This article explores how to distinguish between healthy or toxic relationship character traits.

How do you determine if people or relationships are good and good for you?

You can find interesting, caring, and strong people, and there is no reason in the world that you must at the same time be leveraged into accepting dark character traits.  Certainly, no one is perfect, but perfect is far from dark.   My goal is that you will be enlightened and empowered to select people who are both good, and good for you.

Image that a fist bump that illustrates healthy versus toxic relationships.
Photo by Andres Ayrton from Pexels

John Townsend, in his book, Beyond Boundaries, suggests we look at the character of a person. Unlike classic values such as integrity, morality, or faith that we use to determine a person’s character, in the relational landscape, character refers to a unique set of abilities, that include:

  • the capacity to connect at deep levels with others
  • the ability to be honest
  • the ability to set healthy boundaries
  • the ability to accept and adapt to the losses in our lives

A deep connection, honesty, healthy boundaries, and adapting to natural loss all sound doable. But then what traits symbolize a darker, toxic character?

John points to two things:

  • First, you look for character problems in the other person. Because character issues will drive the attitudes and behaviours that are causing the difficulties. These concerns will get in the way of love, intimacy, and growth in your relationship.

    Examples of character issues include deception, emotional unavailability, and control. Also, manipulation, excuses, blame, a victim mentality, irresponsibility, distrust, condemnation, and self-absorption.
  • Second, you look at the payoff or the benefit you hope to gain by putting up with a person’s problematic character traits.

    We tend to put up with dark behaviours if we need something from the other person. We’ll minimize toxic behaviours, deny some reality, or overlook a red flag warning us that something about the person doesn’t seem quite right.

John concludes, “Though we ultimately make our own choices, we are deeply marked, for good or bad, by those who matter to us.”

Now, with a clearer understanding of how to evaluate a person’s character to ensure you can grow healthy relationships, how do you go about building such connections?

It starts with healthy boundaries.

How to Establish Healthy Boundaries in Relationships

In her book, Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist writes that she ‘trained’ people to know that she would never refuse their requests. Also, she’d never say when things are too much, or ask for more time or space. As a result, people kept asking, and she kept obliging. This continued until she was so depleted, she couldn’t remember what ‘whole’ felt like.

If you’re someone who struggles with establishing boundaries in your relationships, you know what Shauna is talking about. I do.

For most of my life, I was a Yes girl. Because of that, people kept asking and expecting yeses at my expense, figuratively, financially, and emotionally. I didn’t dare say No for fear I’d be labelled as uncaring and selfish.

The irony in those compliant yeses was that I was neglecting not only myself, but also the people who needed me most.

In midlife, I noticed how I was disregarding my relational needs, compromising my values, and sabotaging the desire for healthier relationships. All because I’d based my Yeses on compliance and conformity. I also faced the hard truth that it would never change unless I changed. And so, I did.

But before I could say No, I needed to understand why saying that two-letter word was such a tricky thing to do.

How to identify why you struggle with setting boundaries and creating healthy versus toxic relationships

Sometimes half your battle is won the moment you identify the root cause. It’s like an elusive puzzle piece that finally snaps into place, making the bigger picture clearer.

Author and life coach, Iyanla Vanzant describes it like this:

“When you can look a thing dead in the eye, acknowledge that it exists, call it exactly what it is, and decide what role it will take in your life, then, you have taken the first step toward your freedom.”

The other half of the solution lies in what Brené so aptly termed, the rumble with our stories, as discussed in this article.

A Final Word on No

Your Yeses and Nos are determined by your need for connection along with your priorities, and goals at any point in time. You are the only one who knows exactly how much time you have available to meet your goals. And, if the type of activities you engage with during that time fit your goals.

A year ago, my family faced a major life shift when we relocated to a new country. There is a huge emotional upheaval that comes with such a big move, particularly for introverts like us. It required carefully prioritizing how we spent our time.

I craved stillness to process the pending change, and the need to let go of my old life. I had to create a mental space for the beckoning new chapter. Finally, I needed to mentally prepare for how we’ll cope and adjust.

During that time, I needed to say No more often than yes. I trusted that those who genuinely cared about my well-being would hold space for my No’s. I lacked the time or energy to appease those who took offence or couldn’t respect my needs and boundaries at this time.

One of the many wonderful gifts of midlife is that it’s a season of refining who you’re becoming. That includes strengthening your inner circle. To successfully achieve that, you need to have a firm grasp on your boundaries.

As you refine the boundaries in your relationships, I hope you do so with greater clarity, wisdom, and discernment.

Heed John’s advice to choose people who are both good and good for you because you deserve no less.

Do you require more help with shifting away from toxic to healthy relationships? Check this related article I wrote about how to shift blurry relationship boundaries.

Until next time, travel gently through life.

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