Any relationship can be an unhealthy one. Bad relationships aren’t just limited to marriages or partnerships—they can occur while dating, in friendships, or families. Any relationship that is harmful or destructive to your physical, mental, or emotional well-being is an unhealthy one.
There are many reasons why people stay in an unhealthy relationship. Some don’t recognize or aren’t willing to accept that the relationship is unhealthy, or they are fearful or lack the inner strength to leave. Or, they believe that they can change their partner and things will improve. The sad truth is that unhealthy relationships rarely get better; instead, they get progressively worse, leaving scars that are difficult to recover from.
It’s easy to see the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship, if you know what to look for. First, anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or fearful is a clear red flag. It’s a given that if someone is abusing alcohol or drugs the relationship will be unhealthy, but there are many other warning signs that you should be aware of. If you see any of these signs, get out fast.
Any behavior that is aggressive is unhealthy, but actual physical abuse is just one type of aggressive behavior. Any type of physical force is unhealthy—not only hitting or slapping, but pushing, and grabbing as well. Cruel behavior toward other people or animals is a sign of aggressiveness, as are displays of anger that involve hitting, kicking, or throwing objects. Any time you feel frightened or intimidated in a relationship, it’s time to get out.
Any type of imbalance of power or controlling behavior in a relationship is unhealthy. Any time one person views the other as unequal or inferior, there is an imbalance of power. Often in a controlling relationship, the other person expects you to conform to their expectations of how you should look and behave. They may justify their behavior by claiming they are only trying to help you make good decisions or that they know what’s best for you, but’s it’s really not about what’s best for you—it’s about their need for control. They may go so far as to secretly check your text messages, phone calls, and email to monitor your activity. A sure red flag for controlling behavior is when you feel inferior or that you have no power to make your own decisions.
Possessive behavior may take the form of jealousy or imposed isolation. They will tell you that it’s just that they love you so much and worry about you, but possessiveness is not about love, it’s about a lack of trust. They may lie or make excuses to prevent you from spending time with other people, like by saying they are sick, or by manufacturing a crisis, for example. They may even call or drop by unexpectedly to “check up on you.” At first, this behavior might feel like intense love, but that’s not love, that’s stalking.
All of us can be self-centered from time to time; it’s a necessary part of self-preservation. Where selfishness becomes a problem is when everything revolves around how it affects one individual, with no consideration for the other person. Self-centered people think only of themselves, ignoring or discounting the feelings of others. They expect you to meet their needs, both physical and emotional, with no reciprocation on their part. They often make you feel responsible for their happiness and moods. Any time consideration, care, and generosity do not flow both ways, it’s a red flag.
A manipulator will use pressure or guilt to get you to do things you don’t want to do—often things you don’t feel are right. Whenever someone makes you feel guilty, uses disapproval or threats to influence you, or withdraws love or attention as punishment, that’s manipulation. If you feel as though you are doing things that you don’t feel comfortable about to please another, it’s a red flag to pay attention to.
We can all be critical of the ideas and behaviors of others at times, but when it’s frequent and done with the intent to hurt or belittle, it’s unhealthy. Critical people make you feel inadequate or unworthy. They repeatedly disrespect you, your thoughts, your behaviors, and your words. They often may humiliate you in front of others, though some may be concerned with how others view them and criticize in private to appear kind and caring to others. Anytime someone makes you feel as though you are not good enough, intelligent enough, attractive enough or that your ideas are stupid or worthless, the warning bells should be going off.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde do not belong in a relationship, and that kind of volatile and unpredictable behavior is very unhealthy. It can be very confusing and mentally draining to try to deal with sudden shifts in another person’s mood. A person who rages in a fit of anger one minute, then smiles, cries or acts as if nothing happened the next is unstable and needs help. Volatile people can also be hypersensitive to things you say and do, and small or unexpected things seem to set off a drastic mood change. This type of behavior is common in abusive relationships and may be a sign of mental imbalance.
Dishonesty has no place in a healthy relationship. Not only is dishonesty inherently wrong, but it disintegrates trust between two people. The lies may be big or small, excessive exaggeration or complete fabrication, often with no discernible reason. People are dishonest for a number of reasons: they may be trying to exaggerate their own importance, get themselves out of trouble, or trying to hurt others or cause drama. The reason is irrelevant; the lack of honesty and trust makes a healthy relationship impossible.
Irresponsible behavior can take many forms and can be the most difficult to recognize. Constant Financial problems or mismanagement of money may be a sign of an irresponsible person, as is the inability to keep a job for very long. When someone expects others to support him or her financially or “rescue” them when they have difficulty in life, that’s a clear red flag. Everyone needs help now and then, but a pattern of expecting others to fix their mistakes or take care of them is a problem. In a healthy relationship, both people take responsibility for their own decisions and meet their own needs.
A healthy and fulfilling relationship may be the single most important thing in our lives, but when it becomes unhealthy, it can also do the most damage. A healthy relationship is one of trust, kindness, respect, understanding, and generosity, one that offers support and encouragement. An unhealthy relationship is one where there is violence, distrust, cruelty, a lack of responsibility, an imbalance of power, blaming, manipulation, or extreme jealousy. When there is a lack of consideration and respect in a relationship, the results can be devastating both physically and mentally. Be aware of the red flags, heed the warning signs, and get out quickly.
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