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What Makes for a Healthy Family Relationship?

If you've grown up in unsafe family environments, identifying signs of healthy relationships might be hard.

How do we define a healthy relationship? Sometimes we as individuals often question ourselves or may often wonder if the relationship we are currently in is healthy or unhealthy. It is uncertain and confusing at times when you find yourself in a situation that may appear “normal”, but could be an indication of the initial start of an unhealthy relationship. We have to be aware of such cases because the overall environment of any relationship can cause either a negative or positive impact to your health and well being.


According to the article, “What Does a Healthy Relationship Look Like?”, written by Teen Dating Abuse Awareness and Prevention, a healthy relationship is based on “honesty, trust, respect and open communication between partners and they take effort and compromise from both people” (NY, 2021). Being able to display these characteristics on both sides is “a great demonstration of a healthy relationship and the foundation of maintaining such a relationship includes boundaries, communication, trust, and consent” (NY, 2021). Creating a space where one feels comfortable, safe, and respected is a great way to strive for a healthy relationship.


According to another article titled, “Defining a Healthy Relationship”, which was authored by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, these are many of the traits often found in healthy relationships (Mass, 2021):


  1. Mutual Respect

  2. Trust

  3. Honesty

  4. Compromise

  5. Individuality

  6. Good Communication

  7. Anger Control

  8. Fighting Fair

  9. Problem Solving

  10. Understanding

  11. Self Confident

  12. Being a Role Model


Healthy relationships can only persist if both sides are cooperative and there is no imbalance of power or control over the other. This is not limited to partners, but also toward peers, friends, and even family members.


Unhealthy relationships, on the other hand, are often very toxic and can damage your health physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. Estrangement can be evidence of an unhealthy relationship. In an article titled, “Healthy Relationships”, the National Domestic Violence Hotline made a great distinction between healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships. Most unhealthy relationship can include (Hotline, n.d.):


  1. Not communicating

  2. Being disrespectful

  3. Not trusting one another

  4. Dishonesty

  5. Trying to take control

  6. Peer Pressure

  7. Unequal contribution


If one were to experience an unhealthy relationship combined with abusive behavior (though this is not always the case), it could be a very toxic and harmful environment to endure. Unhealthy relationships are not always easy to escape from and are a very difficult, potentially threatening decision to even consider given certain circumstances a person may be dealing with. However, there are several methods to deal with unhealthy relationships. For example, reaching out to mental health professionals and organizations that deal with unhealthy relationships (such as Together Estranged), asking for support, or even ending the relationship completely can all help to remediate or escape unsafe family situations.


Ending any relationship can be quite difficult, but if your health and wellbeing is involved, it might be the best option to break ties with the person. In many cases, this estrangement only occurs after someone has spent years making numerous attempts to communicate or change the situation, but has not been able to make any breakthroughs for a healthier dynamic with their family member(s). A person who is estranged may likely experience a variety of characteristics of an unhealthy relationship, and in these unfortunate cases, the only option may be to break ties with those that hurt them most. This doesn’t mean that estrangement is permanent, however; it truly depends on all the parties involved and how they feel, whether steps are being taken by everyone to understand one another, how much time has passed, and if perspectives have shifted throughout that time.


In any event, whether or not a person chooses to reconcile is really up to the individual and others involved; in all reconciliation cases, there needs to be a common ground from which to mend the broken relationship. For some in this situation, reconciliation may not feel plausible - and this is a sign that more time, healing, and processing needs to take place. It is sometimes healthier to move on, but the decision is solely based on the person. There is truly no “one size fits all” when it comes to cases of dysfunctional family dynamics or quarrels that arise, because only those in the situation truly understand what is likely to happen, how family members interact with one another, what is considered “normal” and how safe certain situations are.


Ultimately, what matters most to an estranged individual or a person dealing with an unhealthy relationship is their overall health and wellbeing.


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