No relationship is perfect and there are always things needing to be worked on. Indeed, some of these things take time to establish, such as good communication. However, you should always feel safe in a relationship and feel you are equal with your partner and you both respect each other. This also applies in relationships with family and friends.
In light of Valentine’s Day being about love, it is important to establish healthy relationships in every aspect of your life, not just romantically. If you find any relationship to be unhealthy, then you need to take action. I know that’s not as easy as buying a pair of shoes, but if you want to be genuinely happy, then you’ll have to go through a painful process.
Going through life, we learn valuable lessons on how to act and what is morally right. However, how to love is not in the parenting textbook and oftentimes we are left to figure it out for ourselves. This leads us to disrespecting those we love in subtle acts by guilting friends to spend time with you, looking at someone elses texts, or shaming a child for lack of effort in school. Unhealthy relationships are universal, as 100 percent of humans will both receive and give unhealthy love at one point in life. More aggressive forms of harmful love is abuse and violence with one in three women and one in four men experiencing this harm in their lifetime.
It is easy to push the statistics aways stating it would never happen to you and disowning the connections all around. Unhealthy relationships are found all around us whether you push it away or not. Calling abuse by different names does not defer it from being any less harmful. Ignoring warning signs allows abusers to continue harming victims. By calling abuse by any other name and saying it only happens to others, opens yourself up to great deals of harm. By making excuses for the abuser saying they are crazy, dramatic, or they are only this way when they drink, mask the clear warning signs of danger.
By understanding warning signs of harmful love and educating yourself on how to take action, it will eliminate substantial harm in the future and in worse cases, save a life. It will also help improve one’s own ability to love better, happier, and healthier. First it is important to note, abuse does not only appear between two partners but can be an issue between family members as well. It can actually be more challenging to cut off abusive ties with family rather than a lover.
Abusive relationships do not start out abusive but rather intense and emotional making one feel lucky and happy. In unhealthy love, these feelings begin to shift as time wears on making one feel overwhelmed and maybe a little suffocated. It can happen when I love you is said too quickly or the partner texts and calls a lot. It is important to understand it is not how a relationship starts but how it evolves as two people begin to further understand each other and become comfortable with who they are. Paying attention to the details in the beginning could save you from abuse later.
- Are you ok with the pace of intimacy?
- Do you feel like you have space and room to breath?
- Are you able to talk about your own needs?
- Are your requests respected?
A partner who belittles you is not an aspect of a healthy relationship. You should feel free to do what you love and feel comfortable expressing yourself. Belittling your feelings, thoughts, and actions is a form of emotional abuse and can have lasting effects on someone’s confidence. Unhealthy loves are used as weapons to be mean and embarrassing. When you try to speak up and explain you are hurt, they tend to turn the situation around and accuse you of over reacting. It seems obvious but your partner should build you up with words and have your back instead of tearing you down. Overreacting and utilizing hurtful words while emotions are high followed by quick apologies and promises it will never happen again are harmful symptoms of an unhealthy relationship. If the person gives you the silent treatment for speaking up for yourself and makes you feel guilty for having the feelings you do, it is a sign to evaluate the relationship.
It is not just about unhealthy relationships, violence, and romantic intimacies. Understanding the signs of unhealthy love can help you understand and evaluate every relationship in your life. It may help you understand why you are left discouraged and anxious after talking to a family member or why a friendship is not working out the best. It may also help you realize how your own intensity can cause problems with those around you. The first step to improving is understanding.
It may seem obvious a healthy relationship involves sincerity while unhealthy relationships involve manipulation, but the grey area of having a healthy relationship with unhealthy characteristics can be more complicated especially when you truly believe a person truly loves you. Before getting into a serious relationship, it would be wise to analyze the situation you are getting into and declaring it worthwhile or not. Even someone who claims they love you can be victim to their own feelings and desires, and if they are confused about their own feelings, they will not be able to love you the way you need to be loved.
Real Giving v. Giving to Get
Those who are in healthy relationships give without expectation. Giving freely without expecting anything in return is a true give of love. An unhealthy relationship gives in order to gain something in return. The partner can and will utilize their gift as a way to manipulate you into feeling guilty, so the person who gave the gift will be able to cash it in for something they want. A healthy relationship enables a foundation of trust where you both are able to have eachothers’ backs no matter the situation as the best interest of the other is always at the forefront. Relaxing in the relationship and not worrying because you know your partner will never betray you is a sign of a healthy relationship. On the contrary, a relationship not giving you satisfaction or comfort is rarely a healthy one. Unhealthy relationships rarely give without expecting something in return and feeds off manipulation of benefits.
Acceptance v. Wanting Change
A partner should truly accept you for who you are and not expect anything from you. If a partner wants you to change who you are in order to benefit themselves, they do not truly love you for what you have to offer. A healthy relationship involves accepting a person, wholeheartedly. Working hard to discover who another person is, so they can be loved in an all encompassing way is part of a healthy relationship. If you are not accepting of the other person or they are not supportive of who you are, they are not meant to be in a relationship. Changing who someone is to fit the vision of the perfect partner is a tell tale sign the relationship is not going to work because the relationship is based on different ideals of what each other wants, and no one should change who they are as a person for someone else.
An unhealthy relationship seeking to change the other person to conform to his wants and needs, is the kind of relationship where controlling is the main purpose. It controls in order to get the satisfaction they need. Asking another to change to be the “perfect” vision of a partner for them in a form of selfish manipulation a toxic relationship has. Whether is be a family member telling you to be more like another sibling, or trying to get you to do better in school than your best is capable of because they deem your best as unexceptable, or a partner trying to change the the you act, an unhealthy relationship and an unacceptance for who you are all presents itself the same, and unhealthy is unhealthy.
Important Aspects of a Healthy Relationship
- Responsibility & Accountability
- Non-threatening behavior
Whether the relationship is between partners, family, or friends, each person should be seen as an equal and treated with respect. This includes acceptance of each other’s uniqueness and respecting dignity and seeing value in each other. Communication is a key element in life and is exceptionally important within a relationship. Without communication there is no trust and a lack of understanding. You should feel comfortable expressing thoughts, ideas, and feelings. If you are not able to agree to disagree in a constructive way or feel opening up is impossible, the relationship may not be a right fit.
Do not place harm on others and own up to mistakes. The point of any relationship is not to point blame at one another. It is typically you and them against the issue not you and them against each other. Instead support and encourage each other to grow separately and together. Have pride in your dreams and aspirations and supply enthusiasm for those within your circle. Being supportive in good and difficult times alike is a healthy way to show your love. Being honest about your insecurities, desires, and what makes you happy is a way to have good communication within a healthy relationship. You cannot build a foundation on lies.
Setting boundaries is a must to ensure others are respectful at all times. Do not feel bad for setting boundaries you need within your life in order to be comfortable. Anyone who disrespects your boundaries, makes you feel bad for setting them, or tries to get you to renegotiate your boundaries by pushing you does not respect you and should not be in your life because the people who disagree with your boundaries are those who are upset they are not able to benefit from your comfort. You should always feel safe in your relationship and never worry the other person is going to harm you. A partner should never have power over another whether intimately, family, or friend.
Aspects of an Unhealthy Relationship
- Lack of Communication
- Constant Fighting
- Controlling Behavior
Without communications there is no foundation to build a healthy relationship. It opens the door for distrust and dishonesty. Disrespect includes name calling, breaking boundaries, and constantly questioning and criticizing the other person’s choices and decisions. Constantly questioning shows a distrust and a lack of acceptance for who the person is. Every human likes their space at one time or another, and everyone deserves a certain level of independence. If someone is dependent on another financially, emotionally, or physically, it could be a base for an unhealthy relationship as the person is unable to function by themselves. They will drain their partner and do everything in order to not be cut off from the benefits they depend on. Independence is about being tethered to each other in a loving way, but still being able to enjoy the friends, family, and activities you loved before by yourself as well. Just because you have someone new in your life, does not mean they have to be your focus 24/7 nor do you have to give up everything you loved doing before.
Manipulation plays a key component in a majority of unhealthy relationships. It can take many forms including mind games, convincing a partner to ignore their own wants, desires, and needs, and using guilt to manipulate others. Utilizing criticism to tear others down is a form of emotional abuse, and isolation is tactisized by abusers to make victims/survivors dependent on them by cutting off their ties to support networks. This increases their power and control in the relationship. All relationships are bound to have conflicts within them; however, if you are constantly fighting, this is a bad sign. You should not feel combative with your partner, family, or friends. Having controlling behavior and needing to always be right is not healthy either. Controlling where a person can go, so, and do is an example of controlling behavior. Others include demanding social media passwords, checking texts, and maximizing intimidation to get their way. Emotional, verbal, and physical abuse is a form of control.
Why Do We Stay In an Unhealthy Relationship?
Addiction feeds our brains, and the same parts of the brain triggered by addiction are controlling our feelings of love. The intense, irrational feelings of love we feel is like being addicted to drugs. We want to have a strong connection with someone we barely know and have a lot of similarities within our connections, we begin to possess an addictive impulse within our brains. Our emotion and depiction of love ends up controlling our brain. The prefrontal cortex (front of the brain) makes rational decisions and tells the rest of the brain to calm down. When you have the feeling to stab someone with a fork but your brain goes I cannot do that, I would go to jail, this due in large part to the prefrontal cortex telling yourself to rationalize your feelings.
However, the prefrontal cortex does not control our heart of feelings of love. This is why when we get into unhealthy relationships, it is common to find most of our relationships are the same, and we either do not leave the unhealthy relationship, or we continue to get into unhealthy relationships with the same characteristics. Our feelings make us obsessed and compulsive with the idea of love.
How Do We Get Out of an Unhealthy Relationship?
It can be tricky to end a relationship, but if it is making you unhappy or is toxic, it is in everyone’s best interest to leave. Do not mistake addiction for love. If you are trying to get out of an addictive relationship, try reframing your thoughts and emotions about the person in order to gain a healthy distance. Another aspect worth applying to the situation is giving yourself a break. Give yourself both comfort and encouragement without deluding or berating yourself. Lock yourself into a plan and defy cognitive dissonance. Our minds have a way of justifying our actions so we never have to feel like we did something stupid. Unless a relationship suddenly takes a turn for the worst, ending it often means coming to terms with the fact we did not end it for a long time and it was a mistake. Own your decision to end the relationship. It is not easy and can be painful, but ultimately the choice is yours.
Being in a healthy relationship is a staple part of our mental health. Being stuck in quarantine can make it seem like change and leaving is not an option. However, there is more to the situation at large as it is not just romantic relationships that can provide unhealthy love. Unhealthy love can be presented by friends and family, as well as, yourself. It is possible to love yourself in an unhealthy way and knowing all the signs to an unhealthy relationship can be beneficial in the future.
A healthy relationship means loving and taking care of yourself, before and while in a relationship. If you do not love or take care of yourself before a relationship, it can be hard to expect someone else to during. An unhealthy relationship can be why you care for and focus on another person only to neglect yourself, or you focus only on yourself and neglect the other person. Trust and communication are key components of a healthy relationship. WIthout a strong communication base, distrust can come into question as it appears secrets are being hid from the partners.
In the beginning, if your partner wants you to give up your personal dreams, it is a sign to reevaluate and decide whether to stay in the relationship or not. A partner should be uplifting and supportive talk along the lines of we instead of I. If your instinct is to breakup and leave, you need to reevaluate the situation as time of breakup can be a trigger for violence. If you feel like you may be in or heading toward abuse it is recommended you consult with experts to get advice on how to leave safely.
Doing your part can help insure healthy relationships are met and unhealthy love is left at the door. Practice communication, mutual respect, kindness, patience in order to help yourself improve. As we are all humans, we will never be perfect, but practicing everyday will help you improve on your own healthy love.