Healthy Relationships

We do need other people. We need to love and be loved in order to bloom to our fullest. As Erich Fromm said, "The affirmation of one's capacity to love—in care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge."

We are the most highly-evolved species on the planet. We continue to evolve. In our evolution, there is a developing spiritual awareness that we are linked with other people in a very profound way. Each individual's uniqueness contributes to the greater whole of humankind.

Each of us in an individual energy system. If we think of ourselves this way, we realize we can choose to inhibit our energy, use it in destructive ways, or harness it for use in constructive ways. Even love can be viewed as a form of energy we suppress in exercise. Love is much more that a theoretical concept, an n makes sense to know more about how we love- whether it is dependent love aimed at ego enhancement and need fulfillment, or mature love that has evolved over time.  

In knowing the qualities of healthy belonging, you can learn acceptance of yourself and others; and your chances of achievement and need fulfillment in love increase. We turn now to focus on the signs of healthy love. A fulfilling and mature love relationship has these qualities:

  1. Allows for individuality
  2. Experiences both oneness with and separateness from a lover
  3. Brings out the best qualities in partners
  4. Accepts endings
  5. Experiences openness to change and exploration
  6. Invites growth in the other
  7. Experiences true intimacy
  8. Feels the freedom to ask honestly for what in wanted
  9. Experiences giving and receiving in the same way
  10. Does not attempt to change or control the other
  11. Encourages self-sufficiency of partners
  12. Accepts limitations of self and partner
  13. Does not crave unconditional love
  14. Finds commitment acceptable
  15. Has a high self-esteem
  16. Trusts the memory of the beloved; enjoys solitude
  17. Expresses feelings spontaneously
  18. Welcomes closeness; risks vulnerability
  19. Cares with detachment
  20. Affirms equality of self and partner

Let's explore these characteristics signs of healthy love one by one.

Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries

  • Trusting no one—trusting anyone—black and white thinking
  • Telling all
  • Talking at intimate level on the first meeting
  • Falling in love with a new acquaintance
  • Falling in love with anyone who reaches out
  • Being overwhelmed by a person- preoccupied
  • Acting on first sexual impulse
  • Being sexual for a partner, not self
  • Going against personal values or rights to please others
  • Not noticing when someone else displays inappropriate boundaries
  • Not noticing when someone invades your boundaries
  • Accepting food, gifts, touch, sex t hat you don't want
  • Touching a person without asking
  • Taking as much as you can get for the sake of giving
  • Giving as much as you can give for the sake of giving
  • Allowing someone to take as much as they can from you
  • Letting others direct your life
  • Letting others describe your reality
  • Believing others can anticipate your needs automatically
  • Falling apart so someone will take care of you
  • Self abuse
  • Sexual and physical abuse
  • Food Abuse

Boundary and/ or Limit Setting is dependent on:

  1. Recognition that a boundary is broken.
  2. Ability to weigh consequences for setting or not setting a boundary.
  3. Willingness to risk
  4. Willingness to respect myself and others
  5. Ability to not get hooked by guilt

Goals of Boundary Setting

  • To teach others how to respect me
  • To show respect to myself
  • To model respect for others

Exercise regarding Boundary Setting (share with a partner)

A. Describe a situation where you have set limits

  • How did you feel?
  • What were the consequences?
  • How did you feel about those consequences and what did you do with/or about those consequences?

B.  Describe a situation where you need to set limits but have not. How did you feel about this?

  • What holds you back and how do you feel?
  • What do you need to do to over come your resistance in this case?

Origins of Boundary Issues, Over Responsibility, Dependancy

  • Lack of positive role modeling
  • Invasion and violation of rights of a child
  • Forcing a child into inappropriate roles
  • Addictive family dynamics
  • Physical, emotional, sexual abuse
  • Neglect or abandonment
  • Lack of discipline or limit setting in a family
  • Over control and punishment versus discipline with consequences


  • Everything to everybody
  • Taking on responsibility for solving others problems
  • Allowing control, misuse and abuse and then whining or complaining
  • Feeling like a doormat; feeling angry and resentful
  • Feeling guilty for anger related to abuse, misuse
  • Feeling fearful or shameful about setting limits
  • Inability to care for self due to overextension in caring for others
  • Repressing feelings of anger and hurt = physical or emotional illness
  • Burnout
  • High tolerance for pain and inappropriateness
  • People running away due to their feeling smothered by me

Book Resources

Building Healthy Relationships

  • Boundaries (Cloud and Townsend)
  • Safe People (Cloud and Townsend)

Sexual Abuse

  • The Wounded Heart (Dr. Allender)
  • Helping Victims of Sexual Abuse (Heitritter & Vought)


  • Released from Shame (Dr. Wilson)
  • Spiritual Abuse: The Subtle Power (Johnson & Van Verdeven)
  • Changes that Heal (Dr. Cloud)
  • No Place for Abuse (Kroeger & Nason-Clark)

Marriage and Engagement

  • Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts (Dr. Les & Leslie Parrott)
  • Fit to be Tied (Bill & Lynne Hybels)

These are some resources recommended by NCU's Counseling Center and/or Northwestern Bookstore. There are many other helpful resources available.