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So often we focus on relationships that aren't going well. But what does a healthy relationship look like?

It’s easy to look at certain relationships and realize there’s trouble in paradise. But what makes a healthy relationship? That question isn’t as easy to answer, but here are some guidelines.

[Related Series: Relationships 101]

Sacrificial Care

Imagine being in a relationship – any relationship – where you regarded the other person as more important than yourself and vice versa. Think about how good that would feel. This kind of care is called “sacrificial” love, and it’s the kind of love Jesus talks about in John 15:

John 15:13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Being sacrificial is about being willing to give up your desires for someone else, and few things can knit two people together more than one sacrificing for the other. Often, our reaction to someone sacrificing for us is to sacrifice for them. Strangely, laying down our desires is what leads to them being fulfilled in ways we probably never thought possible!

Sometimes, though, we can be generous and sacrificial to others and they don’t show the same sacrifice for us. Often, this is because they are having trouble trusting, probably because of pain or loss from their past, and they don’t know what to think of your motives. They probably assume you have an ulterior motive. This has more to do with them and their lack of trust than it does with you.

[Related: Managing Toxic Relationships]

Healthy Relationships Have Equality and Freedom

Healthy relationships are built on trust, not on dominance or control. Each party gets about as much as they give (“reciprocity”). The best, healthiest relationships are those in which each person has the freedom to be themselves. When you start to feel smothered in a relationship, or the other person’s words become condescending or controlling, or they are exercising control in your life they shouldn’t, watch out! If you find that you are afraid to say or do certain things for fear of repercussion, that is not a healthy relationship.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 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.

Healthy relationships are those in which both people feel they have the freedom to be themselves without fear of repercussion. We must be able to be real, not concealed. Forthrightness, honest, and transparency are hallmarks of this kind of freedom. We have a desire to lift up the other person more than we lift up ourselves.

Talk About It
  1. What is your initial reaction to this topic? What jumped out at you?
  2. What are some healthy relationships you’ve seen? Why do these relationships stand out ot you?
  3. Read John 15:13. Define “sacrificial” in your own words. Why is it hard to be sacrificial in our relationships?
  4. Do you agree that the other person will be inspired to be sacrificial by your example? What should you do if that doesn’t happen?
  5. What does a controlling relationship look like? Have you ever been in one? Explain.
  6. “A healthy relationship is reciprocal.” What does that mean? Do you have any reciprocal relationships in your life? Which ones?
  7. Do you have any relationships that are not reciprocal? Is it wise to seek to make them into reciprocal relationships? Why or why not?
  8. Read Proverbs 16:28. What does “beguiling” mean? Do you know anyone who is like that in his or her relationships?
  9. What steps can you take to have healthier relationships in your own life?
  10. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.
This topic is adapted from the Unbreak Me YouTube channel. Written content for this topic by Daniel Martin.