REAL relationships

REAL Relationships

by LORI KONOPASEK, Shepherds College Dean of Students

Poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.”

Shepherds College is the sponsor of Apostrophe's education section. Learn more about Shepherds College at

Shepherds College is the sponsor of Apostrophe’s education section. Learn more about Shepherds College at

Odds are that you have heard this phrase before. It’s a quote, song, book, movie, television episode, line from a poem and an album title. You may ask yourself,“What does that mean?”

In terms of relationships, it means that each person is designed to be in community and to have relationships. We are not designed to be alone, like an island. Think of all the relationships you have in your life – friends, family, romantic, casual, neighbors and coworkers.

Seems simple, but it isn’t. Just because we are designed for relationships doesn’t make it easy.

Whether or not you are satisfied with the relationships you have, there are some similarities in how to make sure all of these relationships are healthy.

Why healthy?

Healthy relationships build us up, and unhealthy relationships take away from us.

Healthy relationships are REAL:


Healthy relationships are reciprocal. That means there is give and take. It is not one-sided. Here is an example of a one-sided relationship:

Aaron and Steve work together at a restaurant. Aaron frequently asks Steve to pick up shifts for him at the restaurant, and Steve does. Whenever Steve asks for help with a shift from Aaron, Aaron says he can’t. When Steve is done with his work tasks early, he helps Aaron, but when Aaron finishes early, he leaves early and does not help Steve. This is not a reciprocal relationship because Aaron is unwilling to help Steve.


Healthy relationships are encouraging. This is more than just positive words. Healthy relationships encourage you toward positive things. You are better because of the relationship. Here is an example of an encouraging family relationship:

Joe lives with his mom and dad. Joe has a great opportunity to get a new job, but it is a little farther away from home and requires more hours than his current job. He also helps his parents take care of the home and takes them to medical appointments. Joe is unable to continue helping his family as much if he accepts the new job. Joe’s family encourages him by suggesting he accepts the new job and works to find other ways to get to medical appointments. Holding Joe back from his dreams would not be an encouraging or positive step.


Healthy relationships show acceptance for each person. If one person regularly tries to change the other person, that is not acceptance. This is an important part of romantic relationships. Just because you are dating or married, it does not mean you can change the person from who they are into whom you want them to be. Let’s take a look at a romantic relationship:

Joshua is outgoing and friendly. Maria is quiet and shy. Frequently when Joshua and Maria spend time with others, Maria feels left out. Maria decides to respond in a healthy way by accepting that she and Joshua are different. Instead of complaining to Joshua about how friendly he is and how she would prefer he just hang out with her, she asks him to help her connect and make friends. She asks to start by spending time in smaller groups so she is not as overwhelmed by the number of people. If Maria were to demand that Joshua stop being so friendly or ask that he only spend time with her, this would not be an example of acceptance of Joshua.


Healthy relationships have limits. It cannot be all that makes a person happy. It cannot be the only thing in life; instead each person has to have their own life. They must be independent of each other, each with personal interests, skills, talents and abilities. Limits are really important with romantic relationships and friendships. A boyfriend or girlfriend will not solve your problems. Friendship is great, but being together all the time is not necessary. Put some limits on a friendship or romantic relationship so that you have some independence away from that person. Here is an example of limits within a friendship:

friendsSarah and Emily are good friends. They have many things in common; both enjoy fashion, movies and the same television shows. They spend evenings and weekends hanging out together. In fact, they don’t even have to talk about it; they just know that any free time is spent together. This can happen in romantic relationships too. Sometimes dating couples spend all their free time together and do not spend time with others. Spending all their time together can mean weekends, evenings, telephone calls, face time, texts, chats. The list is unending. Here is the problem: there are no limits in this friendship or dating relationship and no room to invite others to hang out. It may be comfortable, but neither person is getting to know other people. Healthy relationships allow for each person to be independent with their own interests and time apart.

We all are made for community, but that doesn’t mean all our relationships are healthy REAL relationships. Take time to look at your relationships and determine your next step to make sure you are building healthy relationships.

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