Do you know what the basic building block for a healthy relationship is? Communication? Ability to compromise? Having enough money? It is neither of those. The key to having a healthy relationship –whether it is a romantic relationship, parenthood, friendship, or family relationships – is being healthy yourself. It is being emotionally balanced, mentally sound, and spiritually whole. A healthy relationship begins with a healthy you.
Here is an example. I know a woman who constantly complains of being lonely. She can not understand why she can not find a man. When she meets men, they are typically more interested in her friends than they are in her. If she manages to go out on a date, there is usually no second date. And the men who do stick around take advantage of her. This woman often wonders what she is doing wrong, why she cannot seem to find the happiness that other women enjoy. After all, she says, she knows how to cook and clean, dresses well, keeps her hair groomed and nails manicured, and is not interested in men for their money.
Like many men and women, she mistakenly believes that the key to a happy romantic relationship is what one does. So she focuses upon improving her household maintenance skills and keeping up her outward appearance, not realizing that it is her very desperation for a relationship that repels good men and instead attracts men who will mistreat her. Caught up in unresolved pain from her childhood and young adulthood, she is unhappy at her very core. And she wears her misery like a finely tailored suit. She starts every conversation with a complaint and frequently makes self-denigrating comments. She is jealous of other women whom she perceives as having greater success and happiness. Her conversations tend to be one-sided as she has little interest in genuinely listening to the stories of others and primarily uses others for her own emotional catharsis. Her anguish exudes itself in every interaction and in her deportment. Unwilling to accept responsibility for her situation, she blames God and men for her unhappiness.
Now granted, not every single woman is in the same predicament. There are plenty of intelligent, personable, successful, attractive, “got my stuff together” brothers and sisters out there who just haven’t found a good match yet. And there are many others who prefer the single life. Yet, unfortunately, there are far too many women and men like my friend – people who remain depressed by their continued inability to be in a healthy relationship and who do not realize that they do not display the qualities that attract healthy mates.
Moreover, this situation is also not limited to romantic relationships. Many people experience problems in their relationships with the children for the same reason. Plagued by loneliness, they rely upon their children, and in some cases even have children, to fill the void in their lives. Desperate to be liked, they behave more like friends than parents and attempt to buy their children’s loyalty through excessive materialism. They become overinvolved in their children’s activities yet underactive in providing structure and discipline. Youth raised in such homes almost inevitably begin to display behavior problems, causing these parents to feel betrayed by having children who do not respect them and who take advantage of their overindulgence.
Alternatively, there are those parents whose internal pain and depression manifests itself through excessive criticism, lack of affection, and harsh punishment for their children. These parents use their children as verbal punching bags to express the hurt of old resentments. Often, these individuals grew up in unloving and abusive households, often marrying and having children early as a source of escape, consequently ending up in another unsatisfying relationship. Their children subsequently become the psychological stand-ins for abusive parents or romantic partners or unfulfilled dreams.
The connection between all of these cases is the absence of a good understanding of love. Many people view relationships and love as a mechanism for filling a void. However, truly loving relationships are only possible when we love ourselves, when we commit ourselves to nurturing our development as beings created in the image of the Divine. It is no coincidence that when asked to name the greatest commandment, Jesus Christ answered “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Matthew 22:37-29, NIV). Jesus assumed that we would love ourselves!
Genuine health in relationships, then, comes when we are so happy in and of ourselves that, while we would like to experience the sharing of life that is unique to relationships, we also relish our experience of life without them. It comes when we view relationships as an enhancement to happiness, not a requirement. When we love ourselves, we model for others how they should treat us in relationships. We establish a standard of care and attract those who will uphold this standard.