Relationships are confusing. One minute we may be enjoying a friendship or partnership, and the next minute it may be a source of agony for us. What does ‘mentally healthy love’ look like; and, in contrast, what characterises mentally unhealthy forms of love?
HEALTHY LOVE IS BALANCED, NOT URGENT
The first thing to say is that healthy love is not anxiety-free, but it is anxiety-balanced. In other words, we will still have concerns about our relationship with the other, but they are manageable concerns, and do not get in the way of functional behaviour.
- Healthy love says “I am watchful about the person I love, but I don’t panic, and I don’t get angry.”
- Unhealthy love says “I am scared about what will happen to us: certain changes have to happen now.”
HEALTHY LOVE IS INFLUENCING, BUT NOT CONTROLLING
In a healthy relationship, we set an example of good behaviour, and we make respectful requests. We influence the other. We refrain from demanding or dictating what the other should do.
- Healthy love says “I try to live well, and to ask others to join me in living well.”
- Unhealthy love says “I need to push and pull others in order to make my life easier.”
HEALTHY LOVE IS RESPONSIBLE, AND NOT BLAMING
Imagine a mountainous landscape in which every person lives on top of their own mountain. Each individual mountain represents our past, present and future: the huge weight of our history; the huge weight of our current mood; and the huge weight of our personal hopes for ourselves. Psychologically, this is where we stand.
Imagine we ignore this fact, and start shouting across the valleys at everyone else. Not only will we become hoarse and lose our voice; we will irritate others; and, importantly, we will also neglect our own health. Instead of shouting at others, we should first quietly feed ourselves.
- Healthy love says “I will feed myself, and take care of my own environment.”
- Unhealthy love says “Look at all these other people on their mountains. I must correct them.”
LOVE IS LIKE RIDING A BICYCLE
Bringing it all together:
If you and I go for a bicycle ride together, the above three aspects of healthy love become obvious.
- If we each maintain our own balance, ride our own bike, and direct our own handlebars, the ride will go well.
- If, on the other hand, we shout urgently at each other, push and pull at each other’s handlebars, and constantly try to correct each other, the ride will be an unhappy one.
Three aspects of healthy love are balance, influence and responsibility. The three aspects of unhealthy love are urgency, control and blame.
- In healthy love, a person is watchfully caring, lives well, and looks after themselves.
- In unhealthy love, a person is urgent, controlling, and blaming.