What Healthy Relationships Actually Look Like

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Today there is a great amount of talk about what makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy and that some relationships are emotionally, sexually, or physically abusive. It’s great that awareness is spreading about these types of relationship because it helps people identify situations they may need to leave, however it is less prominent to hear about what a healthy relationship looks like and how to build one. Here are a few guidelines about what good relationship health looks like:


Nearly everyone agrees that effective communication is essential for building a healthy relationship, but what does this really involve? Communication can be both verbal and non-verbal--both are very important and speak volumes about a relationship’s health. When good communication is happening, both people feel heard, safe, supported, accepted, and loved. This does not mean partners need to agree on everything (quite the contrary—disagreements are actually an essential part of healthy relationships), but when couples are communicating effectively, they aren’t creating an environment of judgment, criticism, or condescension.

Observe How You Feel

Too often people get out of a relationship, look back and realize they knew all along it was not a good fit. They identify that they never felt comfortable to be themselves around their partner, didn’t actually enjoy spending time together, or felt that person truly understood them. When getting into any new relationship (or while in an established one), take a moment to observe how you feel in it and with that person. Do you feel happy when you’re with them much of the time? Do you understand each other’s sense of humor? Do you feel like you can be your honest self with them? Even if your relationship is not toxic or abusive, if you answered no to most of these questions, it just may not be the best fit and that’s okay.

Separate but Similar

Think of two people in a relationship like two great foods that taste even better together, such as pie and ice cream. On their own, pie and ice cream are tasty desserts but when you bring them together, it’s a special event and downright delicious. They complement each other and lift each other up. Two people in a healthy romantic relationship are very similar. Each person can have their own identity and be supported and lifted up by the other partner’s identity. When looking for a partner, it can be important to find someone you’re not only physically attracted to but who shares similar life values as you. This means doing life with each other and not necessarily for each other. Supporting each other and loving each other while being your own unique selves.

Trust and Respect

Building trust in a relationship means both partners being dependable, reliable, and honest. Trust is more than just not cheating on your partner with another person, but it’s about knowing your partner will share their opinions and thoughts honestly and will follow through on promises made. One of the fastest ways to erode trust is when partners begin to belittle each other or view each other with contempt. Treating each other with respect, equality, and dignity is essential to developing and maintaining trust within a relationship.

Showing Appreciation

It sounds small, but frequently expressing appreciation to your partner for who they are and what they do helps them feel valued and loved. Appreciation can be communicated in many ways, including saying “thank you”, giving physical affection, or even giving small gifts. It’s important to find the ways your partner feels most appreciated, as this can vary by person. As time goes by and a relationship becomes more established, frequent expressions of gratitude are more and more necessary. It’s all too easy to get stuck in routines and forget to thank your partner for being their wonderful selves and for doing the little things.

The bottom line is that even though relationships can be challenging at times and do take effort and work from both partners, a healthy relationship should enrich your life a majority of the time. Feeling heard, respected, and valued for who you are are vital characteristics to look for in any intimate relationship or even friendships.

Supporting Grieving Loved Ones


Grief is one of those ubiquitous human experiences. We all feel it, no matter who we are or where we come from. Though it’s universal, it is also deeply personal, and every loss is uniquely mourned. This can make it extremely challenging to be the supportive friend or family member you want to be when someone else is grieving. How, then, do we support those we love when they experience a loss, be it a person, pet, job, health, relationship, or opportunity?


Ease the Challenge of Daily Functions

We often feel at a loss as to how to support others. We ask them how we can help but they’re not sure either and may not want to burden you. This is a time to take action and, within reasonable boundaries, roll up your sleeves and help out.

Here are some ideas of what to do:

Drop off meals that are:

  • Freezable
  • Healthy
  • Individually portioned
  • Within their dietary restrictions and preferences

Do simple, unintrusive chores, such as:

  • Laundry (stick to things like towels & bedding, avoid delicates/undergarments)
  • Sweeping and mopping
  • Washing dishes
  • Dusting
  • Taking out trash
  • Mowing, raking, weeding, shoveling
  • Grocery shopping for simple items (bananas, granola bars, toilet paper, etc.)
  • Helping care for pets.

Make or bring coffee/tea in the mornings (but not too early)


**Always let the person know what you’re doing and confirm they feel comfortable with that. When you’re there, offer a supportive ear without creating a feeling of obligation for the other person to talk.

Hold Off Judgment

The reality is, we make judgments about our friends and family members--as much as we try not to. We too often let these judgmental thoughts about how intensely and how long people “should” mourn certain losses that we forget our loved one is suffering and in need of support.

So here’s what you do:

  • Accept that your brain comes up with judgmental thoughts, even when it seems terribly inappropriate to do so.
  • It’s what you do with these thoughts that matter!
  • Remember, even if a loss seems less significant to you, it could be a major upheaval for others (the opposite can also be true!)
  • There is not a prescribed period of time for grieving
  • Just because it’s been a year, two, or ten since the loss, does not mean a person is “over it”.

If you truly are concerned about your loved one’s behaviors as they grieve, encourage them to seek professional help and support them as they do.

Acknowledge the Difference

Grief is, in part, a reflection of the lost relationship. This loss will be different from any other before and most definitely different from other people’s losses--even if situational similarities exist. It’s essential you acknowledge this for yourself (you may even need to verbalize this to your loved one).

It’s helpful to refrain from:

  • Bringing your past experiences of grieving up unless prompted or asked
  • Saying, “I know exactly what you’re going through”

Instead try saying something like

  • “There’s no way I can know exactly what you’re going through but I’m here to support you any way I can.”
  • “I know this hurts and I’m here with you.”

Don’t Forget

Remember birthdays, wedding anniversaries, anniversary of the deceased’s parting, or any other significant dates. These will likely be challenging times for your loved one. Verbalize that you remember and offer support.

Use the deceased’s name specifically

  • It can be difficult for a person to move forward in grief if they think their loved one will be forgotten.
  • We often refrain from using the deceased’s name because it feels gentler but for the grieving, use of the name can be a comfort
  • Be mindful that for some cultures or religions, use of the name of the deceased in the first year is inappropriate

Ask your loved one what feels right and best for them, then respect that.

Ask the Hard Questions

If you become concerned about how your loved one is coping, it’s important not to shy away from some of the difficult questions. You may be the only person asking them.

Ask if they have started to have thoughts about not wanting to exist

Ask if they have had thoughts about suicide or otherwise hurting themselves

  • If they say yes, ask if they have thought of a plan.
  • Ask if they have intention to act on the plan.
  • Remain calm and understanding, especially if they say yes.

Keep resources on hand to help you help them.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Texting Crisis Line: Text “Help” to 741741
  • Nearby hospitals
  • Mental health professional contact information

Above all, don’t panic. Remember it is not uncommon for thoughts of suicide to arise for a person who is grieving.


Just Be There

Enough said. Your friend or loved one may not want to be with you. They may not want to talk all the time. They may want to do their own chores, they may want to work, they may not want to leave the house. Respect any and all of these. Everyone grieves in their own way.

You don’t have to have the perfect words or know what to say. After all, there’s nothing you can say to bring back their loss.

It’s difficult and uncomfortable, but the most supportive thing you can do is just be there.

Be ready to listen and be ready to help.

Dealing with Difficult Family Discussions

This holiday season may seem even more daunting than most to travel home and spend time with family that, although you love, you rarely see eye-to-eye. With the intense political upheaval of the recent presidential election, conversation around the festively decorated dinner table will be more challenging than ever. Here are some tips to help you survive.