By Christine Murray, Healthy Relationships Initiative Director

Imagine you’re baking some cookies. As you prepare the cookie batter, you may change a few things up a bit in the recipe–who doesn’t like a few extra chocolate chips, after all? But, overall, you need to get the right mix of ingredients in the cookies, or they just won’t taste right. Have you ever added baking powder when you were supposed to use baking soda? Or too much salt? Now, I’m nowhere close to being a master chef, but I can tell you that food doesn’t turn out right when you don’t have the right ingredients in the recipe.

Relationships can be a lot like baking in that way. There are important ingredients to include in a relationship to help it become happy, healthy, and safe. When one or more of the important ingredients are missing from a relationship, the relationship can feel off, or it can start to deteriorate into having a lot of major problems over time. Just like a cookie doesn’t turn out right without the best mix of ingredients, relationships won’t turn out just right if we don’t put in the right mix of positive relationship ingredients.

What are these important positive relationship ingredients? As we’ve planned for the launch of the Healthy Relationships Initiative, we’ve thought carefully about what it means to have a “healthy” relationship. It is not our goal to suggest that there is one ideal way to have a healthy relationship! We know that the “recipe” for healthy relationships can take many forms, and people’s ideas about what makes a healthy relationship are impacted by many factors, including their cultural background, their religious views, and their past experiences.

Together with our Steering Committee and other partners, we’ve worked to identify core features of relationships that we believe are relatively universally accepted as being a part of healthy relationships. We know that our list isn’t perfect–part of the beauty of relationships is that they are each unique, just like the people in them. However, we believe that the following characteristics are common among healthy relationships, even across different backgrounds:

What are your reactions to this list of ingredients for healthy relationships? Would you add any others to the list? One important way that our metaphor of a “recipe” for healthy relationships falls short is that, unlike cookies, relationships grow and change over time. Once a cookie is made, it’s baking process is complete. However, the process of relationships is never really complete.

What this means for the ingredients of healthy relationships is that different ingredients may be more or less necessary at different times in a relationship’s development. For example, there are times when conflict management skills take on the main role in the relationship, while fun may be more important at other times. Part of the key to fostering healthy relationships over time is for people to know when to activate important relationship skills to best support the unique context of their relationship at that point in time.

As you think of the positive ingredients involved in your own relationships, consider steps you could take to infuse more of them into your connections with the people who are important to you! With cookies, too much of an ingredient can lead to a baking fail. With relationships, however, being intentional about infusing more positive ingredients usually helps to strengthen and build healthier, happier relationships!