November 9, 2023

Experts' Advice: How to Cultivate Healthy Relationships

What makes a healthy relationship? Our experts share how to expand awareness of yourself and others in order to improve relationships and lead a more satisfying emotional life.

Experts’ Advice: How to Cultivate Healthy Relationships

Healthy relationships are one of the key elements of a satisfying emotional life–and also one of the top areas in which people struggle. It takes a lot of awareness of both the self and others to cultivate healthy relationships. In order to help you begin to explore how to improve your relationships, we asked our experts to share their advice. 

What advice do you have for how to cultivate a healthy relationship?

Robert Cloninger, MD

To cultivate a healthy relationship, you must begin by learning to know and accept who you are. Unless we like ourselves, it is impossible to establish a healthy relationship with others.  If you feel you are not lovable, how can you give authentic and healthy forms of love to others? Rather than cultivating healthy relationships with others, the result is that you will instead try to dominate others or allow yourself to be dominated by them.  

Fortunately, when you begin to observe yourself with compassion, you will recognize that no one is perfect but that we are all capable of learning to recognize what gives us authentic and lasting satisfaction.  When we practice the things that give us lasting satisfaction, we learn to accept ourselves. Often this involves acts of service done out of kindness without any expectation of recognition or reciprocity.  

The good news is that acts of kindness are contagious in a healthy way—it is the way to cultivate healthy relationships. As an experiment, make five acts of kindness in a single day, and then observe how you feel afterwards. You may want to continue the practice if you find it to be satisfying!

Christina Mengert, PhD

I think it is important to enter into a relationship with a sense of alterity; that is, recognition and respect for the fact that the other person is, actually, another person, with a different history, different experiences, and different ways of seeing the world. 

It’s so easy to just assume that others see the world, or should see the world, the same way we do—which, while natural, is often a problem for our relationships. We really can’t expect people to see things the same way we do, which is why listening and honest communication are essential. 

In our relationships, we are encountering another human being, and likewise, we are being encountered by another, which is a tremendous opportunity for us to grow in awareness both of ourselves and of the whole spectrum of human thought and behavior, and consequently, to grow in compassion and love, which is a strong foundation on which to build any relationship. 

Sita Kedia, MD

Two things come to mind for cultivating a healthy relationship: healthy communication and trust. To have healthy communication, we need to be present and actively listening. We live our lives constantly distracted from external stimuli. These stimuli prevent us from being present when communicating with another. When talking to someone, put your phone down, turn off the computer or TV, make eye contact and be attentive. Use both your verbal and non-verbal skills to communicate.  

Secondly, having trust is essential to cultivating healthy relationships.  While for most relationships, trust grows over time, you can start any relationship with trust by having an open mind without judgment, and by accepting others for who they are and how they live.  This will help you cultivate a healthy relationship from the start. 

Peter Hutchings, PhD

"Just a little respect!" The word comes from the Latin "respicere," which means "to look at with attention." When we regard someone respectfully—whether a loved one, a stranger, or even ourselves—we don't have any expectations for them to be something different than what they are in that moment. 

All of sudden, we are facing a person, instead of a projection of what we want them to be. We no longer try to dominate the other, whether actively or passively, but rather let them exist, simply and with dignity. This dynamic of acceptance encourages a space of love and freedom that stimulates everyone's organic growth.

Nigel Lester, MD

I tend to see the primary challenge of cultivating a healthy relationship to reside mainly in the sphere of communication. Our relationships become healthier and more satisfying when we learn to listen, when we practice a greater degree of empathy for the other, and when we learn to communicate calmly, clearly, and concisely. 

We must communicate with the aim of being transparent and giving rather than being manipulative and aggressive. It is entirely possible to learn to be a better communicator, and Anthropedia's coaching has some excellent insights and tools to achieve just that.

Lauren Munsch, MD

To cultivate a healthy relationship, it's important to prioritize communication, respect, and mutual support. This involves actively listening to and validating each other's feelings and needs, being open and honest in expressing oneself, and showing appreciation and kindness regularly. 

Additionally, setting and respecting boundaries can help maintain healthy levels of independence and self-care within the relationship. Taking the time to understand and appreciate each other's differences, as well as shared values and interests, can also foster deeper connection and understanding.

Barbara Washington, PhD

Initially, I would say that communication is key to a healthy relationship. However, I would suggest reflecting on the level of communication. Are you listening at a surface level or a deeper level? Are you able to reflect on the other person’s perspective? Are you able to come to a compromise if there is a difference of opinions? 

Next, ask yourself if you are present in your relationship. Strengthen your connection by being mentally, emotionally, and physically present in your relationships.

You’ve heard from our experts—now, it’s time to start putting their advice into practice.

Anthropedia’s well-being coaching and coach training program can help you grow in self-awareness, acceptance, compassion, and communication in order to improve your relationships and lead a more satisfying life. 

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