Relationships are one aspect of a healthy life, as they contribute to our social wellness, and our social wellness is one of eight dimensions that can impact our overall wellness. Research has shown that people who have healthy relationships have better health outcomes. However, not all relationships are healthy, and it is important for you to be able to distinguish between what is healthy vs. unhealthy, as unhealthy relationships can lead to feelings of anxiety or depression. Healthy relationships should bring out the best in you and make you feel good about yourself. Keep reading below to really dive deep into what makes a relationship healthy!
Healthy relationships are centered around love and respect, while unhealthy relationships tend to be based on power and control. A healthy relationship does not equal a perfect relationship. We all do unhealthy things sometimes, but it is important for you to learn how to recognize these signs and shift toward healthier behaviors. Healthy, loving relationships are possible and you are deserving of them!
Here’s 10 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship
- Intensity- When you or your partner exhibit very extreme feelings and over-the-top behavior that feels overwhelming to the other. Rushing the pace of the relationship (coming on too strong, too fast) and being obsessive about wanting to see or be in constant contact with the other person is too intense.
- Possessiveness & Manipulation- When you or your partner try to control the other, what they do, their emotions, and who they spend time with, often in subtle or passive-aggressive ways (e.g. getting upset when they text or hang out with certain people, wrongly accusing them of flirting or cheating, stalking them, ignoring them until they get their way). This also includes pressuring the other person to change who they are or do things they are not comfortable with.
- Isolation- Trying to keep the other person away from friends & family by asking for more 1:1 time, then demanding they don’t see these people (e.g. asking the other person to choose between you and their friends, insisting that they spend all their time with you, making them question their judgment of others).
- Belittling- Making the other person feel bad about themselves (e.g. name-calling, making rude remarks about people they’re close with, criticizing them, making fun of them and playing it off as a joke).
- Guilting– When you or your partner constantly blame the other person or make them feel like it’s their job to keep you happy (e.g. blaming them for things out of their control, threatening to hurt yourself or others if they doesn’t do as you say, pressuring them to do things & claiming it will hurt your feelings if they don’t).
- Volatility/Unpredictability– When you or your partner react strongly & unpredictably, leaving the other person confused, intimidated, or scared to share their thoughts & opinions. One of you feels like you are constantly walking on eggshells to avoid extreme reactions, such as violence, yelling, or threats.
- Deflecting Responsibility– Continuously making excuses for unhealthy behavior, often related to substance use, mental health issues or past experiences, rather than taking responsibility.
- Avoiding Conflict- When differences of opinion arise but are not addressed or resolved to keep the peace. You and your partner do not learn to “argue effectively.” Too much conflict is problematic, but avoiding it altogether is just as unhealthy.
- Personal Growth Cannot Flourish- When you or your partner feel like you must sacrifice your own growth & happiness for the relationship, and you are unable to have a life outside of the relationship. There is no room for the things you enjoy and your wants & needs are being neglected.
- Exhaustion– When spending time together feels more like an obligation and the relationship itself leaves a person feeling drained or brings down their mood. The bad times seem to outweigh the good.
What do Healthy Relationships Look Like? Here’s 10 things to Look for:
- Comfortable Pace- When the relationship moves at an enjoyable speed and neither person feels pressured nor overwhelmed. It’s okay to want to spend a lot of time together at first, as long as both people are comfortable.
- Trust- When you and your partner are confident that the other will not do anything to hurt each other, you do not have to question each other’s intentions, and you respect each other’s privacy. Building trust takes time, requires mutual self-disclosure, and is dependent on how you treat one another.
- Openness/Honesty– Each person feels comfortable being themselves and sharing their thoughts & opinions, without fearing how the other will respond or feeling the need to hide anything. Self-disclosure increases connectedness.
- Mutual Respect – Valuing each other’s beliefs & opinions and loving the other person for who they are, rather than belittling each other or trying to persuade one another to change your mind about things that are important to you.
- Boundaries – Each of you should feel comfortable setting & communicating boundaries and know that those boundaries will be respected. You respect each other’s independence and do not have to know everything the other person does or everyone they interact with. Boundaries should never be used to control one another.
- Healthy Conflict & Communication- When you and your partner can openly & respectfully confront & discuss issues before they escalate. Conflict is normal and it is okay to have disagreements, but it should not involve belittling or yelling. You both should be able to talk about your own wants and expectations, while also being receptive to the other person’s needs.
- Give-and-Take– Healthy relationships have natural reciprocity: Doing things for one another because you want to, not to keep score. It does not always have to be 100% equal, but you both should feel supported & the relationship should feel balanced. One’s person’s preferences should not dominate- your needs & interests should feel just as important as your partners. Both of you should be willing to compromise.
- Taking Responsibility- Each of you should own your actions & words and admit when you made a mistake, without placing blame. This involves genuinely apologizing and trying to make positive changes to better the relationship.
- Support- Being on the same team and appreciating one another. You encourage each other to spend time with friends and family, work toward your personal goals, and have a life outside the relationship. You are genuinely happy when something goes right for the other person and want what is best for them.
- Affection & Fun– You should bring out the best in each other and enjoy spending time together. Healthy relationships should feel easy and make you happy. No relationship is fun all the time, but the good times should outweigh the bad. Affection should not feel one sided. There’s no “right” amount, but you both should be content.
Maybe your relationship is lacking in some of these areas or you would just like to make your relationship stronger. Here are a few basic ways to build a healthier relationship:
- Show appreciation– Feeling and demonstrating gratitude for one another can boost relationship satisfaction and allow you to feel closer to one another.
- Keep things interesting- Relationships can become mundane or routine over time, especially if you have kids. It’s important to find ways to break out of that routine. Make time for one another by scheduling date nights, try new things together, and find time for intimacy or affection.
- Seek a healthy relationship with yourself- Do not depend on someone else to fully satisfy your needs or give you your sense of self-worth. This gives them too much control over your basic wellbeing. Focus on self-love by asking yourself how you can start treating YOU better, celebrating your successes without criticism, embracing your imperfections alongside your strengths, and forgiving yourself for making mistakes.