Developing Healthy Relationships
Part of our Real Chemistry series – connection, wellbeing and chemsex recovery.
This page introduces information about taking the first steps to developing healthy relationships, which for some can be a challenge when moving forward from chemsex. After you have read through the information, and reflected on the themes that resonate with you, there are some exercises for you to work through. You may find it helpful to have a notebook to use as you work through the exercises, or you could use the function on a phone or tablet.
Quotes about Healthy Relationships
“A Healthy Relationship, whether it’s romantic, brotherly, or friendly, is when each person is allowed room to grow unjudged, and still loved”.
How does this quote resonate with you? What does it make you think & feel?
The First Relationship
The first relationship we experience can be seen as the relationship we had with our first primary caregiver i.e.mother, father, other caregiver. It’s probable that this relationship sets the scene for being close to another, and for being intimate, and also sowed the seeds of how we could get our needs met, or not, and would not have had to be perfect, just a ‘good enough’ experience.
During this relationship we would have received instructions from our primary caregiver(s) of how to behave to get our needs met, to be loved and to have attention. Generally for little boys as we were back then, we would have received instructions about how to behave such as:
- Don’t cry,
- Be Strong,
- Be Supportive For Others,
- Don’t Have Feelings
...all of which can be counteractive for close Intimate relationships, but which may have led to early instructions & permissions.
Instructions of how to be with others: We should do this or that, act like this or that, which may have been verbal, but we may have also picked these instructions up through face expressions or body language.
Permission of how to be with others: An example of a permission would be: You can be ‘this close’ to me, or you can only be close to me if you follow my instructions. Again permissions are often verbal, but can be picked up through face expressions or body language.
Have a think about the instructions you may have received as a child, and what permissions you were given in order to be close to another. Then have a think about how these may have been played out in your adult relationships, and how sometimes these early experiences can be projected, or interrupt our adult relationships.
The Influence of Being Gay/Bi/MSM Men
So..we have a group of men who have received messages of not being close to others since it is not ‘Manly’ to do so...who are then thrown into an adult life being attracted to other men who have also received the same messages and face the same difficulties!
Also due to the lack of modelling of Gay/Bi/MSM relationships in the media & society, it’s possible to think that we are part of a marginalised group who do not have much experience of how to be together, or of how to be in a loving relationship with each other which is acceptable in society, and a society who view Gay/Bi/MSM men only in terms of the sex they have.
Is all this a Recipe for Disaster?
Two answers, yes & No.
Yes: You have a group of men who engage in sometimes fulfilling sexual experiences, but without the presence of closeness or intimacy for some, since this goes against what is acceptable and not acceptable, leaving some feeling rejected, unfulfilled and empty.
No: There is an opportunity to become aware of the barriers to being close to another man and ‘Transgress’ the norm by going against any internalised messages we may hold from the past.
What might be Needed?
Let’s go back to some of those messages we may have picked up in early life:
- Don’t cry,
- Be Strong,
- Be Supportive For Others,
- Don’t Have Feelings
And now let’s think about how we may need to counteract these message by acknowledging:
- We are human, there are times when we cry,
- Though sometimes strong, we are also less strong at times,
- While supportive of others, we can also ask for support when needed,
- Recognise that we have feelings and needs, and learn how to ask others to meet them.
How might we do this?
Good question! And though we might not have all the answers, here are some themes that may be supportive in some way.
As unique individuals there is no ‘one size fits all’ and the reality is that we will all struggle with some element of difficulty, that impacts our ability to be intimate with another.
It is important then to recognise what our needs are i.e. to be cared for, to be able to share how we feel etc in a safe manner, and take risks with being vulnerable, and to share that with another/others. This way, we will begin to test the waters and to get feedback on what is acceptable to ask for and what is not.
Unhealthy & Healthy Relationships
An Unhealthy Relationship would be one where only one person gets their needs met, can often involve the use of drugs & alcohol by one partner, similar to a parent child relationship, can often be codependent i.e. one partner needs the other to make them feel ‘Okay’, while the other needs to be needed.
A Healthy Relationship would focus on equality, care, and respect and can be viewed as adult-adult.
Have a go at reflecting on these two types of relationships. Can you identify times in the past where you would deem a relationship as being healthy or unhealthy? What were the pros & cons for each?
It's important to remember that there is no one out there who can ‘fix’ you (well, not in the long term anyway), nor are people able to make everything in your life feel better all of the time. Instead it may be helpful in thinking about how you could take on this responsibility yourself.
Also, there is no perfect time to be in relationship, and we will often ALWAYS have parts of ourselves that may need working on, and that’s a realistic view to have. It may be important though to share any issues you are facing with a partner, but do not expect them to take on responsibility for ‘fixing’ them for you, since there are external services out there to support you with this.
Some tips though of how to be with others:
As always, communication is key: Be honest about who you are, if someone does not like what they hear, then take steps to move on, or to let them move on.
Remember that no one is perfect: Unfortunately not all potential partners will live up to any idolisation you have of a ‘perfect partner’.
Nothing lasts forever: be realistic about the relationship you are entering into.
People Change & Grow: We all change over time, as do what we may need in a relationship and it may be important to communicate any changes you experience as well as any restrictions in a relationship that may impede your ability to grow.
As well as reflecting on some of the questions raised above, the following themes and questions may be important for you to focus on:
What would be an ideal relationship for you? Friendship? Romantic? Sexual?
What steps could you take to ensure it feels healthy, balanced, and supports wellbeing for both parties?
What things would be easy to communicate to ensure that your needs were met?
What might be more difficult for you to communicate, and how might you navigate this?
What professional support may you need with engaging in relationships, and what steps could you take in order to put this in place?