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Is Comparison the Best Way to Determine What a Normal Relationship Is?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Ever find yourself comparing your latinlationship to those of your friends? Dangerous game people!

Two reasons – first, comparison is the enemy of joy. Secondly, you actually have no idea what their relationship is like. You see what they want you to see – just as they see what you want them to see. But ya, we still do it don’t we?!

That’s normal. We are all concerned about what’s normal. Mostly that’s what we’re checking when we compare. And sometimes we check because we’re unsure of what’s “OK”, which is a little different from “normal”.

What is “not OK” becomes “normal”

This comes up all the time in therapy. If you’re lucky, it comes up over coffee with friends! You know those conversations, hoping that your friend will say “Ya! Actually, we fight a lot more than you do – you guys have it nailed compared to us!”.

We ruminate on the quality of our romantic partnerships. Particularly at the beginning, while trying to figure out if we want to stay in this new arrangement. Particularly also near Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays…Dating and everything related to it is one of the most discussed things in real life and on-line.

#statusupdate !! Maybe we’re a little obsessed… But mostly it’s great fun!

Wondering if a relationship is healthy is a great way to start being in a healthy relationship!

First of all, it is important to know that ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’ do not suggest or mean the same thing.  Maybe our relationship is just like our friends’ relationships, or our parents’, and so it is technically ‘normal’. We’re used to seeing it. But that does not necessarily make it ‘healthy’.

Sometimes, normal feels just as bad, as it is ‘normal’. Does that sound familiar? For some of us, “normal” might feel like fear, hurt, rejection, judgement, being stuck or even abused by our partner. That might be on occasion, often or regularly.

So what might be normal for you, might not be healthy for you

What IS normal?

Normal for you might be weird for other people. For example, ‘normal’ might be that one of you always does all the cleaning. And there is nothing at all wrong with that.  That ‘normal’ turns into ‘unhealthy’ if cleaning is something you don’t want to do all the time, if you feel forced to do it, intimidated into doing it, or if it’s ( ie you are) taken for granted, or insulted or controlled into cleaning a certain way.

Now, substitute sex, money, pastimes, housework, socializing, choice of school or neighborhood for the word ‘cleaning’.  These are common ‘trigger topics’ in relationships, one way or another.

Take a breathe before you move on – I’m conscious that a lot of people reading this might now be feeling / realising that their normal is not healthy. Please, if this is you, take your time here, and know that there is support out there if you are willing to let yourself use it. See links below.

What’s healthy?

So we can see that there is no “normal”. BUT, there are some basics that apply in order for a relationship to be considered ‘healthy’. Do these resonate?

  • You have no fear of saying something that will result in your partner’s anger or withdrawal.
  • Support and encouragement is presented by your partner to do what makes you happy.
  • You support your partner similarly.
  • You both understand that you’re responsible for your own feelings and that you can share feelings of love.
  • You don’t expect each other to ‘complete’ each other.
  • You have a friendship.
  • You laugh and have fun together.
  • Finances are a joint responsibility and are openly discussed.
  • Household care is a shared, negotiated responsibility.
  • Childcare is a shared, negotiated responsibility.
  • You look forward to seeing each other.
  • You trust your partner.
  • You respect your partner.
  • You do not intentionally hurt your partner and they don’t you.
  • You have a sex life that you both enjoy.
  • You are affectionate with each other.
  • You are willing and able to apologise to your partner and they to you.
  • You share basic morals, maybe religion, maybe political.
  • You allow for differences in opinions and don’t coerce or manipulate your partner to be as you are.
  • You don’t feel controlled by your partner and you don’t try to control them – who they meet, where they go, how much they spend etc.

I made this list based on being a therapist and learning from my lovely clients. It’s also based on being a partner with her own needs, wants and expectations. These things may or may not emerge over that coffee with your friends because we’re still not super good at saying when things aren’t great.

Show yourself some love

Show yourself some love and check that you are doing OK with that person you have chosen to spend your precious time with. Because you are precious. Yes you are.

If you have a teen who is just starting out, showing them this or even reading it with/to them might help them to understand the difference between a nurturing relationship and one that is anything but. Everything we do models to our children how to be in a relationship. How to be a partner, how to be a person.  This is worth considering!

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If you noticed upset or resistance to the idea of reading through this (from someone else, or even yourself!), that may be a gentle warning that all may not be as well as you would like. But that’s OK – all of this is workable, one way or another!!

Meanwhile, enjoy yourselves and each other. Relationships are supposed to be enormously enriching, supportive and fun.

PS: As an aside – you could apply most of this checklist to your friendships as well!

Helpful resource links: (these will have resources for male victims of abuse too)

Crisis Textline

Women’s Aid (Ireland)

AMEN (for men, Ireland)

Love is respect (for teens) 

National Domestic Violence Hotline (U.S.) 

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Sally O'Reilly

Sally O'Reilly

Sally O’Reilly is an IAHIP, ICP and EAP accredited Counselling Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor with nearly twenty years of professional experience. Her particular area of expertise and interest is work with teenagers. She enjoys a busy full-time private practice and has developed and facilitated a personal development, substance misuse and sexual health programme for teenagers for over 15 years. She is a regular contributor to national print and radio media.
Sally is also the co-author of Two Wise Chicks.
Feel free to follow Sally on: Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin

24 comments

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  • I agree that we all compare our relationships to those of others, which is a mad thing to do really. After all, people generally only show off the best parts, and keep the not so good parts hidden. I’m lucky to have found the most amazing man in my husband, but by no means is our relationship perfect.

  • It’s so hard! What may be normal for one is not normal for another. It is good to talk to the other person about your expectations and what is good or not good for the relationship itself.

  • It’s so so true one relationships definition of ‘normal’ is different to another person. We should never compare yourself to others because what suits for us and what we expect from others and life are different.

    • Hi Puneet – yes indeed – comparing our children to each other or to other children – You might find a post I wrote on Competitive Parenting resonates there if you’re a keen reader. Thanks for reading this one and for taking the time to comment, warmly, Sally

  • First of all I have to say thank you for providing helplines for abuse helplines, as it is important that we recognize that abusive behavior in any relationship is never ok and should not be something that anyone should have to go through. On a more positive note I also like how you said that one relationships definition of ‘normal’ is different to another person. It is so important that we do not compare ourselves to others.

  • I have been married, happily if I may say, for almost 11 years now. We have our downs, but thankfully, it’s not because of abuse. I am thankful for having a loving and loyal husband. How I found is, for me, was God’s grace. He gave me the right person to have and to hold.

  • I agree we really shouldn’t try to compare our relationships to others. and not everything is as perfect as it appears on social media, especially when it comes to relationships. This post has been so helpful!

  • For some reason everyone is dreaming of a perfect relationship . That doesn’t exist.
    Many people envy me and my husband for our connection, but what they don’t see is the hard work that we’re putting into it.

    • Hi Luiza, yes indeed – the work goes unnoticed. We like to believe things just happen don’t we? Thanks for reading and for the feedback of your experience, warmly, Sally

  • Comparing relationships is so easy to do, wether its to others or past ones in your own life! But yes you should never compare yourself to others even though its so hard aha

    • Hi Iya – Louise yes it can be SO hard can’t it? We learn by comparison of course , I believe that’s why. Which I didn’t think of as clearly until RIGHT NOW! So thanks for that! Sally

  • Being married for more than a decade, we’ve learned long ago not to compare our relationship to others. Every relationship is different and what works for others may not work for you.

    • Hi Joline, aren’t you two wise to have incorporated that? I’t s a learning curve, and not always easy as other readers have said there. Nice work! And thank you for reading, Sally

  • This is seriously such a struggle for me! It’s so hard not to compare relationships when you’re seeing everyones as perfect on social media!

About Author

Sally O'Reilly

Sally O'Reilly

Sally O’Reilly is an IAHIP, ICP and EAP accredited Counselling Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor with nearly twenty years of professional experience. Her particular area of expertise and interest is work with teenagers. She enjoys a busy full-time private practice and has developed and facilitated a personal development, substance misuse and sexual health programme for teenagers for over 15 years. She is a regular contributor to national print and radio media.
Sally is also the co-author of Two Wise Chicks.
Feel free to follow Sally on: Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin