Healthy Relationships - A Conversation

Healthy Relationships - A Conversation

conversationWhat makes a relationship work? People are surrounded by various relationships: romantic, platonic, familial, professional and old friends.  There are certain characteristics that transcend the different types of relationships to ensure they are strong. This summer Dr. Helen Noh sat down with three students in the Tyndale Seminary MDiv Counselling program to discuss the characteristics of a healthy relationship.

Discussion Group Participants:

Dr. Helen Noh University College and Seminary Assistant Professor of Counselling Psychology
Ximena Seifert MDiv, Clinical Counselling, 2015
Siyoon Yu, MDiv Counselling, 2014
David Au, MDiv Pastoral Counselling, 2012

Helen  What are some common characteristics of healthy relationships?

David  A degree of self-knowledge…I know not all of my relationships are healthy and I know I can be self-critical.

Ximena  Boundaries. You, knowing yourself as a person and being okay with who you are as you try to balance your attachments to others. So, you are attached to others but not enmeshed with them.

Siyoon  Not being afraid of arguing with the other person and being able to functionally resolve conflict—not to throw anything under the rug or blow things out of proportion.

Helen  What are boundaries?

David  In an intimate relationship…it’s one thing to communicate what you want…but it’s another to let go and respect her so she can have her room to process.

Ximena  I like to think of it as keeping the good in and the bad out.

Helen  Any other characteristics that you see to be vital in healthy relationships?

Ximena  I would say empathy, being able to try to look at things from your spouse’s or friend’s perspective.

David  I learned that a child needs to be free from the fear of being unloved. Having reflected on that, I would let my wife and kids know that no matter what happens I will accept them, try my best to be there.

Siyoon  It’s also helpful to understand the language the other person is speaking because the expression of love can come in a variety of different ways. I think we forgot something that’s very basic. Commitment is the number one thing.

David  It’s often contrasted with conditions, right? You’ll commit on a set of conditions that the other party will fulfill.

Helen  How do you understand the role of conflict in relationships?

Siyoon  I think argument and conflict helps a couple, gives them a chance to really see what’s going on, as well as providing a chance to strengthen that bond…and their resiliency as a couple.

David  Obviously conflicts are very intimidating. That’s why I would say eighty to ninety per cent of the time I just want to win…but in the times I am awake I would prefer to reach out to the other person…to diffuse that conflict.

Ximena  We have to role model that it’s okay to be angry and to disagree…as long as you are working it out. There are so many layers—getting to that little nugget of what this is really about takes time and maturity.

Siyoon  As well, not being afraid of emotions, that it’s okay to feel them, let them run their course.

David  On the flip side, that’s where it gets dangerous. When you let your emotions get the best of you, all of a sudden that’s where the boundaries are broken down and you let the words fly.

Siyoon  I think you are right, David. Maturity comes when you can still be yourself and not let the emotion overcome you. When the relationship is young…we get a sense that the person is just like me and then when we’re faced with conflict we somehow get threatened with the differences.

David  We need to make an effort to appreciate the difference because we actually complement each other.

Helen  You hit on something important—not only recognizing someone’s differences but appreciating them. Any real tangible ways you could give people to build healthy relationships?

David  Saying very specific thank-yous. We don’t have enough thank-yous.

Ximena  Not to be afraid to show love. I think touch is so important.

Siyoon  Don’t assume too much...don’t make your own conclusions and never check them out.

Helen  Those little things, we’ve let them slide in our busy culture.

Ximena  Making time for one another, even just to look at each other.

Siyoon  Continue to get to know the person. Don’t assume the person will remain the same forever.

Helen  What do you see as some of the critical factors that may be contributing to the breakdown of relationships?

David  Options—I think we’re just accustomed to this mentality that we can choose. If something goes wrong then we can just go.

Ximena  People thinking of relationships as where I can get stuff—self-serving. What I can get and very little about what I can give.

Siyoon  I think today’s society gives a bad rep to compromises. They think…if you’re compromising, then you are less worthy. A relationship is all about compromise.

Ximena  In good, healthy relationships there are times we have to sacrifice.

Siyoon  I think a relationship itself has also become an option, so now it also competes with a lot of other things in life.

Ximena  It’s going against the cultural norm—a healthy relationship.

David  I think in a relationship, talking too much can harm the relationship as well…especially talking about yourself without giving the other person time to speak, without listening to the other person. Listening is one [tangible] thing.

Ximena  I think of my background as a teacher and how even in the curriculum there is a lack of emphasis on listening. It’s not given equal importance as speaking, writing and all the other skills we teach our children, yet it’s one of the most important skills in life.

Siyoon  We’re too busy to listen, to really pay attention to relationships. We want things too fast.

Helen  Instant intimacy. Just wanting it, then we get disappointed, then we have the option so we keep moving on. What we’re left with is people who are just jaded; who think it’s never going to be found.

Ximena  In that need for instant gratification…they are trying to get what a healthy relationship would give them anyway. It’s almost like they are losing before even trying. God has designed us in a way to get those needs met within the context of a relationship.

Helen  How does the role of our relationship with God play into building healthy or even unhealthy relationships?

Siyoon  In my own experience with my boyfriend, I think being Christian gives another layer to our relationship and that’s a vision that we have for our “coupleship.” We try to envision our “coupleship” as a community in God and what God envisions for us. We can really step back and evaluate where we are going and ask if this is pleasing in God’s eyes.

David  I really think that much of it has to do with God and how I’m able to draw from Him. One of my favourite passages is Isaiah 49:16: “I’ve engraved you in the palm of my hand: your walls are ever before me.” I think that’s powerful. There’s no smudging away that person in the palm of God’s hand. That’s how ingrained it is that we are in God’s hand and that’s how committed He is to us. So it’s really to allow ourselves to be in God’s presence.

Ximena  A lot of it has to do with how I view God. My beliefs and thoughts I’ve had about God have really affected my relationships with others. So, if I thought God was distant and conditional, then it was hard for me to be unconditional and really giving of myself in my relationships. As I grow in my relationship with the Lord, in seeing Him as unconditional and a Father who cares for me, that has absolutely shifted how I experience my relationships now.

Helen  At the very beginning of creation, God Himself, in the Trinity, is relational. We’ve been created to be profoundly relational, therefore it reminds us that relationships are not an option and that’s…why one of the greatest forms of punishment is isolation. We’ve been created for healthy relationships. We long, in Christ, to move toward redemption and reconciliation.  We’ve been reminded of the bigger picture to make sense of the smaller pieces we’ve been talking about today.

Book Recommendations on HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS
From the Tyndale Seminary Counselling Faculty

Inside Out
Dr Larry Crabb

The Five Love Languages
Dr. Gary Chapman

Beyond Companionship
Diana and David Garland

Getting the Love You Want
Harville Hendrix

The Dance of Anger
Harriet Lerner

Loving People: How to Love and Be Loved
Dr. John Townsend