I was chatting with a friend yesterday about relationships, and we kept arguing and talking past each other about what characterizes a healthy relationship and what signifies a problem. We agreed that respect was a key component — both receiving it and knowing that you deserve it. You'd think that would be a given, but unfortunately, I can say that I've been in a series of relationships where there was a lack of basic respect — from both parties. This is not a pattern I'm interested in perpetuating.
So, as I struggled to point out what I thought characterized respect in a relationship, my friend kept redirecting me, pointing out that the things I was mentioning were just ordinary things that any responsible adult would do, and were not particularly indicative of respect, per se. I suddenly was at a total loss. Did I even know what respect really was, and how that looked in a relationship? I mean, it's pretty obvious when something is wrong in a relationship, but how do you know when things are right?
A little quick research revealed some helpful guidelines.
In a healthy relationship, you:
• Treat each other with respect
• Feel secure and comfortable
• Are not violent with each other
• Can resolve conflicts satisfactorily
• Enjoy the time you spend together
• Support one another
• Take interest in one another's lives: health, family, work, etc.
• Have privacy in the relationship
• Can trust each other
• Are each sexual by choice
• Communicate clearly and openly
• Have letters, phone calls, and e-mail that are your own
• Make healthy decisions about alcohol or other drugs
• Encourage other friendships
• Are honest about your past and present sexual activity if the relationship is intimate
• Know that most people in your life are happy about the relationship
• Have more good times in the relationship than bad
In an unhealthy relationship, one or both of you:
• Try to control or manipulate the other
• Make the other feel bad about her-/himself
• Ridicule or call names
• Dictate how the other dresses
• Do not make time for each other
• Criticize the other's friends
• Are afraid of the other's temper
• Discourage the other from being close with anyone else
• Ignore each other when one is speaking
• Are overly possessive or get jealous about ordinary behavior
• Criticize or support others in criticizing people with your gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or other personal attribute
• Control the other's money or other resources (e.g., car)
• Harm or threaten to harm children, family, pets, or objects of personal value
• Push, grab, hit, punch, or throw objects
• Use physical force or threats to prevent the other from leaving
This is my new bottom line list for all of my relationships — family, friends and my lover. There have been times when I have not shown respect in relationships, so I'm not pointing any fingers. I am willing to do the work necessary to examine my own behavior and additudes. I can only worry about today, how I will choose to respect those I am in relationship with, and how I will not accept less than the same respect shown to me. It's actually shocking to me that I had to research this, because my relationships have been so dysfunctional, I couldn't even come up with some basic hallmarks of respect. Sigh.
Today I choose to both give and receive respect. Nothing less will do.
The good news is, with a little work from both of us, my partner and I have a great shot at having the healthy relationship that both of us deserve.