people that actually indicated that they read and enjoyed this series, but yet I stopped less than halfway through. I guess I had a break-through of ideas sometime in January that cause the screeching halt of these posts. Now, I am in another drought so I will continue this series because it is something that I enjoy discussing.

Back to the ninth characteristic. “There is fun and playfulness.” The first thing that came to my mind when learning this characteristic in the classroom was that scene from the movie “The Notebook” when Allie’s parents tell her she can no longer see Noah and that he is “trash, trash, not for [her.]”

You don’t know anything about love. You don’t look at Daddy the way I look at Noah. You don’t touch or laugh. You don’t play. You don’t know anything about love.

I tried to find the clip of this scene online, but to no avail, this exact scene was nowhere to be found. I’m sure many of you have seen this movie and can hear Allie’s overly-dramatic voice as she cried through this conversation with her parents. But what’s so significant about this scene is the correlation it has with the characteristic of keeping fun and playfulness of the relationship.

How can we define fun and playfulness in a relationship? Well, for starters, Allie defines it in her harsh words to her parents. The verbs she says are, “look, laugh, touch, and play.”
While this may seem like a childish thing to do, it actually makes sense to me when looking at it from a religious standpoint as well.

As Christians, we are called to have that “child-like faith” that is mentioned in the Bible. Having a child-like faith is trusting God the same way a child would trust his or her parents (among many other characteristics). What do young children represent? They represent purity in the sense that they haven’t been “contaminated” or “exposed” to the ways of the world. They represent an innocence that only a child can have… an innocence that allows them to view the world without the disasters such as war, murder, or earthquakes. They are just… innocent.

So in having a child-like faith, we can also have a child-like relationship. A relationship that is completely trustworthy and allows us to act as if we have not been hurt before. (When was the last time a child was reluctant to trust a parent, for instance? They always do, from the start, and they don’t know otherwise) At the same time, our relationships, however big or small, allow for so much fun and playfulness. And to keep that alive in a relationship, keeps us in that child-like mindset that can be good for us.

Characteristic #8 of a Healthy Relationship

8. There is proactive maintenance.

Let’s start by breaking down the two key words in this characteristic. Proactive maintenance. What do each of these words define?

Proactive as an adjective, by definition, says, “tending to initiate change rather than reacting to events.”¹ I like this definition because it gives the alternative. Instead of saying what it is, it also states what it isn’t. Being proactive is NOT reacting to a situation, it’s doing something to prevent a bad situation from happening.

Maintenance as a noun is defined as, “means of upkeep, support, or subsistence; livelihood.”² This is the one definition that does not use the word “maintain” to define it. (Using the word to define the word is useless and tells me nothing)

If the definitions of “proactive” and “maintenance” are combined, then we can conclude that within a relationship, we need to initiate change by means of upkeep and support instead of waiting for the bad things to happen to initiate where we need to change. All for the livelihood of the relationship. (I feel like I’m writing an algebra equation lecture)

This is difficult because when things are good in any relationship, it’s easy to cruise through life with no “maintenance.” And most people like “easy” in relationships. (In fact, don’t we all?) But what’s “hard,” and what could cause a few ripples, is being proactive about maintaining the dynamics of the relationship.

Examples of proactive maintenance? Communication.

* If you’re a member of 20-something bloggers, feel free to vote for me in the annual Bootleg Awards. I’ve been nominated for “best student life blogger” (or, should be want-to-be-student-life). Voting is here.

 

¹ PROACTIVE. Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/PROACTIVE(accessed: January 20, 2011).

² maintenance. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc.http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/maintenance (accessed: January 20, 2011).

Characteristic #7 of a Healthy Relationship

7. There is self-responsibility with one’s own happiness.

(Furthermore, the characteristic also states, “you don’t blame the other person for your misery.”)

I asked a few people what they thought this characteristic meant to them.

A 31-year-old, single male stated, ‘You cannot rely on the other person to make you happy, because you will never be happy as a result and you will put blame of the relationship’s lack of success on the other person failing to make you happy. The opposite sex can assist in happiness creation, but cannot be the sole reason for it.’

A 22-year-old, married female said, ‘Even though we are meant to be reliant on each other in relationships, we should not be dependent on the other for our source of joy and satisfaction. If a relationship is too clingy, the potential for extreme hurt is greatly increased.’

I think that this one goes hand-in-hand with the previous characteristics described here and here. We cannot expect our personal happiness, satisfaction, or mood to lie in the actions of the other person. This is difficult, though, when the other person may mean so much to us.

I’ll admit, if my boyfriend is upset, it does make me upset. If someone who I care about is upset over something, I tend to take on their feelings and feel upset along with them. This is a good characteristic and also a bad one, I’m finding. I have extreme empathy for people and that often dictates my own happiness as well. It amazes me how people can make a whole profession out of listening to other people’s misery and trying to help them. I’d come home every day feeling so upset for these people! I’m currently trying to learn the balance between feeling sympathetic and empathetic.

I think that this characteristic has a lot to do with another one I have not yet discussed, which I’m quite frankly surprised is not at the top of the list. This characteristic is, “each person must find fulfillment outside of the relationship.” We need to be able to find happiness outside of the happiness we may feel with the other person. It’s okay if my boyfriend plays basketball a few times week instead of seeing me. It’s okay if he takes his annual snowboarding trip with his friends and I don’t go. In fact, I told him on his last trip (which was actually last week), that I encourage him to go, even though I’ll miss him. Keeping the characteristics of a healthy relationship in mind, I said, “it’s actually really healthy for our relationship.”

Easier said than done though, I think. We often want to be with that person all the time. They can start to mean so much to us that we don’t know how we’ll ever make it apart. One person can start to dictate our every thought and action. We can start to credit them when we feel happiness. Of course, the person  continues to exist in our lives because they make us happy, but at the end of the day, we must remember that WE are in control of our happiness. WE make a choice to be happy from day-to-day. No one can control our actions and what we do except for ourselves!

Characteristic #6 of a Healthy Relationship

6. There is open communication about the relationship.

While this characteristic may seem one of the easiest and most obvious, it’s actually one of the hardest to maintain and probably the most denied characteristic there is. “Of course we communicate!”

Having open communication about the relationship means sharing thoughts, feelings, and even disappointments with the other person. One thing I’ve learned the hard way: no one is a mind reader. We cannot assume that the other person ever knows how we’re feeling or what we’re thinking unless we communicate it to them. Not only should we communicate it, but we should communicate it clearly. No dancing around the truth, no being vague, no being generic. We must assume that the other person has no idea what we’re talking about and therefore must communicate it that way.

For some reason, in my experience, I’ve found that men are nearly impossible at communicating when it comes to feelings or thoughts. They don’t want details. They don’t want emotions. They want it as it is with as many details spared as possible. It has been a constant project with my current boyfriend ever since we first started dating. Getting him to communicate and tell me things was like trying to push him down a flight of stairs. But, I can say that after a year and a half of working, he communicates effectively with me. (Not totally effective all the time, but for the most part he does) One time I asked him why he was telling me how he felt about something (which he rarely does), and he said, “Because you told me to communicate everything with you!” Oops. I ate my words.

If something is bothering you, tell the person. If the person hurt you, tell them. If the person offended you, tell them. If the person made you happy, tell them. If you liked something they did to or for you, tell them. COMMUNICATE thoughts. COMMUNICATE feelings.

Otherwise you’ll become two ships passing in the night.