Let’s be real: when most of us hear the word “healthy,” we think about physical health. And not just balanced nutrition and moving the body in ways that feel good – specifically, we think about thin, able bodies with the time, genetics, and financial resources to look a certain way.
A lot of us extend this to ourselves and to our potential partners. We want to meet someone “healthy” but what we really mean is we want to meet someone thin and able-bodied. We want partners who “make healthy choices” but what we really mean is we want them to make choices that mean they are more likely to look a certain way – and because of healthism, we believe that individual choices and personal responsibility, rather than systemic marginalization and many other factors, are responsible for body type.
In short, we hear “healthy” and think of a very particular idea of physical fitness. Someone who spends hours in the gym, eats a limited diet, and has the privilege to do both. Is that healthy? By one definition. But even if it’s possible for someone to live that lifestyle, they might not be the healthiest in a bigger sense of the word.
Instead of thinking “healthy,” think “balanced.” Physical health is only a small part of the picture. Mental health, social life, career, personal interest, finances, and more are all part of how someone is overall. The question is not “did you work out for at least an hour today,” it’s:
- Do you know and act as if you have inherent value as a person, regardless of how you or your savings account look today?
- Do you know what you want and what you have the bandwidth for, and respect that even when it’s hard?
- Are you happy and content with your career and where it is headed?
- Do you engage in fulfilling hobbies or interests on a regular basis outside of the relationship?
- Do you spend time with friends and family outside of the time you spend with your partner?
- Are you comfortable spending time alone?
- Do you feel like you have a purpose in your life and/or have some fulfilling activity you engage in?
- Do you feel financially secure or at least on a path to getting there?
- Do you feel you have good coping skills when it comes to anxiety, anger, stress, and unpredictable situations?
Being balanced and self-aware makes you a better partner. But what does this actually look like?
For example: Person A makes decent money and loves CrossFit but hates their job and is financially stressed with 50K in credit card debt that they are constantly thinking about. Because of this, at the end of the day hit the gym for two hours, then unwind by watching TV alone until they pass out. They used to love to go to concerts and shows with their friends but have stopped because of their financial constraints. They are too embarrassed to tell their friends what’s going on, so they shut everyone out. Finding a therapist or working with a financial planner seems too overwhelming. When the loneliness gets to be too much, they sometimes drink a bottle of wine and wake up a week later to packages arriving that they can’t really remember buying – but can use as an excuse to feel worse about themselves.
Person B makes a little less money and also has 50k in debt. However, they’ve worked with a professional to create a budget that will mean they’re debt-free in five years, and they’re committed to their goal and transparent about it with their friends. Most people in their life either also have debt or are saving for important financial goals, and their transparency gives their friends room to share their experiences, too. They don’t always love their job, but they see it as a means to an end. Outside of work, they invite their friends over for movie nights, enjoy reading and trips to the library, and are learning to cook. When they feel overwhelmed, they go for a long walk, schedule an extra therapy session, or hit up a meeting, depending on what’s going on.
One of these people is much healthier than the other – and it’s not the person going to CrossFit.
To have a balanced relationship with others, you have to have a balanced relationship with yourself. It’s not easy. It’s not like you take a walk and go to therapy a few times and the universe rewards you with the perfect partner, either. Doing the work doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have a great relationship. But you can’t have a great relationship unless you do the work.