Healthy Relationships - The Foundations

Healthy Relationships - The Foundations

leaf image“Whether we draw from counselling, psychology or theology there are common understandings that underlie healthy relationships,” according to Dr. Helen Noh, University College and Seminary Assistant Professor of Counselling Psychology. Healthy relationships are central to why we exist. God, who in the Trinity is relational, created us in His image for a loving relationship with Him. We have been created to be relational.

What makes a relationship healthy is when there is an underlying sense of authenticity. It is to know a person and to be known by a person. In his book Connecting, Dr. Larry Crabb’s research shows that we long for authentic relationships to know and affirm one another’s differences while building a sense of connection. Building an authentic connection includes knowing and supporting each other’s strengths, weaknesses, differences and similarities. This relates to marriage, romantic relationships and to all relationships with friends, family and co-workers.

Dr. Gary Chapman emphasizes the concept of really knowing each other by describing different love languages. He identifies many different ways that we express and receive love. In relationships, misunderstandings can arise when we express love in a way that other people cannot understand. It is important to understand each other’s love languages so we can communicate in ways that will be understood.

Understanding is based on communication. Dr. John Gottman, a key researcher in healthy relationships, analyzed the ways in which people communicate. He found that the way we start a conversation often sets the direction of the conversation and even of the relationship itself. Dr. Gottman suggests a variety of ways to communicate that will build up a relationship, such as using supportive and understanding words and listening. He also shows how communication can tear down a relationship, including the dangers of criticizing, attacking a person’s character, stonewalling, disengaging, communication breakdown or flooding the communication in the midst of conflict. The main components of communication that build up or tear down are what we say and what we hear.

One key to creating intimacy in any relationship is active listening. That is, listening that seeks to truly hear the person, to understand his or her perspective and to communicate back what you understood. Another key to intimacy is creating a safe, trusting place for someone to share who they are and still be accepted even with differences and weaknesses.
Within those safe places, differences in character need to be acknowledged and dealt with, as they often lead to conflict. When sin entered the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve covered themselves up with fig leaves in shame. Within our relationships we can cover our authentic characteristics with ‘fig leaves’ because we believe that we will not be accepted for who we truly are. Fear of shame and disrespect stops us from developing safe and trusting environments.

Being authentic, actively listening and supporting one another’s strengths and weaknesses are all components of healthy relationships that we can embrace. In these safe and trusting environments we can truly be relational, the way we were created to be.