What Is a Healthy Relationship?
It appears to be a simple question—with a thousand answers! It demands clarity: a proper definition of the term “healthy” or what specific class of relationship is being addressed. It may be a child/parent relationship, a husband/wife relationship, a stepfamily relationship, a dating relationship, a friend/family relationship, a boss/employee relationship, and on and on. The answer might vary depending on the developmental stage of the individuals in question.
For example, a parent’s healthy relationship with an infant is going to be defined starkly different from a teenager’s healthy relationship with their stepparent. It’s the kind of question usually answered based on one’s personal experience. Specialists and companies have poured millions of dollars and years of research into producing the perfect answer, and all of the final answers vary from each other. It is, indeed, not a simple question at all.
Whatever healthy relationships are, they require communication. And the dynamics of how communication happens in a healthy relationship have certainly changed over the last century and a half; therefore changing how healthy relationships are formed. For centuries when individuals could not meet face-to-face, common communication was writing letters between individuals or groups. The Word of God was written communication from a writer under the inspiration of the Divine Author addressed to a group of people.
Even I can recall a time when it was fairly common to write letters and mail them to loved ones or romantic interests. Then on March 10, 1876, everything changed with Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone. From that point moving forward, a healthy relationship was not confined to only communication in writing if not face-to-face. Communication could happen by phone so at least a voice could be heard if the person was not present. Many other inventions have come and gone since 1876 to provide venues for healthy relationships to communicate if not directly face-to-face.
Today, the venues of communication have multiplied: phone, voicemail, email, text message, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and so on. In fact, so much effort has been poured into allowing for more venues for communication that relationships aren’t so healthy anymore. A person can now have up to 5,000 friends on Facebook, but he or she may suffer dysfunction at home, awkward social skills when interacting with others in person, and poor grades in English for not learning how to spell words properly because of using shorthand and acronyms too often online. We have so many tools at our disposal, but yet healthy relationships seem to be growing more and more rare.
Can I share a secret with you? God never meant for you to build relationships with tools! You were created to build relationships with the people God surrounds you with by “being there” with people whole-heartedly. Not being there artificially or half-heartedly. That means we strive to spend time with others in their physical presence, making eye contact, smiling occasionally as we speak and listen, encouraging the best in others, seeking to understand others and not just demanding to be understood! Before we can even get to the basic pillars that make up healthy relationships, we have to re-learn what it means just to interact in a healthy manner.
So what are the pillars of a healthy relationship? In H. Norman Wright’s book, Relationships that Work: (And Those That Don’t), he describes the four pillars of relationships.
The first pillar is love. We display love through our actions—acts of genuine kindness, consistently striving to please those we care about. When love is present (not strictly romantic love) it displays to others genuine care and acceptance, support, and safety. When you display a healthy love for the people in your life, they can feel comfortable around you.
The second pillar is trust. Trust is fragile because when you trust someone, you make yourself vulnerable to them, and vice versa. Trust shows confidence because there is consistency and dependability. For certain relationships, this may come easier than others, but trust must be present for a relationship to be healthy.
The third pillar is respect. Respect is so often neglected today. There is a lack of respect in families, and friendships are often shallow because respect is rarely given or received. If a relationship has respect, it means there is an attitude of acceptance, recognition is given to each other, affirmation and encouragement abound, and appreciation and admiration are expressed often. Showing respect to others is a learned trait that sometimes fights against our carnal nature, but every healthy relationship has it.
Finally, the fourth pillar of healthy relationships is understanding. Understanding takes a long time to develop because it means seeing the world through the perspective of others. This can only happen when there is frequent, open communication. These four pillars exist in every type of healthy relationship that exists.
Maybe you’ve grown up with healthy relationships displayed in front of you, or maybe you didn’t. John 3:16 sums up the type of relationship Jesus Christ has with us. He loved us enough to walk among us. He proved Himself trustworthy to us. He displayed respect for even the lowliest of people. His teachings revealed his understanding of our state. Building healthy relationships with others starts with a healthy relationship with God.
Chad Flowers is married to his best friend and teammate, Mendy. He’s a daddy to two incredible little girls, Jadyn and Keira, and one son, Chandler. He lives in Mesquite, Texas where he has a private practice as a licensed professional counselor and serves as pastor of Emmanuel Pentecostal Church.