What is a healthy relationship?

Donna Truong interviews Couples Counselor Jennifer Nakhai LICSW

According to experienced and seasoned couples’ counselor, Jennifer Nakhai, a healthy relationship is one with two or more parties actively involved in achieving a uniform relationship goal, are intentional in their decision to stay together, and put in relatively equal effort and time into making their dream relationship a reality. Relationships require dedication and effort, but how these are measured could be viewed basically from three main points of view;

  • Attachment
  • Development
  • Trauma

This means that people in relationships are from different backgrounds with different histories. Everyone has gone through some life-changing experience that affects how they view relationships and how they act while in the relationship. This trauma or attachment is more of a psychological issue.

Healthy relationships take a lot of work, and dealing with this, vis-à-vis a traumatized partner, only doubles the work. Some of these people with psychological issues who bring these issues into the relationship may not even be aware that they have a problem that needs to be addressed. This is evident in the rise in divorce rates in recent times, especially during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. People were obligated (more like forced) to stay together for long periods, highlighting psychological baggage they did not know they had and had to work on.

During this period, many people took the time to do some self-examination. They realized that the quarantine was probably not the most suitable time to meet new people, especially romantic partners. This is ironic because naturally, that type of restriction breeds boredom which in turn pushes many people into making unwise decisions in their choice of partners, meeting strangers online, and complicating their lives. Thankfully, this was minimal as those who felt they could no longer cope with their partner’s vices and negative attributes called it quits.

A Bright Side?

On the bright side, the stay-at-home orders also helped many relationships get better; those who were self-aware or exposed to family therapy services like Aeon got the help they needed.

Individuals with individual psychotherapygroup therapy, or family therapy needs who sought help were attended to. These services were often offered in person or virtually – thanks to virtual care psychotherapy services made available by organizations like Aeon. This ultimately changed the projectile of many relationships as it was an eye-opener and a game-changer for most.

Relationships are basically social constructs, but a lot of people in relationships require therapy. This implies that therapy is a solution to many social problems, and in so many ways, these two concepts are intertwined.

Back to the topic, a healthy relationship is NOT abuse. Many people are falsely led to believe that relationships are all about looking picture-perfect or getting gifts and surprises from partners – but that is inaccurate. A healthy relationship should have two parties who individually function well but then come together and are even better – they are unstoppable.

A person who feels smaller or lesser because of their relationship is not in a healthy situation. They may look like they are, but they probably need psychotherapy. This is important because the mind is a remarkable phenomenon; it could mislead a person into thinking that abuse is borne out of love, causing abuse victims to stay in abusive, probably life-threatening relationships (referred to as ‘situationships’ in pop culture).

Suppose your relationship decreases you, and it appears that your partner(s) has become the life of the relationship. In that case, they are sucking the life out of you, shrinking you, and setting you up for psychological trauma.

People mistakenly assume that their self-worth is determined by how much a person shows that they love them; this is sad and probably a byproduct of patriarchy. Most women were raised to think that their entire existence is for the benefit of others. There is little to no emphasis on being a better person for themselves. It is always ‘how to be a great wife or girlfriend or mother,’ what body sizes are beneficial to their partners, and what their partners would like them to smell, look, or think. This notion has to be corrected, and licensed therapists like Aeon MA are expected to be at the forefront of this.

Most relationships that sail south got to that point, thanks to several ‘small misunderstandings’ like forgetting to do the dishes or take the trash out. When communication is flawed and emotions are not adequately conveyed to the faulting partner, the one who is wronged may just bottle things up, and these ill feelings just keep piling till resentment builds.

At this point, they do not feel love or even hate towards their partner – they feel indifferent, and that is when you know for sure that the relationship needs help. In certain instances, even extreme cases can be salvaged. However, progress can only occur if the couple or family involved seeks professional help in the form of group therapy sessions, individual psychotherapy sessions, or family counseling.

The Need for Trust, Honesty, and Communication

The roles of trust, honesty, and communication in salvaging a relationship cannot be overemphasized. This may prove a challenge in many relationships, as innocent conversations online could often be misinterpreted as foul play.

As already emphasized, relationships are social, and many people in relationships are psychologically challenged. One person’s reaction may vary from another’s reaction. This is why therapy is an all too important aspect of relationships. What some people need is a fix, while some others require the dissolution of their relationships.

Couples counseling centers like Aeon helps to identify what solution the couple needs and then aids the process.