As I sat in my car crying, feeling somewhat hopeless, a thought hit me. I did not have healthy relationships in my life. My relationships were shallow and a little self-serving.
Realizing we need more positive relationships is not easy to accept, but at 22 with the excitement of life in front of me, it was a big reality check.
Despite having a good job, a car, a nice apartment, friends, and a boyfriend, I felt lonely. In my zest to surround myself with people, I had never intentionally thought about building positive relationships or the kind of people I wanted in my life.
Taylor Swift sings in her song “22”, “we’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.”
I don’t think feelings of confusion and loneliness end on our 23rd birthday. If we don’t focus on how to build healthy relationships, they may never develop and we will feel ‘confused and lonely’ regardless of our age.
Positive relationships don’t suddenly appear and thrive. Positive relationships take a lot of work.
At that stage of my young life, I had not planted deep seeds in others’ lives and didn’t have many people investing in my life either. That sad day in my car, I decided to start the slow process of redirecting my life and relationships.
I became aware of needed personal changes and decided to find people who wanted to join me in my quest to learn how to build healthy relationships.
The Importance of Positive Relationships
What has helped me understand the importance of positive relationships is to look at the life of Jesus. The son of God born sinless and without fault sought out and embraced many different relationships in His life.
When Jesus began His ministry one of His important assignments was to find and call disciples to join Him. Jesus was building positive relationships so He could have others beside Him to fulfill His great call.
“He climbed a mountain and invited those he wanted with him. They climbed together. He settled on twelve and designated them, apostles. The plan was that they would be with him, and he would send them out to proclaim the Word”
Mark 3:16-19 MSG
How exciting it must have been to be selected by Jesus and have the opportunity to walk beside Him and be part of His tribe for three years!
Although we were not part of that long-ago mission, Jesus showed us the importance of positive relationships. We can be excited about the tribe we are assigned to. We can also be assured that Jesus calls us to our own mission and still walks beside us. We just need to find our people.
A study on the benefits of relationships by Northwestern Medicine summarizes why building positive relationships are important:
“As humans, the relationships we form with other people are vital to our mental and emotional wellbeing, and really, our survival. Humans have an inherent desire to be close to other people.
To connect and build relationships. While a man stranded on an island, talking to a volleyball (you remember the movie!) isn’t necessarily “healthy,” his compulsion for company is.
That’s because the fact of the matter is, healthy relationships (romantic relationships, friendships, familial relationships — they all count!) can help make for a healthier overall life.
But what exactly does a healthy relationship look like? A positive relationship can be shared between any two people who love, support, encourage, and help each other practically as well as emotionally.”
There are as many types of relationships as there are people; simple, complex, temporary, long-lasting, hard, and easy. However, like our own lives, relationships experience their own journey that is either growing and healthy, sick and in need of care, or dying and needing to be removed.
Positive relationships rooted in and supported by personal growth through Jesus are stronger and can endure more heartache and struggle.
Why are Positive Relationships Important?
As I discovered when I was 22, not all relationships are created equal. Whether we are pursuing a friendship, romance, or with our family there is a difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. Building positive relationships begins with two people that are pursuing and nurturing personal growth.
Healthy does not mean perfect. It just means the relationships where we spend most of our time offer mutual value are authentic and operate from a place of love and respect.
Why is building positive relationships important? Because people are either adding and multiplying or subtracting and dividing from our life. It is best to spend as much time and resources on those people who add and multiply.
Positive relationships help us grow and contribute happiness and contentment to our lives. They just make life better.
Unfortunately, unhealthy relationships exist and cannot be completely eliminated from our life. But we can learn to identify the importance of building positive relationships, place boundaries around negative relationships, and grow through the struggles and discouragement.
When we invest our time with healthy, positive people, we have more support and emotional margin to manage the people that subtract from our life,
“By yourself, you’re unprotected. With a friend, you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.”
Ecclesiastes 4:12 MSG
How to Build Healthy Relationships
Learning how to build healthy relationships took time. I am an extrovert and have always enjoyed meeting new people, and building relationships. They just weren’t all healthy or positive. Quantity does not lead to quality.
But even introverts need healthy relationships. Regardless of our personality, we all need to be part of deep, meaningful positive relationships.
But making relationships whole and positive is where the work comes in. We have to decide to invest in our people and learn how to build healthy relationships with our families and others.
Through my faith, studying the Bible, and other valuable resources, I have changed how I build relationships. My relationship with Jesus helps me be better in my current relationships because of the growth I have made emotionally and spiritually.
The most important factor in my ability to have healthy relationships is my relationship with Christ. My faith gave me a new identity and new desire to be more like Jesus which has impacted how I see myself and how I interact with others.
Positive relationships are an important part of life, but they don’t develop using a certain formula. Building healthy relationships takes flexibility, learning about others, giving people room to grow, personal growth, understanding the type of relationship we are in, and trust that God is weaving through each one.
If we take another look at Jesus’ relationship with his disciples, we learn how to build healthy relationships.
Jesus spent time with His disciples. He used opportunities to talk to them, mentor them, and listen to them. He loved them unconditionally and included them in His journey. He helped His disciples feel what we all seek…to belong, be relevant, beloved, and be valued.
The hardest part of building positive relationships is to be intentional with our time instead of just letting people occupy space. Once we find our people, we need to invest in them.
Life is better when we work together building positive relationships with the people we love.
What are the 6 Most Important Things in a Positive Relationship?
Over the test of time and through the highs and lows of relationships, I’ve learned the benefits and tips about building positive relationships. Since that pivotal moment in my life when I took relationship inventory, these are my thoughts on what are the 6 most important things in positive relationships.
1. Choose Relationships Wisely
Building positive relationships starts with who we chose to let into our lives. We don’t get to choose certain relationships such as neighbors, coworkers, and family. But we do get to choose the relationships where we devote most of our time and energy (excluding our children, they are completely ours, at least until they become adults!)
Once we embark on a new friendship or romantic interest, we can learn to choose relationships wisely and pull back if they become unhealthy or toxic. Building positive relationships is difficult if both people are not healthy individually.
When we are spiritually and emotionally whole, we choose better. If we are at the starting line of a new relationship and red flags are flying, we can take a step back, pray, and find clarity on whether to proceed. We can stop and ask ourselves if we are encouraged and challenged to grow through this relationship or just drained.
If we are already in a relationship that is unhealthy, we can start the work to make it healthier with the aspects we can control. Learning how to build healthy relationships never stops!
2. The Importance of Communication in Positive Relationships
Honest, encouraging communication is vital when we are learning how to build healthy relationships. Communication in a positive relationship is a complex issue that goes beyond two people talking. It involves our tone, our timing, and our tendency to talk too much or too little.
The importance of communication in a positive relationship can not be overstated as it serves as a strong foundation for all aspects of how two people interact (or don’t). Body language and our ability to really listen are two very important parts of communication in any relationship.
When we say the right thing but our expression or posture does not agree, it turns into negative communication. The key to communication in a relationship starts with the condition of our heart.
When we see others through the eyes of Christ and are secure in His acceptance and love for us, we become better listeners and communicators.
3. Understand the Benefits of Forgiveness to Avoid Bitterness and Resentment
Forgiveness is a choice. Building positive relationships requires us to understand the benefits of forgiveness. At 22, I would have argued this point, but now I know the importance of forgiveness in order to build a healthy relationship. Once we understand the benefits of forgiveness it is easier to practice forgiving.
When building positive relationships, we will have many opportunities to practice forgiveness despite how much we love the person. In the book of Matthew, Jesus responded to Peter’s question, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”
To forgive ‘seventy times seven’ sounds like an exaggeration, but in life being a good forgiver brings freedom and is a cornerstone to building positive relationships. The more we forgive, the better we get at forgiveness. The better we get at forgiveness the more we avoid bitterness and resentment taking residence in our heart and soul, so we can love freely in our relationships.
4. Have Healthy Relationship Boundaries
In order to build healthy relationships, we need healthy boundaries. When we have healthy relationship boundaries, they are the backbone of truly enjoying other people. Without boundaries, there is frustration with others and we can also lose ourselves.
Having healthy relationship boundaries helps us understand what we need to protect and function freely with others. They are not restrictions but quite the opposite; a clear line is drawn on what is ours and what is not. It is impossible to build positive relationships without healthy boundaries.
5. Keep Expectations in Check
Building positive relationships requires that we keep expectations in check. Our expectations are a strong belief that something will happen how we envision it. When we don’t keep expectations in check they tend to take over and bring disappointment. This was a problem for me that I didn’t realize until I began building positive relationships.
My biggest expectations were a result of my lack of spiritual identity and my search to feel wholly known and loved. Because I was not whole and complete in Christ, I struggled to keep expectations in check. I expected others to fill my empty spots or complete me.
No one but Jesus can complete us, so this expectation of others led to disappointment. There are many types of expectations and some expectation is healthy, but unrealistic expectations of others destroy healthy relationships and leave us feeling empty.
6. Practice How to Love Unconditionally
In healthy relationships, we practice how to love unconditionally often. Practicing how to love unconditionally is a lifelong process and only possible through the lens of Jesus. It is easy to love some people unconditionally but some relationships are hard. When building positive relationships we get a lot of practice on loving unconditionally!
Our relationship with Christ is how we can transform our thoughts and spirit and become more like Him every day. He is the greatest model for true, pure everlasting love. When we aspire to love unconditionally, it is possible to live in and model healthy relationships.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV
I am honored and humbled at this stage of my life to enjoy more healthy, positive relationships than I did as a young adult. Understanding and learning the important things in a relationship has not been easy. There has been pain, discomfort, mistakes, and loss along the way, but relationships are worth it. Building positive relationships is ongoing and an important part of a thriving life.
Although I wish it was possible to tell my 22-year-old self it would be ok, the struggles I have experienced have helped me grow closer to God. The journey has taught me how to build healthy relationships and how to fully enjoy the people I am fortunate to be connected with and call friends.
Before you go…What have you learned about how to build healthy relationships? How have you invested in building positive relationships in your life? Would love to hear from you in the comments!