Relationships:  The Primary Source of Growth

Healthy relationships bring out the best in people. Meaningful relationships provide a sense of belonging and add richness, intensity, and stimulation to our daily life. Whether relating with family members, friends, intimate partners, or colleagues, the quality of our interactions with others affects our psychological health and growth.

The quality of our relationships affects our lives in many ways, including our self-esteem, our ability to handle stress, and our productivity at work and in school. While safe and supportive relationships can positively affect psychological and physical functioning, relationships that are unsafe, threatening, or abusive can have negative consequences for our mental and physical health. A lack of safety and stability in relationships can lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, sleep problems, headaches, ulcers, gastrointestinal problems, and other stress-related symptoms. Furthermore, true closeness, intimacy, and honesty cannot occur in relationships that feel unsafe.

When there are problems in relationships, counseling can help in a number of ways.

What do Healthy Relationships Feel Like?

• “I feel safe and valued emotionally, intellectually, and physically.”
• “My partner and I are genuinely interested in each other and enjoy being together.”
• “Even when we get snippy, impatient, or angry with each other, I still feel respected.”
• “We eventually find ways to resolve arguments.”
• “We trust each other.”
• “We accept each other and don’t try to change each other.”
• “I continue to learn more about myself and my partner in this relationship.”
• “We make real efforts to change when we realize we have hurt each other.”

Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

• Keeping secrets is easier/safer than being open about true thoughts/feelings
• Not trying to get along with each other’s friends and family
• Often feeling unimportant, drained, numb, and isolated
• Going against personal values or rights to please the other person
• Punishing or ‘guilt-tripping’ each other

Basic Rights and Responsibilities in Relationships

• Emotional support and encouragement
• Courtesy and consideration
• A right to own and express views, values, and opinions that differ from those of your partner
• To have your feelings and experiences acknowledged as valid and real
• Sincere apologies for jokes or statements that you find to be offensive
• Clear and informative answers to questions that legitimately concern you
• Freedom from accusation and blame
• To receive difficult or challenging feedback without labeling, name-calling, insult, or judgment
• Speaking about each other’s work and interests with respect
• Freedom from physical outbursts, threats and rage
• To equally share control of decisions in the relationship and to be respectfully asked rather than ordered.
• To maintain contact and closeness in other important relationships without guilt or punishment
• To have autonomy to be in activities independent of each other and to have privacy.

Myths About Healthy Relationships

• “We should always be happy.”
• “We should automatically know what the other person needs.”
• “If we love & care about each other, we’ll never have conflict, tension, hurt, or disappointment”
• “Good relationships don’t require effort to be satisfying and successful.”
• “We are always aware of our behavior, motives, and impact on each other.”
• “My past relationships have nothing to do with how I behave now.”
• “It should never be hard to share myself honestly and be vulnerable.”

How Counseling Can Help Relationships

• Improve self and other-awareness
• Target behaviors that can be changed
• Set realistic and achievable goals
• Learn how you impact others
• Honestly evaluate motivations, needs, and priorities
• Develop effective communication and conflict resolution skills
• Learn to deal with intense emotions in healthy ways
• Think more flexibly and consider new options for behaving and interacting
• Learn how past relationship patterns impact your current relationship

Resources

These and other books on self-help and personal growth topics are available for check-out at the UTD Student Counseling Center:

The Dance of Connection; How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate, by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D., Harper Collins, 2001.

Stop Blaming, Start Loving: A Solution-Oriented Approach to Improving Your Relationship, by Bill O’Hanlon & Pat Hudson, Norton, 1995.

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What
Matters Most, by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, Viking, 1999.

Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin, by Anne Katherine, M.A., Fireside, 1991.

Keeping the Love You Find: A Guide for Singles, by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., Pocket Books, 1992.

Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Decide Whether to Stay in or Get Out of Your Relationship, by Mira Kirshenbaum, Plume, 1996.