Frontline Initiative: Supporting Healthy Relationships

Healthy relationships start with loving yourself


Anita Lesko, BSN, RN, MS, CRNA is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, autism activist, award-winning author, and United Nations guest speaker. She lives in Pensacola, Florida and may be reached at

Anita and Abraham on their wedding day. Adam is wearing a black suit, red tie, and black cowboy hat. Anita is wearing a white fuzzy hat and cape and is carrying a bouquet of white roses.

Have you ever been in a relationship that you knew in your heart was bad for you? Maybe you didn’t trust them. Or did not connect with them. Perhaps it was even toxic, abusive, destructive, or downright unhealthy. And yet keep repeating the pattern. If so, you are not alone. It’s not uncommon that people make the same mistakes over and over again. This leads them to never have the kind of healthy relationship they deserve.

Accepting myself

I have autism, which I didn’t discover until the age of 50. I spent all those years wondering why I’m so different, never fit in, and have a myriad of sensory difficulties. I wasn’t able to make or keep any friendships. My mom was my best friend. I always felt like I was on the outside of life looking in, trying to figure out how to get in. I was never accepted anywhere – not at school, or work, or with others. I had a lot of rather unusual interests that kept me very busy, yet other than my relationship with mom, I felt isolated and alone. I was convinced that I was going to spend the rest of my life alone. I realized my mom wasn’t going to be around forever. That was a very sad prospect. I often had trouble accepting myself, as I wondered why I was so very different. All combined, these things kept me from accepting and loving myself.  Accepting and loving myself was the first step towards finding and building a healthy relationship with someone.

After I discovered I’m on the autism spectrum, I began learning all I could about it. In the process I learned about myself. That enabled me to finally accept myself. It changed my perspective on life in many ways. The biggest was being receptive to meeting people and developing friendships. Of those, one of them grew into a life-long relationship with a man named Abraham, who is also on the autism spectrum. We got married on September 26, 2015. I still remember as I was about to walk down the aisle at my wedding that I couldn’t believe it was truly happening to me!

Key ingredients of healthy relationships

My relationship with Abraham was built on a foundation of friendship. I see no other way to have a healthy relationship besides building a relationship on friendship. This can be available to anyone, but you need to know some key ingredients necessary to make it happen. These are important for people receiving supports and for Direct Support Professionals. All relationships benefit from these key ingredients:

  • Self-acceptance/self-love. No matter what, realize that you are worthy of love. Accept and love yourself. We all only have one shot at life here on earth. Don’t waste it focusing on shortcomings or a disability. Instead, think of all the positive things about yourself. Love those aspects and think how someone else can love them too.
  • Trust. It takes time to determine that you can trust someone. It takes self-love to recognize that if you can’t trust someone, you should not be in a relationship with them. If you see over time that you can trust them, then building trust in each other is building on that foundation. Be honest with one another. Not even little lies are okay. Lots of little white lies build up to become an untrustworthy relationship.
  • Communication. Being able to communicate with each other means you must listen to what the other person is saying. Being a good listener is what enables one to communicate well. If things arise that you disagree on, having the ability to communicate well will allow you to discuss it and be able to resolve it.
  • Connecting. Being part of each other’s life and spending time doing things together is essential. In today’s world of technology, you might want to put away your mobile devices when together.  It is important to really be with each other.  Stop texting others or surfing the internet when you are together!
  • Pace. Another factor is each person allowing the other to develop the relationship at their own pace.  If you are being pressured to do something you don’t feel comfortable with, it isn’t a healthy relationship.  Being pressured to have sex, move in together, or move somewhere that they want to move is not part of a healthy relationship.

Relationships can be of any sort, romantic, family or  friendship. Everyone needs healthy relationships in their life. As I have come to learn, sharing your life with someone, the right someone, enriches your life. It gives you a true sense of peace, comfort, and security knowing that someone else has your back.

Abraham once described his feeling of our love like this: “Love is like home. That place you feel secure and at peace, like your sanctuary. That is love.” He is exactly right.

Portrait of Anita Lesko wearing a black cowboy hat and black turtleneck and jacket. The hat has a silver band and she is wearing a silver snowflake necklace.

Little things matter

Abraham and I spend a lot of time talking with each other. We both have professional careers. I’m a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist and he’s an AutoCAD Draftsman. On workdays our routine after work is sitting on the couch and drinking tea while we share our events of the day and anything else, we want to discuss.  We love to cook, and only eat meals prepared at home together. It’s all these little things that give us our true sense of being connected with each other. Abraham once described his feeling of our love like this: “Love is like home. That place you feel secure and at peace, like your sanctuary. That is love.” He is exactly right.

There are many ingredients necessary to have a healthy relationship. Nothing in life worth having comes easy, as the saying goes. Your life will be enriched, and your journey will be a much happier and positive one, with healthy relationships.