I recently attended a wonderful conference.  One of the speakers, Magi Cooper used a very powerful analogy in her session about the ingredients of a healthy relationship.  She observed that healthy food choices are part of healthy living.  Let me explain.  What is your favourite food?  Mine is a tough choice between chocolate and popcorn!  She asked us to consider what our favourite food is and then reminded us healthy people cannot live on one ingredient alone; not even chocolate or popcorn!  As much as I enjoy both, I cannot imagine living on a diet of only popcorn or chocolate.  It would be very boring and certainly would not be healthy for my body; my love for those foods would dissipate without variety.  Those two favorites are meant to be enjoyed within a well-balanced variety of healthy ingredients.
She then related this analogy to relationships.  One favourite ingredient does not make for a healthy relationship, no matter how wonderful it may be.  For example, relationships cannot exist on love alone; patience and forgiveness definitely enhance the foundation of love.  Just like chocolate enhances popcorn (seriously try adding m & m’s to your popcorn!)  Diversity and variety are needed to maintain health and vitality.  A healthy vital relationship is what we long for when we commit to another person.

As she continued in her teaching we brainstormed together as a group.  We came up with a variety of ingredients included in a healthy relationship.  Our list included the following:

Communication
Fun
Honesty
Compromise
Kindness
Affection
Caring
Forgiveness
Mutuality
Support
Vulnerability
Understanding
Acceptance
Exclusivity
Fondness
Independence
Accountability
Transparency
Grace
Compassion
Mercy

(This list is not comprehensive.)

Choice and Individuality

The ingredients listed above work really well when two people have I + I = We.   We = two individuals who make a decision to share the following resources:  mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.  It’s important to remember we DO NOT cease to be an individual, I + I.  We will disagree, have our own opinions, and want different things. Both choice and individuality are important aspects of a healthy relationship.  As part of a relationship, it’s not ‘my’ job to inventory my partner according to the above ingredient list.  My part is to exercise the list above, even when I feel angry or hurt. (This exercise is even more powerful when we brainstorm our own list.)

Action Point:  Create a list and put it on the fridge.  Every time it catches your eye, choose one ‘ingredient’ to practice for ten minutes.

Behavior NOT Included in a Healthy Relationship

Magi then moved us toward evaluating what behaviors do NOT belong in a healthy relationship and we brainstormed an entirely different list:

Belittle
Controlling
Manipulate
Accuse
Silent treatment
Stonewalling
Name-calling
Threats
Swearing
Pornography
Pushing
Humiliation
Isolation
Meanness
Withholding Kindness
Demeaning
Sarcasm
Insist-on-own-way
Pride
Affair
Controlling all -Money
Hitting
Bullying
Violence
Slapping
Slamming
Grudge holding
Revenge
Undermining
Lying
Deception

Again I encourage creating your own list, this one is not comprehensive.

These behaviors come from a faulty belief system.  Behavior changes when beliefs change.  We are not entitled to behave like the above list when they want to, feel like it, are angry, hurt, etc.  The underlying belief for behaving this way in relationships is a belief that ‘I’ am “Central, Superior, and Deserving”*.  The key to change is addressing the core belief system.

Team Work

All teams must practice in order to become good, then to excel in their area of sport or work.  The same is true of the relationship team WE.  How often do we actually purposely practice the ingredients of healthy relationships?

Action Point:  Find someone to hold you accountable, not your partner. Practice each week and check in with accountability to answer two questions.  If you don’t have someone for accountability don’t let that stop you, use a journal.  (While you get started with a journal continue to look for and pray for a person to be accountable to.  Human interaction is powerful.)

What did I do well this week?

What do I wish I had done differently?

Establishing Healthy Goal Posts

Often people in unhealthy relationships want to be healthy, they want to score one for Team We, but don’t know how or where to begin.  “How do we start?”  Brainstorming these two lists is a great beginning and helps establish important goal posts.  It gives clear boundaries in what to aim for and what to avoid.  This knowledge along with practice can be a great combination toward improving a relationship.

Finally, another key aspect of a healthy relationship is to abandon the idea relationships are a 50/50 partnership.  This thinking becomes a platform for scorekeeping, which is not healthy.  Scorekeeping works well in the world of sports’ teams but not relationship teams.  Us people, we are imperfect, we have good days and bad days which sometimes become a season.  On a good day, we can compensate for the other, on a bad day we need that compensation extended.  50/50 mentality does not allow for grace, compassion, and mercy – ongoing gifts that need to be given within healthy relationships.  If both partners have a “do what needs to be done” mentality along with gracious giving, the relationship will be much better off.  No relationship is perfect because we as people are not perfect. So, let’s not expect perfection, but strive to be our best and forgive as needed.

Note for Parents

One final note: as a parent of teenagers, I did the above brainstorming session with my children.  Together we created two lists; ingredients to include and ingredients to avoid.  Then we discussed it as a family.  As a parent, my desire with this exercise was to give them clear guidelines of what to expect in a healthy relationship BEFORE they start dating and eventually find a spouse.  I wanted to help them clarify the goalposts ahead of time, so when the time comes, they will know how to participate well in “Team We”.  It will also act (hopefully) as a protective measure for them to recognize relational red flags, what to avoid, and how to interact healthily themselves.

More Healthy Relationship Resources:

Marriage: Little Things Add Up

Make Your Differences Work For You

Do You ‘See Red’ or ‘Green’? A Simple Marriage Test

 

Content Source:  Magi Cooper from her workshop during Understanding Abuse in Relationships sponsored by Abuse Response and Prevention Program Mennonite Central Committee

*Quote Source: When Love Hurts: A Woman’s Guide to Understanding Abuse in Relationships By:  Jill Cory and Karen McAndless-Davis

Written by Ella Weck

Ella holds an MA in Counselling Psychology. She married Darcy in 1989, they have three children. She is currently enjoying parenting young adults. Ella loves to read, learn, roller-blade, play board games and socialize.