Karin* sits on her sofa, tearfully re-reading text messages and asking herself the same question… “why?” She continues to end up in relationships where her partner is controlling, unappreciative, and disloyal. This is despite doing anything imaginable to make him happy. Her last boyfriend basically drained her savings while continually saying he was working on getting his car dent repair business going. She would go to work every day to earn the money to pay the bills while he worked from home “developing advertizing and networking plans”. Meanwhile, the only thing that seemed to improve was his video game skills. How can people like Karin make different choices and find healthy relationships? These tips can help you improve the quality of various types of relationships, e.g. romantic and friendship.
First, one of the most important things is to have a good relationship with yourself. If you don’t truly value yourself, you may not recognize when you are being treated poorly or you may not know that you deserve better. Having a good relationship with yourself means that you take the time to take care of yourself (not just physically). Set aside time to do things for you, surround yourself with others who value you, and set appropriate boundaries with others. It also means living a life in harmony with your values.
Second, I always encourage those who struggle in this area to come up with a “deal-breakers” list. What are the things you are not willing to live with? What are the things that are traits, etc, that you require? Decide this before you get emotionally involved and your boundaries start to blur… “Well, it’s not that bad.” Yes it is! If you decided in your sane, uninfluenced mind that a certain behavior was unacceptable or a trait was necessary for your well-being, you should stick with it. The less experience you have in life, the harder this list may be to develop. However, if you have had a history of “failed relationships,” you can probably recall things from that experience that will help you get started. Examples include: physical violence, spirituality, and desire to have children. Once you know what your deal-breakers are, use that information to choose who you spend your time with… and who you will be breaking up with.
Finally, pay attention to the evidence. I know my more romantic readers will find this part a little uncomfortable, but hear me out. Think about all of the times you have made a relationship choice (e.g. to become intimate with someone or trust someone with personal information) because it felt right. How many times has that feeling mislead you? This does NOT mean that feelings and attraction don’t matter. It means that you need to supplement them with evidence that the person is who you think they are. This often means moving more slowly in a relationship than you may have done in the past. Pay attention to what a person talks about. Are they telling you personal information about others? That may be a sign that they don’t respect a person’s privacy. Are they telling you deeply personal information right away? While this might seem romantic, it can be a sign that a person struggles with boundaries and jumps into (and out of) relationships quickly.
Karin, mentioned in the outset, called a friend for support and received empathy and encouragement. After having some time to grieve her loss, she sought help for developing relationship skills, and while she found it a challenge to change the way she handles relationships, she gained confidence, skills for setting boundaries, and freedom from unhealthy relationships, She now chooses to spend her time with people who treat her with respect and value her for the amazing person that she is. And, when someone doesn’t treat her the way she deserves to be treated; she kicks ’em to the curb!
*Karin is a fictitious character created to reflect the real life challenges faced by individuals who struggle with healthy relationship skills.
Lillian Hood, LPA, LCAS
Psychologist and Clinical Addictions Specialist
At the Chrysalis Center, I specialize in treating individuals who have trauma, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, eating disorders and addiction. I help those who are working on building self esteem and healthy relationship skills. I also perform psychological evaluations for those seeking to have bariatric surgery. I use evidence-based practices to assist patients in developing skills for successfully facing their unique challenges.
National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors www.naadac.org