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.
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