By Christine Murray, HRI Director
The mission of the Healthy Relationships Initiative is to infuse the local community with information, resources, and services to promote happy, healthy, and safe relationships and prevent the negative consequences of relationship distress. There’s an important meaning behind those three words–happy, healthy, and safe. These words are meant to capture different levels of the quality of relationships that are important in people’s lives.
Even though our main focus through HRI is on couple and family relationships, the basic elements of healthy relationships apply to many different types of relationships, including your friendships, work relationships, and even brief interactions you have with people everyday in your life–like your neighbors, employees of businesses you visit, and social acquaintances.
An assumption underlying HRI is that, at any given point in time in our community, there are people at differing levels of relationship quality. We assume that some people in our community enjoy happy, healthy, and safe relationships and are not currently facing any major relationship or family challenges. At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who are facing very serious relationship and/or family problems, which might include family violence and abuse, substance abuse, serious mental health challenges, infidelity, or divorce. Between these two positive and negative extremes, others in the community may have overall positive relationships, but new problems may be developing, or they are facing ongoing problems that do not create high levels of distress. This spectrum of relationship quality is depicted in the figure below:
Where do your own relationships fall along this spectrum? It’s likely that there’s some variation in the quality of the different types of relationships in your life, such as a couple relationship, a parent-child relationship, your friendships, and your relationships at work or in the community.
Beyond just thinking about the overall quality of your relationships, we offer you another way to consider your relationships, using the idea of happy, healthy, and safe relationships that is part of our mission for HRI.
What do we mean by Happy, Healthy, and Safe Relationships?
Although the terms–happy, healthy, and safe–may sound somewhat simple, there’s actually a bigger idea behind them. Each of these terms represents a level of relationship quality, with safety as the foundation, healthy as the next level, and happy as the peak or optimal level of relationship functioning. Let’s take a closer look at each of these levels:
First, safe relationships are free from all forms of abuse, neglect, and any other threats to one or more person’s physical or emotional safety, well-being, and development. Any form of violence or abuse in a relationship violates the trust and safety in that relationship, and violence and abuse are antithetical to healthy and happy relationships.
At the next level of relationship quality, we have healthy relationships. Although each individual’s definitions of healthy relationships may vary, the core of healthy relationships is built on respect, trust, safety, acceptance, freedom of choice, positive communication and conflict management, and fun. Perfection is not a requirement for healthy relationships: even healthy relationships encounter challenges and conflicts. In healthy relationships, these challenges become opportunities for growth and learning.
We use the term happy relationships to describe those relationships that are at their optimal level of functioning. In addition to being safe and healthy, happy relationships are joy-filled. Happy relationships offer people a nurturing source of care and support. People in happy relationships treasure their time together, make each other a priority, and have a deep understanding of one another.
It’s important to keep in mind that the quality of relationships can change over time, especially as relationships grow, change, start, end, and face challenges. This is very normal, and it’s part of why relationships are so complex!
So, what about you? Where do your relationships stand when you consider different ways of describing their quality? No matter where you’re starting from, there are steps you can take to strengthen and maintain your relationships. Our goal through the Healthy Relationships Initiative is to meet people where they are to help them have access to information and resources to take the next step (whatever it is!) toward strengthening their relationships. We hope you’ll stay connected with us in the coming months and years as HRI takes root in our community!