A lot is said about unhealthy, destructive relationships here. So much, that we can almost forget that there are, indeed, healthy relationships out there! But, they aren’t always easy to recognize. Just because a couple is holding hands in public doesn’t mean they have a healthy relationship. Just because a couple posts glowing pictures of their anniversary on social media doesn’t mean they have a healthy relationship.
So how do you tell when a relationship is healthy? For any relationship to be healthy there must be three things present. They are to a relationship what oxygen, blood, and skin are to the body: essential. When you begin to recognize the signs of health you’ll very quickly learn to spot when a relationship is becoming unhealthy or even destructive. And, let me say, these ingredients aren’t just for couples. They are essential to every relationship you have.
The first ingredient is mutuality. In order for a relationship to flourish and be healthy there needs to be two people mutually contributing to it. It’s impossible for one person to make a relationship healthy. It takes two people being mutually honest, mutually caring, and mutually responsible for the care and maintenance of their relationship.
There’s a law of maintenance that applies to everything in life, whether it be relationships, vehicles, pets, or your home. Let’s say you build a brand new home. It’s beautiful and you’re in love with it on move-in day. But, what if, for weeks, you never clean the kitchen? What if you never pull weeds or take out the trash? If you ignore regular, daily maintenance, your home is not only going to be a smelly mess, it’s going to start developing more serious issues.
Now, let’s say that home did develop more serious issues. Termites. Wood rot. Maybe the plumbing is backed up. At this point you decide it’s time to clean up. So you start taking out the trash and pulling weeds and sweeping the floor. While those are good things, the issues have become more serious. And, even if you do get rid of the termites … the damage they’ve left behind is still there.
It’s the same in marriage. When there is no mutual maintenance of a relationship it’s going to need repair. And if you don’t mutually make the repairs needed, the relationship will die. What I am saying is you must both deal with the root cause of your relationship problems. Your husband may stop his extra-marital affair but that doesn’t repair the relationship. There’s been damage. The root issue of why he went outside the marriage must be addressed as well as the damage his actions had on the relationship.
The second essential relationship ingredient is reciprocity. There must be shared power and shared responsibility. Too many times Christian women are taught to take a subservient role to their husbands. Once she says her vows she gives up all power in the marriage (but keeps plenty of the responsibility). She gives up her right to have an opinion or make her own choices. She’s suddenly relegated to the role of a child. This is not biblical!
2 Corinthians 8:13-15 talks about reciprocity: “Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal. (NLT)
If you have no voice and no choice in your relationship or, if you are punished for trying to express a different opinion, you are not in a healthy relationship. The Bible actually tells us that we are to be influencers of one another. We are to speak into each other’s lives. Sometimes what we have to share (or hear) may hurt but, if it’s necessary and done with gentleness and humility, that is what God calls us to do. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
The third essential ingredient present in all healthy relationships is freedom. God created each one of us in his image and one of the hallmarks he created in us is the freedom of choice. God gave us individuality. He doesn’t ask us to give up our thoughts, ideas, and opinions for the sake of peace in a relationship. In a healthy marriage both the husband and the wife have the freedom to say, “No.” “I don’t like that.” If you are punished or put through a guilt trip for not giving up your freedom then you’re missing this ingredient in your relationship and it’s not a healthy one. There is room to negotiate certain desires and opinions but there must always be the freedom for each person to say, “no.”
If you recognize that you’re in an unhealthy relationship and want to move to a healthy one you must move yourself from unhealthy to healthy. It’s impossible to force the other person but the relationship will change simply because you are not continuing in the destructive dance.