5 Signs of Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships

What is a healthy relationship?

A healthy relationship isn't the one where you never have arguments. Rather, it's where you can feel loved and cared for, even in the moments when you're not happy with your partner. A healthy relationship is comfortable but not stagnant. Healthy relationships are ones where instead of wasting your energy on meaningless arguments, you invest your time and energy in growing as individuals and as a couple.
 
But healthy relationships still need work. And it can be tricky to tell if you're making efforts to nurture a healthy relationship or if you are stuck in an unhealthy one. It's especially difficult when you have invested a lot of time and emotions into a relationship, making it difficult for you to see and recognize your blind spots.
 
This is why, in this article, I will be highlighting 5 healthy vs. unhealthy relationship characteristics, so you can build the relationships that you deserve to live this one life to the fullest.

Sign 1: Independent Identities

One of the core signs of a healthy relationship is that couples are able to maintain their independent identities. And not only maintain but develop and grow their individual selves without feeling threatened about their identity as a couple.
 
When you are in a relationship, it makes sense that you and your partner would want to do things together. In fact, it's important to do that, but it's also important to have healthy boundaries. Your identity as a couple should not replace the individual identity that you developed for 20-30 years of your life.
 
Regardless of how head over heels you are for your partner, you can't build and nurture a relationship with them if you lose your relationship with yourself. So don't let yourself become secondary to anyone else, including your partner. That's one of the foundational stones of a healthy relationship.
 
For example, if you have no social circle without your partner or solo hobbies that you enjoy by yourself, then those are signs that you need to define who you are - not in your relationship, but as an individual person.
 
When your and your partner's identities start to blend into one another, it inevitably gives birth to a co-dependent relationship. Co-dependency is where you feel completely dependent on your partner for some aspect of your life.  Losing oneself completely into another person sounds great in Disney movies. But do you really value yourself so little that you are ready to let go of all that makes you uniquely you?
 
And the tricky part is that this co-dependency can feel great because it provides that comforting reassurance that neither of you is going anywhere. After all, you NEED one another. It can mask all sorts of fears of abandonment, insecurities, and self-esteem issues. But remember that a hallmark sign of a healthy relationship is when you don't need your partner, but you still deeply want them.

You can never build a healthy relationship with your partner, if you lose your relationship with yourself.
Dr Raghav Suri

Sign 2: Trust (or lack there of)

The second characteristic of a healthy vs. unhealthy relationship is trust. When it comes to trust, a common thing that I see is people's tendency to focus on just the "big" issues. People often assume that no cheating or controlling behavior simply means no trust issues in the relationship.
 
But something as simple as snooping through your partner's phone or browser history can be a sign of covered-up trust issues in a relationship. On the other hand, needing to send pictures to prove your whereabouts is a more blatant form of a lack of trust in a relationship.
 
The biggest problem with not completely trusting your partner is that you can't ever let your guard be fully down. Vulnerability is essential in relationships. I made a couple of videos covering why vulnerability in relationships can be tricky and how to move past those barriers. So check them out if you want to be more emotionally open and intimate with your partner.
 
But all these amazing to be more vulnerable in your relationship can only work when there's foundational trust. You need to know that your partner will be able to emotionally hold you, to understand and comfort you, before you can explore the dark alleys of your mind with them? Without this trust, how can you ever let them deep into your inner world?
 
It's not something that you can talk yourself into - It's not a choice, it's a feeling, and you feel what you feel. You can't convince yourself to trust your partner if, deep down, you just don't. So rather than being defensive or faking trust, sit down with your partner and take a deep dive into your relationship. Figure out why your relationship lacks trust and what actions you can both take to start building this foundational layer of a healthy relationship.

Sign 3: Emotional incompatibility

The third sign of an unhealthy relationship is the lack of emotional compatibility, which is so fundamental but often overlooked. In a world where we commonly hear about abusive or toxic relationships, it becomes easy to assume that the lack of physical or verbal abuse makes a relationship healthy.
 
Nothing could be further from the truth. People who end up in unhealthy relationships aren't always bad, but two great people can still be not good together. And this is where compatibility comes into play.
 
The purpose of being in a relationship is to feel supported, loved, and understood. I won't ever be effortless, but it shouldn't feel like work either. You shouldn't have to worry whether you can lean on your partner to hold and comfort your emotions when you're feeling vulnerable or scared.
But when facing the reality of being stuck in an emotionally incompatible relationship, couples often react with one of these common defense mechanisms:
 
The first is gaslighting, which means to completely deny someone's experience in an attempt to manipulate them by denying something ever happened. The tricky part tho is that people don't always gaslight others; you can also gaslight yourself.
 
When you hear the same messages over and over, you start to believe them. Often, these messages make you doubt yourself, dismiss how you feel in your relationships, or even make YOU feel guilty for the state of your relationship.
 
These messages can become so ingrained in your mind that you start gaslighting your own experiences. You start silencing any voices within you that challenge the comfortable but fake reality of your unhealthy relationship.
 
Gaslighting is a distant cousin of minimization, which involves dismissing an uncomfortable conversation by simply making statements such as "it's not that bad, or you're over-reacting." These might be intended to reduce the tension but often create self-doubts in the other person, who might feel emotionally alone and misunderstood.
 
And this brings us to the second defense mechanism couples show when facing emotional incompatibility in a relationship: intent vs. impact.
 
It's basically another way to silence that inner voice that tries to alert you towards an uncomfortable reality. It's where you dismiss how you feel by telling yourself to focus on your partner's intent rather than the impact of their actions on you.
 
A common example is when your partner buys you a gift when you are stressed. It's a good gesture - a good intent. But is that what you need at the moment to feel better - is that your love language? For some people, receiving gifts does make them feel better. But for others, words of affirmation or acts of service are stronger love languages.
 
Focusing on the intent in this example will help you not be as upset at the moment. But, deep down, you will still feel that your partner doesn't really get you. Now, of course, the example I gave is a solvable problem - something you can discuss and work out with your partner.
 
But you can't do that unless you allow yourself to focus on how your partner's actions affect you, rather than just telling yourself that "oh, they didn't mean it that way."

Sign 4: Controlling or manipulative behavior

The fourth sign of an unhealthy relationship is controlling or manipulative behavior. This goes hand-in-hand with gaslighting or minimization, but controlling behavior can be so damaging to you - and your relationship - that I wanted to mention it separately.
 
These restrictions and controlling behaviors can sometimes be direct but are often subtle, such as making you feel guilty for doing something. Of course, when your partner makes you feel bad about something, you are less likely to do it again. Like building a wall, these restrictions grow bit by bit, so your partner can mold you into who they want you to be.
 
Especially in 2022, with social awareness and empowerment, emotional manipulation in relationships has become more subtle. But whether direct or indirect, such behavior slowly destroys the very fabric of who you are - your independent identity and desires.
 
Some examples include dictating who you can and can't be friends with, making you feel bad for doing things you enjoy, making you feel unworthy or unsure about yourself, or blaming you when they don't get their way.
 
Remember that building trust rather than restrictions, will lead to a much healthier and happier relationship.

Sign 5: Being stubborn in a relationship

The last fundamental characteristic of an unhealthy relationship I want to mention isn't discussed very often. And that is, being stubborn in a relationship. Any relationship where both partners aren't willing to be flexible has an expiration date.
 
If your partner has an attitude that they are "always right" or things always have to go their way, then what does that mean for you? If your thoughts and desires are always secondary to your partner, then deep within, you will also equate that with your place in the relationship. It's not a balanced relationship - and if it's not balanced, it's not healthy.
 
Healthy relationships are where both partners have an awareness about their strengths and weaknesses. Where one falls short, the other fills in. In areas where you both are strong, you collaborate. In areas where you both are weak, you support each other. It should feel like teamwork, even if there is occasional friction.
 
The hallmark of every healthy relationship is to work together while feeling understood, loved, and supported. And you both have to ask yourself if it's better to win against each other or work together?
If there's any hesitation in choosing to work together over "winning," then that's a sure shot sign of an unhealthy relationship. But if you do decide to work together, then be the one to lead. Be the one in your relationship to inspire positivity and build an environment for a healthy relationship.

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