It doesn't mean playing rescuer to someone who is victim. It doesn't mean forgiving a perpetual cheater or abuser. It doesn't mean ignoring glaring red flags. It doesn't mean thinking to yourself, so the fact that I argue all the time with my partner means its an important relationship! Not even close.
There is a huge difference between "challenge" and "unhealthy."
Challenge ignites and entails growth, it provokes thought, it opens doors and windows in the heart and mind. Challenge is a mirror held up to your being, showing you both your greatest strengths, as well as the areas you likely need to take a long, hard, possibly even painful look. Challenge excites, stirs, and prompts flourishing. Challenge, at times, pushes you in ways that feel scary or hard, though which are ultimately very likely in your best interest.
Unhealthy entails constant, whip lash inducing ups and downs. Continual battles. Manipulation. Lack of trust. Resentment and bitterness. Stuffing many of your needs down deep and pretending they don't matter. Petty arguments and picking of fights. Needless routine drama. Condescension. Blackmailing. Sweeping lots of issues that shouldn't be, under the rug.
What this article is speaking of is the former. Challenge in relationships, not unhealthy ones.
With that clarified, challenging relationships are the ones we most need. They are the ones that shake us awake. That which hold a reflection up to ourselves and show us areas most needed for growth and examination, even when sometimes this is painful. Challenging relationships open new parts of our soul. They stir novel things inside of us. Possibly new interests and hobbies, even different ways of living and thinking, sometimes inviting us down entirely alternate life paths from the one which we thought we were headed down. Often times in life though, we must let go of whom we assume we are in order to grow into all that we are meant to be.
Challenging relationships force us to sit up and take notice. They capture our attention, and hold it. They don't accept bullshit, lies, the deluding of the relationships or of even our own selves. Instead, challenging relationships have the bravery and openness to call it out and draw attention to such (granted, in a loving, respectful manner). They hold us accountable.
Challenging relationships are all about truth, wisdom, openness, warmth, and growth. Sometimes, they are about telling the other that which they don't wish to hear, because you love and see they're venturing down a path (mentally or literally) that isn't good for them.
Relationships of this poignancy and nature are not random. They come into our lives for a reason. The central one being that we have much to learn from them, if we are brave enough and open to allow such soul stirrings to happen, sparked by their entrance into our life.
Because, bottom line, this is the main purpose of each individual human life and existence. To grow, shift, and flourish into all that we are meant to become, into all the talent and potential that each of us have, to mature into our very best self that is possible (which involves strengthening and fine tuning the talents and good points in each of us, while facing fully and addressing the negative and struggles).
The very best relationships in our lives are the ones that evoke these things for and within us. While also giving us feelings of support, love, attentive listening, warmth, kindness, trust, and joy.
Of course, many of us have relationships that are satisfying, contented, easy, though which are ultimately kind of ho hum. These can be friendships, family relations, even romantic connections. Though they are ones that don't really ever challenge us. That just putter along companionably without much ruffling of feathers ever.
While these relationships can be well and good, they are not fully honest. Because truly honest and open relationships will involve conflict at times. Open and truly authentic relationships will entail speaking honestly about things that are concerns or issues, and this sometimes means tempers flaring, people getting miffed, defensive, or sad.
If two people in a relationship (romantic, platonic, familial), never disagree, never argue, never say anything to each other of true substance? It may be a perfectly cordial and pleasant relationship, but its not an especially deep, nor is it fully honest.
Its one more based on feeling good. And while sometimes this is honest, just as often, it isn't. Instead, these type of relationships tend to involve both people dancing around important truths, not wanting to anger or hurt anyone. Its people stifling, or stuffing, or sweeping under the rug. This is not a relationship of challenge, nor of full honesty, and its not one that will elicit much growth in the big picture. While ultimately there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it doesn't do much in terms of helping you to evolve and grow into your best self along the pathway and journey of life. Its a more stagnant type of relationship.
Also worth noting, when I say a "relationship of challenge," this does not mean something that is constantly challenging, that ever evokes navigating through twists and turns of thought provoking, self stretching and realms of challenge. Of course, these quality relationships of challenge have just as much time in when they feel cozy, relaxing, like a place of home, and a respite. In fact, this is how the relationship should feel as an overarching whole. By a relationship of challenge, I am referring instead to one that entails this type of honesty, openness, and invitations for growth, if and whenever they are needed/called for.
Relationships that challenge keep us from growing stagnant or complacent.
They bring us face to face with our own demons.
They cheer us on, inspire, and draw a spotlight to areas we may be unaware of the fullness of talent and gifts we have to offer the world.
They elicit new ideas, novel ways of thinking, even different ways of being.
Relationships that challenge can invite adventure and awe into our lives, if we allow and are open to such.
They can both heal our heart, as well as crack it open to vital truths where need be.
Relationships that challenge do not allow you to settle, they push you to strive and climb ever higher.
These are the relationships that leave the most poignant, deepest mark on our hearts. The ones we never forget. The connections that inspire us towards greater heights and striving to areas of being we never could have imagined. These are also the relationships that fill our souls with the most resonating sense of emotional satisfaction, joy, and wellbeing over the big picture.
Relationships that challenge are one of life's most awe inspiring and awesome aspects. Thus, they are one of the most important.
Directly connected with this topic of eliciting paramount growths in the people you most love, see my article for the concept of Leapfrogging in relationships, for a different though very related take on the same topic.