Relationships can be tricky, and not always the easiest to navigate. There are times when we feel butterflies in our stomach and head over heels in love and then there are moments when we second guess our commitment and feel lost in our relationship. Having relationships is an essential part of life and it is natural for people to gravitate and connect to one another. There are many types of relationships, whether they are intimate relationships with a partner, friendships, or close relationships with family members. It can be hard to determine if a relationship is right for you and even harder to recognize if your relationship is healthy or unhealthy. Here are some signs that will help you make that determination.
Signs You Are in A Healthy Relationship
Mutual Respect – Respect is a two-way street. It must be given and received to balance out a healthy relationship. When people decide to agree to disagree, they are practicing mutual respect and creating space to voice their own opinion without insulting or disrespecting the other person. Be sure to recognize and respect cultural differences when they are present. What may seem respectful to you may come across as disrespectful to another person. When someone shows you mutual respect, they are saying you are important and they value you as a person. Common signs that indicate mutual respect is present include listening without interrupting, having trust for one another, and treating each other with kindness.
Good Communication – Good communication is also key to a healthy relationship. How can we claim a relationship is healthy if we can’t communicate effectively? Poor communication and misunderstandings can be detrimental to maintaining a healthy relationship. Be clear and concise with the information you’re exchanging and frequently check for understand to make sure your message is not misconstrued. Good communication requires active listening, paying attention to what is being said, asking questions, and giving feedback in a non-judgmental or offensive manner. Healthy communication occurs when both people have an opportunity to express ideas and no one person is dominating or overpowering the conversation, and both individuals have equal space to verbalize and respond.
Support – Support can be made up of many things and be defined differently depending on your specific needs. Healthy relationships show support on many levels, including mentally, physically, financially and spiritually. Supportive people provide encouragement, help in a time of need, honesty, and show empathy and compassion. If you find yourself being the only supporter in the relationship, it is time to reexamine the dynamics and make necessary changes.
Trust – People must be authentic and allow themselves to express honest feelings in a respectful manner, but how can you do this if there is no trust developed? Trust must be mutual and works best when both people decide to trust each other when entering a relationship. It is not healthy to enter a relationship when trust is one sided and you’re not comfortable with confiding in your partner. Having trust means having confidence that the other person has your best interest at heart and you feel safe with that person both physically and emotionally.
Independence – Just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean you lose your independence. Being an individual is important and partners should maintain their friendships and hobbies while in relationships. It is healthy to have things you love to do on your own outside of the relationship in order to maintain a sense of self. Healthy relationships allow for people to grow together and as individuals. Being codependent and relaying on your relationship to bring you happiness is a sign you are leaning in the direction of an unhealthy relationship.
Signs You Are in an Unhealthy Relationship
Isolation – If you feel alone within your relationship or if the relationship causes you to abandon friends and family members, this is a sign you are in an unhealthy relationship. Partners in healthy relationships do not cause you to isolate and give up healthy relationships. It is important to notice if your partner is creating space between you and others. Forced isolation is a pathway to more controlling behavior that can lead to more serious abuse.
Feeling pressure – Pressure can come from external factors even before you enter a relationship. Societal pressures can cause people to enter relationships that they are uncertain of due to fulfilling the desires of others. Pressure can also come from partners in a relationship that use manipulation and intimidation to pressure you into doing things and behaving in a manner that goes against your values. If you feel anxiety from being forced or pressured, you are most likely are in an unhealthy relationship.
Lack of privacy – Privacy is a topic that needs to be discussed up-front prior to entering a relationship. People have different ideas of what privacy is and this needs to be determined early on. Developing an understanding regarding privacy with friendships, social media, cell phones, and emails is needed to avoid violating personal privacy. If you find yourself having to relinquish control of your privacy to your partner, that is a clear sign that issues exist.
Control – Being able to make individual choices is needed in a healthy relationship. Control comes in many forms and fashions, including controlling personal activities, food choices, clothing, friends and daily schedules. People who have control issues tend to be demanding and have unrealistic expectations that they believe you should follow, regardless of how you feel. If you are unable to make decisions for yourself and find that you are having to follow unfair relationship rules, then you are in a relationship where control and unfairness exist.
Verbal or physical aggression – The most serious aspect of an unhealthy relationship is verbal and physical abuse. This could lead to serious emotional distress and in severe cases even death due to physical abuse. If someone is constantly putting you down, making you feel bad about yourself, blaming you or others for their problems, threatens violence or cruel acts, physically hits you or shoves you or forces you to have sex, you are not just in an unhealthy relationship, you are in an abusive relationship and need to seek immediate professional help.
What do I do if I find myself in an unhealthy or abusive relationship?
People come from all walks of life and their past experiences and interactions dictate how they treat people and what they tolerate in relationships. Even healthy relationships can turn unhealthy or even abusive over time. Recognizing the signs of abusive and unhealthy behaviors is important in protecting your physical and mental health. If you believe you may be in an abusive relationship, click here to seek help from the National Domestic Violence website. If you are concerned that seeking help may lead to further abuse, make sure that you are accessing this site from a secure browser that can be erased, such as browsers located at the public library. You may also call the free hotline at 1-800-799-7233 if you feel you are unable to safely access the website or would like to have a confidential conversation with someone who can provide information and resources for you.
Virginia N. Gaskins MS, LMHC
To read more blog posts written by Virginia, click here.