Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh!” he whispered. “Yes, Piglet?” “Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.” ~A.A. Milne

At the core of being human is the need to belong, to associate, to be with someone, to find companionship and togetherness. Relationships are a personal need of every individual, and within a healthy relationship we can find a safe space to be ourselves and to be accepted by the other. Relationships play out in a variety of contexts and in different forms, ranging from work relations, friendships to intimate relationships.

With any luck (and lots of hard work), we find healthy relationships in which we grow, mutually experience new things about ourselves and build something that we call love and happiness. But, because they are so central in our lives, they can also become difficult and conflicted and be the source of our heartache and distress.

Healthy relationships are created through constant, consistent and honest communication in which the needs of both partners are equally and unequivocally valued and negotiated. Relationships are not a state of being; they are an ongoing process that needs work and effort. Healthy relationships, whether with friends, partners, family or work colleagues, are respectful and mutual, have firm foundations of honesty and commitment, and involve interactions that rarely leave one person feeling robbed or cheated. Healthy relationships also make you feel secure and inspired to live your best life possible.

So, how can you try to create healthy relationships? What are the keys to such relationships?

  • Respect the privacy and autonomy of others;
  • Understand that their opinion is just that, an opinion. It’s not a condemnation or curtailment of yours. Similarly, your opinion is just that too, an opinion. You don’t necessarily have to agree but should try to accept where each other is coming from;
  • Be aware of the other person’s feelings, they really do matter and violating them (or being violated yourself) does not help to build relationships easily. Be sensitive, noting that appropriate reparation (saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it) goes a far way to building and fixing your relationships;
  • Communicate clearly with the other person. Say what you need (not what you want) and wait for a response. No-one is obliged to give you what you need, so feeling entitled to it will only lead to trouble. However, the closer the relationship, the more important having your needs met becomes. Meeting someone else’s needs is usually a compromise (not a sacrifice).
  • Everyone works on a different time line and makes sense of things differently. As humans, we tend to think that the way we do things is the best way to do them. But this is not necessarily the case.
  • There is no such thing as “only this person can meet my needs”. Not even in the healthiest relationship can the other person give you everything you need. It is better to meet our emotional needs with different people; placing that load on one person is hardly fair on or do-able for them.

Furthermore, never expect the relationships in your life to make you happy – happiness is not an emotional state that is a consequence of other fulfilling your needs, but an attitude for which you have to take personal responsibility. Choose therefore your relationships carefully – not on the basis of hoping that others will fulfill your dreams of happiness, but on the basis of believing that your togetherness with these people will enhance your happiness by improving your positive attitude. Also, fill your life with relationships that is worth fighting for. Relationships that drain your energetic feel for life should be re-evaluated.

Finally, perhaps the most important relationship of all is your relationship with yourself. The ability to self regulate your feelings, thoughts and behaviour is an important life skill and coping mechanism. Valuing your individuality, having compassion and being gentle with yourself foster self-acceptance and lay the foundation for leading a life filled with contentment, meaning and joy.