This is an essay about healthy relationships. It was inspired by thinking about one of the most meaningful friendships I have ever had. (I will use false names in all examples of relationships) It is deeply meaningful despite the fact that we don’t spend much time together. I have been thinking about the dynamics of what I wish for Lisa, and how to ensure that these dynamics continue.

To outline this essay, my first point is that the foundation stone to any healthy relationship is to accept the other for what they are, and thus have realistic expectations of them. This in turn allows you to respect the other person. What naturally flows from this is to want peace between the two of you, and to wish the other well. These two interact; peace between you allows you to wish the other well, and wishing the other well allows peace between you. I will apply these dynamics to a real abusive relationship, and to my friendship with Lisa. Finally I will summarise.

The foundation stone to any healthy relationship is to accept the other for who they are, and thus have realistic expectations of them. If you do not accept the fact that the other will not offer you sex; or you cannot accept that they are lazy, or an addict, or a certain race; you will not have realistic expectations of them. Thus you are undermining your ability to have peace between you; and undermining your ability to wish them well.

I have two friends I would like to spend more time with, but I accept the fact that they are unable to deliver. I also have two friends whom I would love to see give up their addictions, bit I accept that I cannot make them give up. This in turn allows me to respect them, have peace between us, and thus wish them well.

Please note that realistic expectations is not the same as reasonable expectations. If you have realistic expectations, you can expect the other to change unreasonable behaviour. If however it is unrealistic to expect them to change unreasonable behaviour, you have a choice. You can either come to accept that the other will not change (realistic expectations); you can allow their unreasonable behaviour to continue and resent it (unhealthy relationship); or you can end the relationship.

I have a friend who has unreasonable expectations of me for about ten out of every seventy weeks when he is unwell. I accept this for two reasons. Firstly because he is unreasonable for a sufficiently small period of time; and secondly, because he is always willing to make amends afterwards. So to reiterate, the foundation stone of any healthy relationship is to accept the other for who they are. This allows you to have realistic expectations of them. If it is unrealistic to expect them to be reasonable, you best option is to end the relationship.

I did this with an acquaintance of mine. Brent used to harass me for money, but I wasn’t going to accept this, so I threatened to contact the police. He hasn’t harassed me since, but he won’t speak to me either. I refuse to greet him, because I know he would only accuse me of false courtesy if I did.

It wouldn’t have been a healthy relationship if I’d allowed him to harass me, because I would not have accepted Brent for who he is, or been able to wish him well, or for peace between us. When we meet on the street there is just a cold silence between us. With a tinge of sadness, I accept this is the best I can hope for with Brent. I don’t have to be angry, I wish him well in a basic way, and there is a frail peace between us.

Now I will use the example of how I developed realistic expectations of Lisa, which in turn has allowed me to have a deep and healthy desire for peace between us, and a deep and healthy desire to wish her well. I met Lisa about eight months ago and was impressed by her conflict resolution skills; and her maturity in terms of looking after herself and managing her money well. I soon developed romantic feelings for her.

After about two weeks, for reasons which I will not disclose, I decided that this was not a good idea. So I had to think of a strategy for getting over my romantic feelings. I decided my strategies would be: (1) Not to fantasise about Lisa physically, or fantasise about her agreeing to romance, (2) Keep Lisa’s goodness in perspective. Yes, she’s admirable, but she’s neither perfect, nor a hero. (3) Put strict boundaries on how much I see of her.

These strategies were successful. I got a wonderful sense of being free of unmet demands. It was a richly rewarding experience because making it happen required maturity on my part. Largely for this reason, the first ten weeks of this year were the happiest ten weeks of my life.

Lisa and I are still friends. Knowing her has inspired me to: develop more reciprocative relationships with a friend of mine, and a drop in centre I attend; improve my self care in a certain way and inspired me to new intersts too. Knowing Lisa has also inspired a lot of writing.

But I could not let go of my romantic feelings for Lisa without replacing them with something else. So I thought about what would be a more healthy way to view my relationship with her. I decided I could still be passionate about wishing her well, and passionate about wishing for peace between us. This too was a richly rewarding experience because of the maturity involved.

To me, these hopes are both very beautiful, and very meaningful, and most of all, realistic! It is thinking about this chain of events which inspired this essay. So I accepted Lisa for who she is, developed a deep respect for her, and a deep desire to wish her well, and for peace between us. This is the essence of healthy relationships

Completed 31/7/2009

By Michael Dunningham


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