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The basics of building healthy relationships

Unless you’re shipwrecked on a deserted island, you probably enjoy a handful of close relationships. From spouses to children to friends, parents, siblings, significant others and colleagues, healthy relationships build self-esteem, improve mental and emotional health and help you live a fuller life. Numerous studies suggest that people with strong, supportive relationships live healthier, longer lives. Healthy relationship interaction conveys understanding, validation and caring. 

In the movie “Cast Away,” Tom Hanks’s character is stranded on a desert island. Wilson, a face drawn on a volleyball, becomes his new friend. Although Wilson is an imaginary companion, this illustrates the basic need for relationships and the importance of interaction. We are simply wired to connect to others. 

Healthy functional relationships are based on equality and respect, not power and control. The Golden Rule states that you should treat others the way you want to be treated. This rule goes beyond simply being kind to people. Think about others the way you would want to be thought of. Feel about others the way you would want others to feel about you. Speak to others the way you want to be spoken to. 

Here are some basic steps to maintaining good, healthy relationships: 

  • Communication is key. Assertive communication is vital in conveying your wants and needs. Keeping an open and healthy communication helps keep a relationship vibrant. Both parties should be able to express positive or negative feelings. 
  • In intimate partner relationships, realize that your partner will not be able to meet all your needs. Some needs will be met outside the relationship. 
  • Accept individuality and understand there will be differences between what you see in others (how you would like things to be) and the reality (how they really are). 
  • Expect conflict and be willing to negotiate and compromise on the things you want from one another. 
  • Perspective and empathy are important. Try to see things from others’ point of view and accept them. You do not have to agree to respect and understand differences. 
  • Realize that healthy relationships take continual work and effort to maintain. When differences arise, try to negotiate. 

All relationships involve give and take, which requires reasonable exchange. When relationships become stressful, consider practicing mindfulness. It is the skill of being focused on the present moment. This can improve emotional awareness and reduce stress. It teaches us how to acknowledge and address emotions and regulate our physical response. Those in healthy relationships can recognize problems and create healthy solutions. Willingness to analyze your interactions in your relationships helps build more meaningful, long-term connections. Having healthy personal and professional relationships in our own lives has a positive impact on society and the community in which we live, work and play. 

Dr. Shelia Rivers, DSW, LCSW, MPH, is owner and chief therapist at Rivers Psychotherapy Services PLLC. Reach her at (707) 728-5131 or 

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