My mantra in undergraduate school amongst girlfriends was “If a man doesn’t enhance your life experience, then you don’t need him.” I declared this whenever they whined about not having, not finding, or not knowing where to look for Mr. Right. Their focus was as if they were from a different time when women attended college only to find a husband. In line with their pursuits of love, some of my friends accepted dates from men they hoped would be him.
Well, needless to say it didn’t work out that way. My friends’ self-imposed pressure to marry or that which they internalized from someone else, perhaps a parent, led my friends to hang out with guys who were languishing in life, demanding, unattractive, disconnected from facts, or abusive. To be fair, the reverse is also true. I’ve had male friends who desperately dated women that weren’t a good fit for them either.
“Relationships are either healthy or unhealthy…either they nurture
personal growth and wellness or retard them“.
— Glen Alex in Living In Total Health, Relating Well Chapter
I generally don’t ascribe one thing as the bottom line when it comes to human nature. We humans are so dynamic that often times several variables simultaneously influence our choices, reactions, moods, feelings, thoughts, stress, and overall health. This is very true about human relationships. In addition to the above influences, money, sexuality, and fitness play a part too in who you choose to have a relationship with.
Relationships can be narrowed down to
the one tell-tale sign of healthiness.
Romantic relationships are just one type. You also have relationships with family, friends, coworkers, businesses, plus others. So the variables that influence your choice of a mate are very similar to those that lead you to a friendship, for example. The #1 rule applies to all. Given that many factors sway us at the same time, can healthy relationships be narrowed down to one rule?
Yes. Relationships can be narrowed down to the one tell-tale sign of healthiness. Relationships that provide you with loving support, encouragement, honesty, a safety net, and a genuine interest in your best self do enhance your health. The pain and stress of toxic relations harm you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. So it is crucial that the people you give a front row seat in your life deserve it. Here is the one litmus test to inform you if they do deserve your time and attention.
When you interact with this person, do his or her words match their actions? Does he or she do what they say they will?
Mental boundaries are about agreements and expectations. Two or more people agree on how something will go—a project, party, vacation, purchase, etc. The agreement informs each person what to expect in the process. When one person unilaterally changes things, then that violates the agreement, the mental boundary.
In a healthy relationship, there is agreement about how it will go. Sticking to the agreement reflects the underlying understanding that each person truly cares about the other’s well-being.
Becky and Sheila have been besties for 30 years. As their friendship developed, Becky and Sheila agreed on two things: 1) to not flirt with or pursue each other’s men and 2) to communicate if they need to change plans and not just flake. Reflecting on their relationship, they are proud about the depth of their trust because each kept their agreements. There was never any drama between them and their mates, and neither ever flaked.
Becky and Sheila have a healthy friendship because they kept their agreements, the #1 rule for healthy relationships.
When the #1 Rule is Broken
Without healthy mental boundaries, trust is impossible because you never know what to expect from the other; you continually hope they will follow through on what they say this time. You are insecure about your needs getting met because they’ve proven that they are not there for you. Even worse, you change who you naturally are in attempts to change the other person to get what you need. Instead of realizing and accepting that this person does not enhance your life experience.
Vera met Mike at a Labor Day event. She was attracted to him because he was funny, handsome, and gainfully employed. One night three months into dating, Vera felt hurt again when Mike cancelled their date because his brother needed a ride to the airport. She realized that they only had 6 dates. At least as many times Mike didn’t show up or had something come up to make him cancel last minute. He always had good reasons and apologized. So Vera kept giving Mike chance after chance until she could figure out how to make him show up.
Everyone needs a second chance because things happen. However, when they continually flake, fail to follow through, or blow you off, then they are not interested in the same things as you. Holding on to the unrealistic expectation that they will do what they say they will do is false hope. Let me add here that a broken agreement, i.e., mental boundary violation, is a betrayal. And the small betrayals, such as slights and digs, often lead to bigger ones like abuse and infidelity.
People reveal themselves in their actions. The realistic expectation is their behavior. Expect them to do as they do. When you accept that is who they are, you still stop making excuses for them, stop trying to change them, and limit their opportunities to betray you. Only then you can move on and open up to people who respect you and your agreements.
The #1 rule for healthy relationships is measured by the mental boundary. Does s/he keep their agreements? No = unhealthy. When someone’s words and actions are incongruent, always trust the behavior. It is their truth. Yes = health. My girlfriends could have saved themselves a lot of time and heartache had they applied the #1 rule for healthy relationships to the men they encountered. Actually, this is also true of anyone in pursuit of love and connection.
You see, people who keep their agreements are trustworthy and enhance your experience of life. Respecting mental boundaries, keeping agreements, is the #1 rule for healthy relationships.
Do you need help discerning healthy vs unhealthy relationships?
Start with Living In Total Health, your total wellness guide. Living In Total Health is the 2021 Indie Book Award Winner for Health & Wellness and Finalist in the Mind, Body, Spirit category.
Available in hardcover and ebook.
Schedule a complimentary consultation with Glen to identify your barriers to healthy relations.