Love and relationships are confusing and complicated concepts for the modern generation. There are no clear standards as to what is and what is not acceptable or appropriate. Our young people are taught how to have safe sex, but not safe relationships. They are taught how to put on a condom but not how to make good decisions about who to have sex with or when to have it. They are taught to value social status but not to value themselves. In order to help our young people have an understanding of what a healthy relationship is I believe there a number of concepts that can be instilled in them that they can apply to any relationship they enter into, but especially intimate ones. Often we put our primary focus on combating the negative behaviours such as bullying and aggression through telling people these behaviours are not ok, and while the campaigns and programs that do this are very important, I believe they are only part of the picture. To complement these programs it is essential we also have a focus on teaching positive behaviours so we can prevent the negative ones from occurring.
In thinking about relationships and what makes some relationships healthier than others, there are eight things which I believe make a significant difference to the health of a relationship. These are eight things someone can do when they are in a relationship to ensure it is functional and beneficial for both parties. These actions do not have to solely apply to intimate relationships, but can be applied in almost any setting as a way of measuring the health of a relationship. Eight concepts or actions may seem like a lot, but I believe a lot of the skills needed for a healthy relationship are not taught anymore and it is taken for granted that people will know what is healthy relational behaviour, so I think it is important to name some of these things up. These concepts form the acronym S.H.O.W. L.O.V.E., which I will explain below.
S stands for “Say thank you”. I believe gratitude is one of the most underrated elements of a healthy relationship. People so often assume that others know that they appreciate what they do for them, but they rarely if ever take the time to tell them that they are appreciated. Whereas when we take a moment to say thank you and show our gratitude it tells the other person that we value them, that we value the time and effort then put into to something for us.
H stands for “Have time”. Quite simply, without time relationships die. It takes time to get to know each other, time to build strength and stability in the relationship and time to maintain it. Again, it doesn’t always have to be deep and meaningful time, simply going for a walk or sitting and having a drink and chatting is worthwhile time.
O stands for “Open up”. This is a multi-level concept. Firstly, you need to be willing to open up with each other. You need to be willing to be open and honest about your beliefs and feelings. You need to be willing to talk about what is important to you and how certain things make you feel. Secondly, you need to be willing to take input from wise counsel. You need to allow those who are mature and experienced in making good decisions to speak into your relationship to help guide and strengthen it.
W stands for “Work together”. For a relationship to be successful both parties need to be willing to put in time and effort and they need to be pulling in the same direction. It cannot be up to one party or the other to do all the work or make all the changes, both parties need to be willing to adapt as needed. When issues arise, both parties need to co-operate on finding and implementing the solution.
L stands for “Listen and learn”. In order to truly get to know the other person in the relationship you have to listen to them, you have to hear what they are saying in order to understand where they are coming from. It can be easy to get in the habit of listening to reply, just listening enough so we can give an appropriate answer to what the other person has said, but if we want real relationship we need to put a bit more effort in and listen to understand.
O stands for “Offer grace”. None of us are perfect, and we all make mistakes. We all do or say things at times which hurt or offend other people, and sometimes these this offence is completely unintentional. When people upset us we need to offer them grace, we need to be willing to forgive them and not hold a grudge. Offering grace does not mean being walked all over or not standing up for yourself, it means not being nasty or vindictive and not holding grudges or seeking revenge.
V stands for “Value difference”. In order for a relationship to be healthy and successful, the parties involved need to have some differences. If both parties are exactly the same they have no need for each other, and there will be areas in the relationship which never get addressed because neither party has strength or interest in them. When the parties in a relationship have differences they can complement each other and work together.
E stands for “Expect growth”. Through life, people grow and change. As people we are constantly experiencing new things, society faces new challenges and enjoys new technological advancements, which often bring further challenges. In our relationships we cannot expect people just to stay the same. They will grow and change as they move through life, and we need to be prepared to adapt to this.
These are the eight principles I believe are important for healthy relationships: saying thank you, having time, opening up, working together, listening and learning, offering grace, valuing difference and expecting growth. While it is not explicitly mentioned, these values are all underpinned by respect, and I believe respect shows through each of them. It’s not the be all and end all, relationships are complicated and I do not believe there is a “one size fits all” approach to anything to do with people, however I do believe that if we can instil these values into our relationships at every level it will lead to us having healthier, safer and more positive relationships and perhaps by applying these values to our relationships we can start to tackle so of the issues that are most damaging to our society today such as bullying and family violence and instead see relationships which build people up and encourage them to reach their full potential.