In past relationships, there was always a moment when I knew it was over. In one particularly volatile relationship, many odd things happened over time that didn’t feel quite right – secrecy, aggression, and pulling me in and pushing me away. But it was one rather benign instant when I knew. I don’t recall the exact circumstances, but I remember we were on the phone, a follow up conversation to one that began that morning before work when she asked me to call someone to take care of something. I wasn’t comfortable with making the call because I didn’t have all the information (as she handled it prior). When I expressed my discomfort and requested that she handle it, while I take over some other responsibility (a fair swap, I thought), she became angry and condescending. I found myself being spoken to like I was 5. When she finally spat, “In the time we have been talking about this you could have just called them!” I knew we were done. The blatant disrespect combined with all the other toxic events in the relationship were flags that this wasn’t the girl for me. We simply weren’t compatible. Looking back on that relationship, one I stayed in about a year too long, I realize that one of the reasons I stayed was because I thought we had so much in common that it just didn’t make sense that we didn’t work. When issues come up in relationships, how do we know what is normal relationship stuff, versus signs the relationship isn’t the right one for us? What I realized over time that if any one of the key pillars of a healthy relationship are missing, it simply won’t work for me. Here are 3 cornerstones of a healthy relationship.
Trust is more than just having faith that she won’t cheat, it’s an inner confidence that she has your back. Trust involves answers to questions like: Can I know that you will tell me how you feel? Can I rely on you to hear my feelings and needs? Can I depend on you to stand up for me when necessary? Can I have confidence that you’ll hold boundaries and keep our relationship sacred? To me, being faithful and not cheating are bare bones minimum in building and maintaining trust. When she has your back, you feel it in her actions, in the ways she allows herself to be vulnerable and consistent over time. It’s this consistency that builds a deep inner trust in knowing you’re a team.
In my experience, when a relationship isn’t working even when there is real love there, intimacy is usually what’s missing. Intimacy isn’t just about sex or passion, it’s about connection. When you share your world with her and she shares her world with you, a closeness develops. Over time, this closeness can either build or crumble, depending on how you manage your time, how you manage breaks and repairs within the relationship, and how open you are even in difficult times. While a violation of trust is the number one intimacy killer, the number two crusher of intimacy may be control. When someone uses manipulation, emotional abuse, or other damaging tactics to control the relationship, you can count on intimacy going right out the window. On the other hand, intimacy can be built in the smallest moments in life: a flirty smile after a misunderstanding, a thoughtful text message letting her know you hear her, or a surprise hour together after you’ve been apart. Tiny gestures can add up to big gains in intimacy building.
While respect in the professional sense means admiration, when it comes to intimate relationships, respect goes deeper. Showing respect sends the message that you matter, and it’s challenging situations that demand it the most. Respect is like customer service. What you really want to know when it comes to customer service isn’t how they hotel or airline will react when everything goes as planned. What you want to know is what happens when something goes awry – when adapting is necessary. The same is true of respect in relationships. It’s easy to speak respectfully to each other when things are good. But what about arguments, misunderstandings, or miscommunications? These are all part of deep intimate relationships that last over time. Maintaining her dignity is key in expressing respect, even when your emotions are flaring. This means saying how you feel openly, but without personal attacks, using a biting tone, name calling, or shutting down. Maintaining dignity is about honoring her experience and feelings while honoring your own. It means listening more than talking. It means noticing your reaction while she’s talking, but holding it so that she can express herself. It sometimes means taking five until you’re calmer and more present to the conversation.
Trust, intimacy, and respect all depend on and intertwine with each other to create a sense of security that you’re in this life together. When any one of these key pillars is broken, the difference in moving forward and ending the relationship lies in the ability to repair the damage. While many relationships can work for a while, the healthiest and happiest ones typically include trust, intimacy, and respect. A little self-awareness can go a long way too.
Kim Baker, author of Girls’ Guide to Healthy Dating: Between the Breakup and the Next U-Haul, is a dating columnist and writer whose writing examines healthier dating through the lens of mindfulness and self-care. Find her at www.girlsguidetohealthydating.com or join her email list by texting gg2dating to 22828, message and date rates may apply.