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Relationships • Compatibility

How Do Emotionally Healthy People Behave In Relationships? 

We can get so caught up in the problems of love that we forget to ask ourselves a basic-sounding but hugely revealing and crucial question: what are emotionally healthy people like in relationships? What is love like for the psychologically mature (minority) among us?

And to boil the answer down to its essence, we might say: these fortunate people operate with a bedrock feeling that they deserve love – which goes on to change pretty much everything that happens to them in relationships.

They aren’t afflicted – we should immediately add – with a sense that they are owed everything or are at all points marvellous, this isn’t grandiosity, just a fundamental conviction that they have the right to be treated with kindness, compassion, forgiveness, thoughtfulness and gentleness; that they are at heart decent enough people who can expect that someone on the planet will be able to cherish them.

This at once lends a very particular tenor to their approach to love. For a start, even if they are presently alone, they calmly expect that they need not remain so forever, unless of course they chose to. A cosy relationship is going to be possible in the future because they know it was possible in the past, in the favoured childhood which is what has lent these people their psychological health and basic faith in existence.

They can keep going by themselves for many years, even decades, perhaps till the end, because inside a small nourishing fire burns in them, originally lit by a kindly caregiver or parent – which reassures them of their fundamental worthiness outside of another’s embrace. They don’t have to try to persuade themselves that certain highly questionable people might have virtues; they have the clarity that flows from an ability to walk away.

Les Saltimbanques, Gustave Doré, 1874, Wikimedia Commons

Part of what makes them emotionally healthy is a lack of confusion as to what kindness might look like. Their childhoods have taught them what the rest of us may spend till the later part of our lives trying to grasp: that loving people don’t keep letting you down; that loving people don’t say they adore you and then take three days to call you back; that they don’t repeatedly shout horribly harsh things to you late at night and then pretend nothing happened in the morning; that they don’t sleep with your friends and then promise never to do so again. 

Not for them the questions that haunt the emotionally-wounded: Is it normal that I should feel undermined every time I speak to my partner? Is it tolerable that they should lose their temper so regularly? Should I believe them when they accuse me of not being mentally well for doubting things about them? They simply don’t see any attraction whatsoever in being punished. 

At the same time, the certainty that they deserve love means that, so long as they are in a relationship, the emotionally healthy do not have to exert a constant suspicion of the other’s motives. If a partner tells them they love them, until and unless they receive evidence to the contrary, they will believe them. If the partner makes an error, they trust that it wasn’t a deliberate plot to harm them. They don’t have to have their lover followed or read their diary. They aren’t continually looking out for attacks or delivering frantic accusations. Their needs have been met in the past; there is a good chance that they can be so again in the future. They can gamble on being hopeful. 

Finally, the emotionally healthy don’t have to pick conspicuously attractive or wealthy partners. They aren’t looking to shore up their egos by leaning on the outward glamour or accomplishments of others. They can tolerate a no longer so young body, or a slightly unusual nose – so long as their owners know how to understand the nature of tenderness.

We can marvel at the emotionally healthy person – and measure our distance from them – hopeful that we might one day join them in their astonishing good humour and faith in the possibility of honest, reliable relationships with other humans.

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