When in a relationship, the beginning is usually blissful, romantic, and memorable. Weeks have passed by, and you and your partner are on cloud nine. But as time passes by, you have encountered your first disagreement, and the way how your partner responds has caused your antenna to rise. However, you sweep it under the rug and say that this is not who this person truly is. As time passes by, you notice that your behavior around your partner is not your true self, and you feel like you’re you are walking on eggshells.
You start to ask yourself the following questions: “Am I in an unhealthy relationship?” “Is this what true love looks like?” “Do I deserve this?” “Is it my fault?”
No one ever sets out to be in a relationship that’s unhealthy. We all strive for love and to have our version of happily ever after, where our needs and those of our partner are met and supported. But, for whatever reason, sometimes that doesn’t happen, and what we thought was promising turns out to be unhealthy.
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What defines an unhealthy relationship?
Now, there is no concrete definition for an unhealthy relationship because a relationship is built on a set of different behaviors. But an unhealthy relationship is a relationship where one or more of the people involved exhibit behaviors that are not healthy and are not seen as mutual respect for the other person. It can leave us feeling uncomfortable, sad, embarrassed, and afraid.
Relationships are also built on boundaries, so if someone in the relationship is not respecting their partner’s boundaries, a relationship can become unbalance and take a turn for the worse. Your mental health and well- being as well can be negatively impacted. An unhealthy relationship is not necessarily an abusive relationship, but it can be.
Relationships that we have with someone (whether with our partner, family member, friend, or co-worker) helps us, enrich us, make us better people, and give us joy. In an unhealthy relationship, these feelings are usually not experienced. Therefore it is crucial to recognize and understand what constitutes an unhealthy relationship because such relationships can escalate to a toxic or abusive relationship.
Red flags that can indicate you are in an unhealthy relationship
Setting boundaries are limits that you make to help create reasonable, safe, and permissive ways for others to behave towards you. It helps to show your partner what you find acceptable and unacceptable in their behavior towards you. The purpose of boundaries is to protect and take care of yourself.
If your partner has no respect for your boundaries or has crossed the limits you have established and is unwilling to discuss it with you, it can mean that your partner does not value your feelings or desires. In the long run, this can negatively impact your self-worth and self-value.
Possessiveness and Control
Does your partner use power and controlling behavior to manipulate you into feeling guilty about where you go, who you see, and what you do? Initially, the first signs of your partner being possessive and controlling can be interpreted as a sign of love, but as time goes on, you will begin to see the negative impact of this kind of behavior.
When there is a possessive partner in a relationship, this person will not encourage you or allow healthy parts of your life to grow and flourish. For example, you may end up losing your identity in the relationship.
If your partner is one that is possessive or controlling, you may have observed the following:
- Your partner wants you to spend all your time with them
- Your partner may always want you to leave a place early or cancel plans made with family or friends
- They do not like to share you with anyone and may manipulate into feeling guilty if you try to
- They may want you always to post pictures and status updates being together
- They get extremely jealous and paranoid of your relations with other men/women
- They need to know your schedule, and you are required to check-in
- There are rules about where you can go, who you can hang out with, and who you can talk to
- They try to sabotage your relationship with family and friends
- Your partner does not respect your personal boundaries
Does any sound familiar to you? A perfect Netflix series that depicts this kind of behavior is called “You”. Check it out here.
Lack of trust
With any relationship, trust is something that builds over time. Your partner’s actions help you to confirm if there is trust between the two of you. Trust is hard to build in an unhealthy relationship if your partner continually breaks promises or if their level of commitment with you is always on and off. One minute there are really into you, and the next minute they are disinterested.
Can’t see beyond self
Is your partner all about self in the relationship? Are their opinions, values, and beliefs the only thing that matters? Are they unwilling to look at things from your perspective when a problematic situation arises, for example? I was in a relationship once, where my ex-partner could not/refuse to try and see things from my perspective.
As individuals, when we come into a relationship, we are not only bringing who we are as a person, but we are also bringing our beliefs, values, and opinions with us. There is nothing wrong with that because these components make up who we are. If there is no balance in the relationship, and your partner is unwilling to see things from your viewpoint, it becomes difficult for you to be open and share vulnerable moments with them.
Lack of communication or unhealthy communication
Communication is the utmost important thing that you need for a healthy relationship to thrive. When I say communication, I am not just talking about listening and speaking. No. This type of communication needs to be kind, respectful, and honest. When you experience a positive emotional connection with your partner, you feel safe and happy.
If you and your partner are unable to talk to each other beyond the surface level, you won’t be able to grow together. If there is no communication, you won’t talk with your partner about difficult topics or express your true feelings to them. Suppose you or your partner are not open with each other, not paying attention to non-verbal cues, not being a good listener, and not being honest. In that case, there will be many misunderstandings and a lot of arguments instead of healthy discussions.
On the other hand, if the communication is toxic in the relationship where conversations are filled with criticism, sarcasm, or hostility, you may start to avoid talking to each other because it is too much negativity for you to handle.
Do you feel that your relationship has been one-sided? You invest a lot into the relationship, such as your emotions, time, money, efforts, and support, but getting little in return. Understandably there may be a time when the relationship may be one-sided if your partner is sick or lost their job. Still, if it seems to go on indefinitely where the balance has shifted, then the burden is going to become too much to bear alone.
Are you with someone that is always criticizing every little thing about you? Granted, none of us if perfect, and we all have flaws. But if you are with a partner that consistently points out all your flaws and always has something negative to say, it can eventually become damaging to your self-worth, and you start to value yourself less. Consistently tearing a person down could lead to a form of emotional/psychological abuse as well.
Lack of self-love
If you are in a relationship that negatively impacts your well-being and mental health, your sense of self-worth can dramatically decline. The value you have for yourself starts to decrease, and you may no longer be taking the time to take care of you and your needs. If you are with someone who doesn’t acknowledge your value where they are always criticizing you, putting you down, or ignoring you, it can eventually trickle over into how you view yourself as a person.
Lack of independence
Are you consistently around your partner? Are you doing everything with your partner and have lost interest in what you use to do before getting involved in a relationship? This can become unhealthy because your identity begins to fade, and what defines who you are is now blurred with your partner’s identity.
On the other hand, if you are in a relationship where your partner needs to where you are all the time, they call/text frequently while you are apart, check your phone, and manage how you spend your time; then, they are inhibiting your independence.
Is there hope for an unhealthy relationship to become healthy?
There is no right or wrong answer here because every relationship is different, and every situation is different. I have mentioned some red flags indicating a relationship can be unhealthy, but many more signs will let you know something is off in a relationship. For example, You’re unhappy; you feel uncomfortable, make excuses not to be around the person, and so on.
In some other instances, some signs indicate that the relationship is toxic, and it is time for you to leave. Such examples are if you are in an abusive relationship (physical, sexual, and sometimes emotional). If you are feeling unsafe, the best thing for you to do is to end. This sometimes is not as easy as it seems, and support may be needed. Talk to someone you are comfortable with or reach out for help.
For some relationships, there is hope, but it requires work and vulnerability. Our values and beliefs make up who we are and make us all unique. But these are not the only two things that determine our character. How we were raised, our culture, and life experiences all impact our lives somehow, and we bring all of this into any relationship that we enter. Therefore, in order for an unhealthy relationship to change for the better, it is important to know who we are as individuals (have a level of self-awareness) and understand how our life experiences impact who we are and how we engage and perceive relationships.
Also, talk with your partner about what is bothering you and how you are feeling. If your partner is willing to change or even seek help, this step is in the right direction. Keep in mind, though, that change does not happen overnight (if only right?), and this change is something that will require dedication and willingness. You or your partner should be open to the following:
- Open to facing discomfort and being vulnerable (understand that to get to that level of vulnerability may take a little time)
- Have a willingness to adapt and change
- Be open to seeking help (if necessary)
- Open to forgiving and moving pass blame
- Be open to understanding the importance of maintaining individuality
Should you leave or consider leaving an unhealthy relationship?
Well, I would say that it depends on the situation and it depends on how much time was invested into the relationship, because believe it or not, it is not as easy and straightforward to walk away in some instances. Even ones that are abusive. It is not always black and white, and sometimes planning needs to be involved before making a move to leave.
Here are some reasons why you should consider leaving:
- It prevents personal growth
- If you stay, the relationship can turn into an abusive one
- It can become detrimental to your well-being and overall mental health
- It can hurt your self-worth and self-esteem
- It can negatively impact your relationship with your family and friends
- You can quickly start to lose yourself/your identity
- It creates room for you to be in a healthier relationship
- Your worth is more important than what the relationship may have to offer
- Sometimes it is better to be alone for a while
- It will show personal strength and growth
Relationships are important, and we all want to be loved, but being in an unhealthy relationship can cost you time and energy that you can never get back. Of course, every relationship is different, and you must trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it. Look into and consider doing something about it. Some unhealthy relationships can become healthier ones, but always remember to stay true to yourself and your values.