Toxic relationships can grow without your awareness, which is why it’s crucial to learn what emotionally healthy relationships are. These six steps to emotional health in all types of relationships will help you be intentional and thoughtful about what you’re creating in your life.
In Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman describes the five crucial skills of emotional intelligence. He shows how emotional intelligence determines our success in relationships, work, and even our physical well-being – not to mention our marriages and intimate relationships.
The good news is that we can change, learn, grow! How emotionally intelligent or healthy we are isn’t fixed early in life. We can learn how to build emotionally healthy relationships, no matter where we are or what we’ve experienced in the past.
Here’s one of my favorite quotations about emotional health from Goleman: “Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”
Focusing on others is an important part of creating emotionally healthy relationships – but we also have to take care of ourselves. We need to tune into how we feel and what we think. Finding a balance between emotional health and caring for others is what I strive for. And that’s what these tips for building emotional healthy relationships are all about…
6 Ways to Build Emotionally Healthy Relationships
These tips are inspired by a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life In Christ by Pete Scazzero. I’m studying it with a group of people from North Shore Alliance Church in North Vancouver, BC. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is a book for Christians, but you don’t necessarily have to believe in Christ to benefit from it. It’s a book about emotional and spiritual health – and it can help you avoid toxic relationships and build emotionally healthy ones.
1. See the truth about your relationship
Facing the truth about your partner, your self, or your life can be painful and scary. What are you pretending about? How are you deceiving yourself? Sometimes we pretend our relationships are healthy, but deep down we know that they’re toxic and unhealthy.
In toxic relationships, people ignore the truth about what is going on. They feel bad about themselves and the relationship, but they turn a blind eye. They ignore their feelings and red flags, and continue to let the relationship unfold even though it’s negative and demeaning.
2. Choose be with people who energize you
Emotionally healthy relationships are supportive, loving, and challenging in positive ways. They’re filled with challenges and growth! It can be uncomfortable, but it’s not emotionally healthy to never have conflict or friction in your relationships. For instance, my husband might point out something about my actions that wasn’t healthy. He knows the type of person I want to be, and his role is to help me be that woman. He energizes me, and we work on having an emotionally healthy relationship.
Toxic relationships are full of dead air, anxiety, hopelessness, and suffocation. They are filled with disengagement, disconnection, and distance from one another. There is no conflict, and thus no opportunity for growth. People in toxic relationships are engaged in unhealthy patterns of relating, such as codependency. Read Help for Codependent Relationships to learn more about that type of toxicity.
3. Acknowledge your imperfections
Creating emotionally healthy relationships means being honest about who you are and how you feel. This study I’m doing on emotionally healthy spirituality is all about being real and authentic. That’s why I included my love for God under my picture in the top right hand corner of Quips and Tips for Love and Relationships – and all my blogs. I’m not a perfect wife or blogger or friend, but I want to be real. In emotionally healthy relationships, people are authentic about both their strengths and their weaknesses.
In toxic relationships, we hide what we really think, feel, and mean when we say something. To be healthy, we need to admit that we’re imperfect and know that someone loves us despite our flaws and weaknesses. “I break from [emotionally unhealthy relationships] by acknowledging my brokenness and vulnerabilities rather than trying to cover them over,” writes Scazzero in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. “I rediscover God’s mercy and grace.”
4. Break free from attachments
We hold the people we love loosely, when we’re building emotionally healthy relationships. We don’t cling to our partners, and we don’t demand they give us everything we want. We need to break free from the need to attach ourselves to our partners, accomplishments, things, or people’s approval to feel good about ourselves.
When we hold on to our loved ones too tightly, we’re creating toxic relationships. Toxicity means controlling, manipulating, getting power over, making our partners do what we think is best. Control and manipulation are the biggest signs of emotionally unhealthy relationships. If you tend to suffocate your boyfriends or husband, read 5 Signs You’re Suffocating Your Partner. Learn what healthy looks and feels like.
5. See your childhood and family objectively
Our past has such a significant effect on who we are today and how emotionally healthy our relationships are. I grew up with a single mom who is mentally ill, and it damaged my perceptions of men and marriage. How have your childhood and parents affected your relationships? If you don’t know, then it may be time to start thinking about your past.
One of the biggest causes of toxic relationships is ignorance or lack of self-awareness. When we live and relate to people without any insight into who we are, why we act the way we do, or what effect our past had on us, we set ourselves up for unhealthy interactions. In Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Scazzero encourages us to break from the generational patterns of your family and culture that affects how we relate and live today.
6. Accept love as a gift
Emotionally healthy relationships are filled with respect and gratitude. Can you imagine how different you’d relate to your partner if you saw him as a gift from God, a blessing, a treasure? You’d treat him differently, and you’d hold his feelings and thoughts with gentleness and kindness.
In toxic and abusive relationships, we may think we deserve what we’re getting. Deep down we know that this partner isn’t a gift and shouldn’t be treating us this way. We know the difference between a gift and a problem – but we need to go back to the first step to creating an emotionally healthy relationship…and that’s being honest about our lives and partners.
These steps towards building emotionally healthy relationships are more about getting you healthy in all aspects of who you are: spiritual, social, emotional, relationship, and even professional. These tips for emotional health directly affect your relationships, even though they focus on you as an individual. In What is a Healthy Relationship? I describe five signs of true love in relationships.
I welcome your thoughts on emotionally healthy relationships. I can’t give you advice, but it may help you to share how you’re doing – especially if you suspect you’re in a toxic relationship.
“I do not claim to have attained optimum emotional well-being. Actually, I think that may be a lifetime goal. For me it’s an ongoing process that requires awareness, knowledge, and practice. I do know what good emotional health feels like, and that motivates me to keep at the practice.” – Andrew Weil.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.