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How to Tell if a Relationship is Healthy or Unhealthy

How to Tell if a Relationship is Healthy or Unhealthy


Does anyone actively seek out a difficult relationship? If you have been involved in an unhealthy partnership of any kind, you are keenly aware of the dangers. You cannot possibly imagine a person consciously inviting a poor relationship into their lives. And yet, many people face this scenario daily and often repeatedly. Some remain in unhealthy situations for years. Others move unconsciously from one unhealthy relationship to another. For both, the consequences of their relationship’s destructiveness may be demonstrated across their lives including thoughts, self-identities, and self-limiting behaviors. Usually, leaving bad relationships can be a lengthy and upsetting process. When life begins to normalize, those involved often reflect, “Why did I stay so long?” Of course, hindsight offers clarity that was muddied and highlighted only in retrospect.

We are most vulnerable in intimate partnerships. The potential for anxiety, depression, and trauma-related effects increase significantly in toxic relationships. With that in mind, I will explore common traits of healthy and unhealthy relationships, offer positive coping skills and promote healthier partnership choices.

Healthy relationships are primarily two-sided interactions with both parties contributing to and receiving from one another and the relationship. They are based in equality and respect.

Healthy Relationship Traits

  • Honest and open communication
  • Mutual respect
  • Shared responsibility
  • Economic partnership
  • Shared power
  • Trust and support
  • Safe environment
  • Physical affection and playfulness
  • Emotional intimacy
  • Strong sense of self (individual identity)

If you have a relationship that includes these qualities, this part of life is probably satisfying and meaningful. Relationships require ongoing attention and effort, so continue to develop your partnership and deepen your connection.

Alternately, unhealthy relationships usually have significant imbalances that may lead those involved to feel less valuable than their partner. What are a few signs that your relationship may be unhealthy?

Unhealthy Relationship Traits

  • Inequality in resources (transportation, money, career, parenting, decision-making, etc.)
  • Inability to be yourself in the relationship and/or express your thoughts and feelings without criticism and ridicule
  • Lack of affection and/or shared experiences
  • Poor communication, threats, or ultimatums
  • Physical aggression of any kind
  • Unsafe environment (inability to relax, feeling threatened emotionally or physically, or that your privacy has been violated)
  • Withholding attention and support (silent treatment is one example)
  • Forced sexual acts; inability to say no and have your choices respected
  • Unresolved disagreements
  • Controlling and/or manipulative behaviors

Even the healthiest relationship may have traits of an imbalanced partnership. The imbalances should be temporary and isolated. When they become the relationship’s dominant pattern, it may be time to seek professional help. A therapist can work alongside you to identify individual needs, concerns, and offer support as you make personal choices. Relationship counseling may also be a good way to improve your relationship or address problems. Counselors can teach positive communication skills and assist you and your partner in developing a stronger, more intimate, and more meaningful relationship.

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”

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