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What is a Healthy Love Relationship?

written by Head Health Nutter October 1, 2009

“Love Hurts” Nazareth

All relationships have their ups and downs. When you’re experiencing a down, it can seem unbearably painful at times. So how do you know when you should stay and work through it, or throw in the towel?

If it’s a healthy relationship, then it would be worth it to stay. Right? We need to define a healthy relationship and this may hold a clue:


A conscious marriage is a marriage that fosters maximum psychological and spiritual growth; it’s a marriage created by becoming conscious and cooperating with the fundamental drives of the unconscious mind: to be safe, to be healed, and to be whole.

In the first half of “Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples” Dr. Harville Hendrix describes what it’s like to be in an unconscious committed relationship. It’s when the honeymoon stage ends and all the wonderful traits in your partner that first attracted you to them start to irritate the hell out of you.

You bicker and fight, throw blame around, hurt one another with thoughtless actions and words, and generally live an unstable existence wrought with pain and anguish.

What ever happened to `happily ever after’?

Reality Bites

From the psychological perspective, Dr. Hendrix explains it’s at this point where reality sets in. When you met your partner, sparks flew and you couldn’t get enough of each other. You felt as if you had met “the one”. You found your soul mate and now you’re complete.

Doc Hendrix suggests that when we fall in love, our subconscious recognizes characteristics (both positive and negative) in that person which correspond with those of our caregivers. The theory is that we continually seek, on an unconscious level, for someone to take care of us and help heal emotional wounds from childhood.

The problem is that no one is perfect and we ALL have childhood wounds to heal. Our partners are going through the same thing!

What we’re really looking for is happiness. Troubles arise when we look for happiness outside of ourselves, whether it’s in things, events or people. When we find disappointment rather than happiness from these sources, we get upset and feel the need to blame the sources themselves or other circumstance for our unhappiness:

“The psychological term for this tendency to put the source of our frustrations and the solutions to our problems outside ourselves is “externalization,” and it is the cause of much of the world’s unhappiness.”

The real reality to all this is that happiness is within each of us. We all have needs, many of them unconscious, and while our partners CAN help us meet them, most of the time they are too busy trying to get their own needs met.

The first step is to understand that we have the ability to fulfill our own needs and accept that our partners are going through the same thing.

How to stop the fighting a.k.a. “The Power Struggle”

When our needs are not being met and we fail to take responsibility for meeting them ourselves, we tend to act like children. By default, we become selfish. We lash out at those closest to us because we unconsciously blame them for not taking care of us and providing us with what we need to make us happy and fulfilled.

When couples live unconsciously, one person’s bad mood may be directed at or misinterpreted by the other and then it starts. The immediate reaction is either retaliation or withdrawing from the situation which then snowballs into a similar reaction from the other.

But arguing can end at any time. When one person controls their natural instincts to fight or flee, they diffuse the situation.

Gaining control over one’s emotions is the signature behaviour of a conscious individual. Conscious people train themselves to ignore the instant, natural impulse to defend themselves against a perceived attack in favour of a more thoughtful reaction.

Conscious people have trained themselves to be calm, balanced and rational. This does not mean that they have no emotions! It simply means that they consciously choose to recognize their emotions, deal with them then or later, and decide to react in a more constructive way.

A healthy relationship

All of this suggests that a healthy relationship is one that is based on love, trust and respect.

Here’s how:

Love: if we’re all looking to heal emotional childhood wounds, then we’re all looking for unconditional love. Dr. Hendrix says that social conditioning and imperfect parenting make us lose touch with our natural ability to love unconditionally. If we can tap into this ability and fulfill our partner’s needs, we will be fulfilling our own needs as well.

Trust: like Nazareth said, “Love Hurts”. We open our hearts to another person, we trust them not to hurt us. When they do, we have to trust that they did not mean it. On the flip side, by becoming conscious and halting the power struggle, you can create constructive responses to destructive emotions and become a trusted confidant rather than a sparring partner.

Respect: everyone has a unique perspective and to show respect for another person means to do your best to understand where they are `right’. Those of us in a power struggle can only see where the other is `wrong’ based on OUR views. But the world is not black and white. By making an effort to understand your partner on both conscious and unconscious levels, you can forgive your partner for hurting you as well as gain their respect (because they see that you’re trying to understand them!).

“Our unconscious drive to repair the emotional damage of childhood is what allows us to realize our potential as human beings, to become complete and loving people capable of nurturing others.” Dr. Harville Hendrix

So does this post answer the question: What is a healthy relationship?

What it definitely does not answer is what an unhealthy relationship looks like and when you should throw in the towel. Any thoughts, Live Lighter Readers?

Getting the Love You Want, 20th Anniversary Edition: A Guide for Couples

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Dee October 3, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Great article Steph, and this book “Getting The Love You Want” will likely tell us everything we need to know about what an UNHEALTHY love relationship is too.

As a non expert without a doctorate in human relations, I might venture to say that we are all “experts” in our own experiences of both good and bad relationships, even if we still don’t know all the answers. It is a oonstant goal, or work in progress, even to love our selves in a healthy way. Indeed, does anyone ever really know it all?

However, if any of the three MAIN qualities of a GOOD primary relationship (which you highlighted) are missing ~ Love, Trust, or Respect, then that is always unhealthy and lacking balance for both parties ~ in my humble life experience.

If someone could offer a guaranteed, sure-fire remedy for what ails most couples’ relationships in our modern society, they would make a fortune! 🙂

Emmanuel Lopez-Motivatorman October 4, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Wow! You have written an epic post here Stephanie! I agree with much of what you have shared about a healthy, loving relationship. Hendrix definitely has revealed the true nature of being “in love”.

I believe this post can apply to all forms of loving relationships beyond a romantic one.

Love the quotes too. Thanks Steph for sharing some powerful truths here!

Head Health Nutter October 6, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Thanks for the great comments, Dee and Emmanuel! I’m really glad that you got some value out of it. 🙂

@Dee: You’re absolutely right, “Getting the Love You Want” does explain what an unhealthy relationship looks like (Dr. Hendrix describes case studies from his experience as a couples therapist) and from the description, it appears to revolve around love, trust & respect.

What’s interesting to me is how many couples stay in an unhealthy relationship before ending it or seeking professional guidance (we’re talking decades here!). But even more interesting, I’ve learned from Dr. Hendrix is that our relationship problems FOLLOW US until we resolve our personal issues!!!

This goes hand in hand with your brilliant observation of how we’re all relationship experts in our own right and that learning to love ourselves and others in healthy ways is an ongoing learning process.

@Emmanuel: You’re absolutely right about applying this info to ALL relationships.

This is where Dee’s final comment comes into play: I think Dr. Hendrix HAS found a guaranteed, sure-fire remedy for what ails most couples! His therapy includes exercises that will increase self-awareness and communication skills.

I highly suggest reading this book whether you’re single or in a committed relationship!


Dee December 2, 2011 at 5:03 am

Hello again Steph ~ I’ve just re-read this post from TWO years ago which I had forgotten all about ~ how timely and synchronicitous (?) that life gives us lessons we need to learn, and sometimes re-learn!

It’s amazing how much baggage we can accumulate over time, even cluttering up our physical living space with stuff when we try to resist necessary change or find the right balance. (but that’s a subject for another time and place).

After taking another personal inventory, I recognize that relationships are never static ~ that the dynamics are constantly changing. Because each one of us changes on a daily basis, by the hour, moment to moment, consciously or not. I think this is the work we have to do within ourselves & every primary relationship ~ for healthy growth.

Since lessons often need to be repeated and it’s never too late to learn, I’m thinking this is the right time to finally read this book!

Head Health Nutter December 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Hey Dee, thanks for chiming in and for reminding me of this post so long ago.

Yes, you’re so very right about relationships being dynamic. And about people changing. From what I’ve learned, our primary relationship is with ourselves. We need to have unconditional love for ourselves, trust and respect ourselves, and then we can be ready for a healthy, intimate relationship.

Dee, if you haven’t read it yet, I recently conducted an interview with the author of “The Art of Flourishing” which is another fantastic book about personal growth and healthy relationships. Here’s the link to the interview:


I found it fascinating, and I hope you do, too!

Dee December 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm

That’s for sure Stephanie. Another two book titles to add to my growing recommended reading list ~ Getting The Love You Want AND The Art of Flourishing.

Thanks for the link to your interview with the author of the 2nd one, Dr. Jeffery Rubin. I read all the answers twice & really like his analogy of relationships to gardens. Even when couples go thru rough patches, the ongoing work of maintenance/ weeding is important, for plants or people to flourish, rather than one withering, outgrowing or choking the other.

Of course, each garden & partnership has to find its own roots and balance. Co-dependence, inter-dependence or a blossoming symbiotic relationship ~ enough nurturing, without too much manure. (I know I have paraphrased this somewhat, but his ideas really resonate!) 🙂

Head Health Nutter December 12, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Oh my, Dee, if you love these books I just finished another one that has helped me take my healing process to another level: “Radical Forgiveness” by Colin Tipping.

I have yet to start the exercises but the concepts he describes behind the therapy reminded me of what I already knew and raised my consciousness beyond the pain even more so than all the healing I’ve already accomplished since the summer. I’m beginning to realize that this is all a process that never finishes.

I’m hoping to incorporate a bunch of healing exercises (Colin’s and others I’ve encountered and reviewed on Live Lighter) to do on a regular basis so I can maintain this level of unconditional love consciousness despite any challenge that comes my way in life.

And I’m so happy you enjoyed the interview with Dr. Rubin. I know you’ll get a lot out of his book. 🙂

Dee December 13, 2011 at 7:14 pm

What a co-inky-dink (coincidental serendipity) that you should mention this book by Colin Tipping Steph!!! As it turns out, I actually have CD’s of each chapter of Radical Forgiveness, but have only progressed thru HALF of them since a good friend gifted them to me last Christmas.

I have been receiving & saving regular emails from this author for the past year as well, and agree that most of us could use a kind dose of forgiveness ~ for ourselves and each other. I understand the concept of radical forgiveness as unconditional, and not always so easy to apply.

Forgiveness for all the wrongs & injustices we may feel, betrayals of trust, friendship, loyalty, fidelity etc… is better than holding onto pain & anger which serves no one. So our forgiveness is ultimately for our selves. Our own absolution, freedom and peace of mind.

Oprah once defined this as “letting go of the hope that things could have been different… as we move toward our best life.” I find this comforting & I m grateful for your reminder to continue these lessons where I left off… an constant work in progress! 😀

Head Health Nutter December 14, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Wow, Dee, thank you for sharing all this, and especially Oprah’s quote… it struck me hard as truth. That, in a nutshell, has been why I still have my rough days… holding onto the idea that things could have been different.

Now.,, just gotta continue doing the work… we can do it!!! 🙂

Dee December 16, 2011 at 12:42 pm

i think you’re right Steph. Just as exercise is required to keep our bodies in good shape … the work never ends for our brains either!
In any relationship beyond the one we have with ourselves, the other person is likewise responsible for their own thoughts, words & actions, (attitude, behaviour, beliefs, ethics, goals, mistakes, successes, failures etc.) and ultimate happiness.

I have learned a lot of painful lessons in my relationships too. Altho’ it never feels good at the time, I’ve found that there are always signs pointing us in a certain direction or back on the right path. So often I have found myself chasing my own tail ~ running in circles with some relationships that were wrong for me. I’ve learned that even failures are necessary to teach us important things, to forgive, to honour ourselves and to never stop growing.

So I hope you will share some of your insights from Radical Forgiveness on Live Lighter, just as you have with other life challenges to help the rest of us learn too. 😀

Head Health Nutter December 16, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Thank you for sharing your personal experience, Dee. It’s so funny how we make up stories just so we can be right and protect our egos! lol

Ah, but according to Colin Tipping, this is us being human and it’s important to love and accept ourselves just as we are and for being human. I’d definitely like to review this book and share some of the results from the exercises.

I hope through these spiritual exercises that the challenges will get easier. *fingers crossed*

I guess like you mentioned above, there are signs to look out for as to what direction to head, finding all the “right” things to welcome into our lives. 🙂


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