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Healthy Relationships

Maintaining any healthy relationship with another person begins with having a healthy relationship with oneself. By Joy Mikles

What does it mean to be in a healthy relationship these days? We are a part of a culture that labels everything and nothing all at once. We use acronyms such as “FWB,” “IRL,” “BAE,” “LDR” and “BFF” to title how we relate to another.

At the same time, we use terms like “talking” and “just friends” to downplay relationships or to protect ourselves from heartache. We check a person’s relationship status or social media account to find a myriad of information about said person. Then we use that information to tell ourselves stories about the individual: “He’s not relationship material,” “She’s out of my league,” “She’s not worth the work” or “He’s toxic.”  

All the while, we fail to look inward. 

Maintaining any healthy relationship with another person begins with having a healthy relationship with oneself.  The better we know ourselves, take ownership of our thought patterns, emotions and behaviors, the more fully and freely we will be able to show up authentically in all our relationships.

How To Maintain Relationships

The hardest part in navigating any relationship is learning how to fight well. 

Fighting is an inevitable part of life and yet, most of us hate it. On top of that, hardly any of us fight well or fair. During an argument, a person may have gotten triggered; a deep-seated wound, a false belief about oneself or a hurt that hasn’t healed has gotten activated. Once a person is triggered, their defense mechanisms kick in. Their brain is flooded with cortisol, and the pre-frontal cortex (decision-making, rational) part of the brain has stopped being in control; the reptilian brain has taken over, instructing a person to institute the fight-or-flight instinct. In a blink of an eye, the once rational, self-controlled, calm, lovely, enjoyable version of this person is gone and instead the person who is now appearing is throwing verbal daggers and looking to hurt the one with whom they’re arguing. 

So, the question we ask is how do we stop the pattern? How do we keep from getting triggered? This is the beginning of the process to maintaining healthy relationships. How do we protect old wounds from getting poked? How do we not utilize defense mechanisms? How do we stop the fight before it starts? 

We do hard work.  

The first step in breaking this cycle and learning to fight fair is identifying what my triggers are. What are my old wounds? What are the false narratives I am believing about myself? What are the hurts I’m carrying? When I went into fight or flight mode, what was showing up within me that got hurt? Once you’ve identified those triggers, it is time to begin to sit with them. This step is so uncomfortable that many never even begin this good work. Coming face to face with these wounds is delicate, brave work.  

Give yourself grace and space to consider what they are. When did this wound first happen? How old were you? How did it feel when it first happened? What did you do then to protect yourself from feeling the wound? What are you doing now to keep from feeling the wound? Are they the same thing? Are you putting a band-aid over the wound? If so, what can you do differently? 

Once you’ve identified the wound, reflect how you would like to see it healed. Is there a negative belief you have? How can you replace it with a positive belief? What steps can you take to learn to care for yourself around said  wound? Learning this and taking the steps to heal them are the first and biggest steps to maintaining healthy relationships.  

Once you have begun to identify your triggers and clean up your dirty thinking around those triggers, the next step is to take ownership of your feelings in your relationships. Most people have a really difficult time with this step. Most of us believe that we already take ownership of our feelings and believe we are feeling them and because we are feeling them, we own them. False. We also tend to believe that we were made to feel our feelings by someone else. Individuals often say, “He made me so mad” or “She made me want to hit something.” These statements aren’t true. No one can make another person feel anything. Most readers are disagreeing with that statement, even now. Yes, other people can do and say some stupid things that brush up against our hurts, wounds, triggers and sensibilities. However, we can choose our feelings. If our emotions are contingent on someone else “making” us feel something, we never get to choose; that isn’t fully living. Our best option, then, is to take back the ownership of our feelings. We get to say to ourselves and others, “I feel,” and then fill in the blank.  “I feel angry.” “I feel hurt.” “I feel sad.” This is part of learning to break the cycle of an ugly argument. Once we have taken care of our wounds and our hurts by recognizing them and healing them, we can own our feelings. 

Stating and owning our feelings gives me the resource I need to then identify what I need. Do I need an apology? Do I need connection? Do I need help? Do I need alone time? Once we identify our feelings, we are so much more able to stop the cycle of negativity in an argument and better get our needs met.  

Take Care of Yourself 

Learning how to effectively care for yourself is the beginning of the work we do to have healthy relationships with oneself and others. If a person hasn’t yet done this work, it can affect their relationships. If a person has a wound that sounds like “I’m unwanted,” “I’m unworthy” or “nobody loves me,” that person continues to believe said narrative in new relationships. To reframe the narrative and have healthy relationships, we must stop expecting other people to fix us and start empowering ourselves to care for, nurture, love, support and heal. And it is in this journey, in learning to love, heal and care for ourselves that we can then have proper expectations of others.

for further study

If, as you’ve been reading, you have realized you have old wounds which are keeping you stuck and keeping you from being able to have the kind of relationships you want, please consider reaching out to a therapist. There is so much benefit in caring for your own needs and learning how to care for yourself. Beginning the good work of healing is always worth it.


Joy works in the mental health field practicing Marriage and Family Therapy as well as working for the Bay Ridge Brooklyn Salvation Army Corps. She longs to live at the intersection of faith and mental health by providing teaching, counseling and hope to those of us experiencing brokenness. Joy currently resides in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, two incredible children and their grandpa dog. 

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