Eight Contrasts Between Unhealthy
and Healthy Relationships
New Life Ministries
A healthy heart can enter into healthy relationships. Healthy
relationships are central to recovery for romance, relationship,
and sex addicts. Recovery without healthy relationships only perpetuates
the sinful self-obsession that led to addiction in the first place.
In recovery we must learn to shift our focus, thus becoming free
to share intimacy with others.
A healthy heart involved in healthy relationships is the precise
opposite of addiction. Addiction maintains a secret life marked
by fear and control. Genuine love, on the other hand, is marked
by openness, trust, and the freedom to give oneself to another.
Addictive behavior is a deceptive substitute whose effects last
but a moment.
There are many contrasts between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
Taken together they chart a continuum between the secular model
and the biblical model. Understanding these contrasts can help
us understand how healthy relationships work – and how we
can grow toward them as part of the recovery process.
1. Reality vs. Fantasy. Healthy relationships
are based in reality. Each person is aware of his own strengths
and weaknesses. There is no need to hide or to try to fool the
other. Each person is also aware of the other’s strengths
and weaknesses. There is no need to pretend that problems don’t
exist or to tiptoe around “unmentionable” areas. If
the partner is weak in some area, he or she accepts it and helps
accommodate or strengthen it.
Unhealthy relationships, by contrast, are based on fantasy.
What could be or should be replaces what is. The elements of unreality
become the focus. The relationship is built on a foundation that
isn’t really there.
2. Completing vs. Finding Completion. In a healthy
relationship, each person finds joy in sharing in the other person’s
growth, in playing a role in “completing” the other.
In an unhealthy relationship the focus is on completing oneself.
This selfish dynamic is at the heart of codependency. Too many
people fling half a person into a relationship, expecting that
it will be completed by the other. It never works. No one can
ever meet such expectations. It is only a matter of time until
substitutes are sought – either in the form of other relationships
or in the form of dysfunctional and addictive behaviors.
3. Friendship vs. Victimization. A healthy relationship
can be described as two good friends becoming better friends.
The strongest and most successful relationships – even the
most passionate and romantic marriages – have this kind
of true friendship at the base. Where this base of true friendship
is absent, the relationship is shallow and susceptible to being
marked by victimization.
4. Sacrifice vs. Demand for Sacrifice. Few of
the magazines that clutter the checkout counters of grocery stores
publish articles extolling the joys of sacrifice. But no relationship
can grow without it. Unfortunately, most of us are more accustomed
to demanding sacrifice from our partner than to sacrificing our
It’s one thing to love another when the going is easy.
But character and depth are wrought in a relationship when love
requires the surrender of preference and privilege. Nothing strengthens
a relationship like sacrifice. Indeed, it often seems that the
greater the sacrifice, the more thorough the death to self, the
greater the potential for the relationship.
Our relationship with God requires sacrifice. His relationship
with us required nothing less than the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus
Christ. Building a relationship – or restoring one that
has been ravaged by the effects of addiction – depends on
the willingness of both parties to sacrifice for each other, without
demanding anything in return.
5. Forgiveness vs. Resentment. Forgiveness is
a miraculous gift between two people. A relationship flourishes
when we are willing to forgive past hurts and disappointments.
Refusing to forgive is like carrying around a garbage bag full
of hurts of the past. Every time someone makes a mistake, we toss
it into the bag and carry it with us forever.
There are no garbage bags in healthy relationships. Out of love,
the partners take the hurt and disappointment of the past and
burn it up in the flames of forgiveness. What greater gift can
we give someone than to set them free from the weight of their
mistakes? When we unlock others from a past they cannot correct,
we free them to become all they can become, and we free our relationships
to become all they can becomes as well.
6. Security vs. Fear. Security is a rare commodity
in our world. Often people come from such insecure childhoods
they can only hope that their adult life will include a relationship
that allows them to rest in the arms of someone who really cares.
So much of life is lived on the edge of risk, we feel an overwhelming
need for at least one relationship to make us feel safe.
The Bible says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect
love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). When we shift from
trying to use others to satisfy our security needs to trying to
meet the security needs of others, we find ourselves in a new
dimension. We are focusing on their needs, not ours. We are filling
their doubts and fears with the reassurance of our consistent
behavior. We calm their fears by being reliable. We become, in
a word, loving: other-focused and totally selfless. That is the
kind of love that drives out fear and provides genuine security.
7. Vulnerability vs. Defensiveness. In a secure
environment, a person is free to open up and be vulnerable. It
is wonderful to be vulnerable, to do an emotional free fall and
have someone there to catch you. That delightful taste of vulnerability
enables you to open up even more, discover more about who you
are, appreciate all the good that God has created in you.
In a relationship characterized by fear, just the opposite happens.
There is a need to build up a wall of defensiveness. If you do
not protect yourself, after all, you will be violated, robbed
of your identity, controlled, or smothered. The dynamics of defensiveness
lead to death rather than to life and growth.
8. Honesty vs. Deception. There is no way to
build a lasting, healthy relationship on a foundation of dishonesty.
Honesty must be at the core of a relationship; there is no substitute
for it. It is fashionable in our day to paper over unpleasant
truth. We deceive those we love, rationalizing that keeping secrets
is really for their good.
Virtually all addictions are maintained under the cover of some
sort of deception, which eventually is woven into a vast tapestry
of lies and cover-ups. Dishonesty is a very hard habit to break.
One of the main functions of a recovery support group is the accountability
it provides, holding the recovering addict to rigorous truthfulness.
Without accountability, trust and the restoration of intimacy
in relationships is impossible.
Excerpted from Addicted To Love by Steve Arterburn. Used
by permission of New Life Ministries. New Life Ministries has a
variety of resources on men, women, and relationships. Call 1-800-NEW-LIFE
or visit www.newlife.com.
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