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Signs You’re in a Healthy Intimate Relationship (and What to Do if Not)

Signs You’re in a Healthy Intimate Relationship (and What to Do if Not)

Now more than ever, we are looking for it all from our partners. We want them to be our friend, lover, companion, confidant, co-parent and partner in crime. Gone are the days when we coupled up in order to procreate or get a dowry. Today’s healthy relationship is about amplifying what might be possible in our lives.

In order to determine if you are in a healthy relationship, it is important to gauge that by today’s standards, not by the metrics of old relationship benchmarks. Here are 5 ways to know if you are in a healthy intimate relationship, and what to do if you’re not.

1. You fight well

The old way to measure a healthy relationship is that you don’t fight. A couple who got along and were five times more affectionate than they were combative were seen as having something healthy. Yet in today’s healthy relationship, what is important is that you know how to work through conflicts in order to achieve greater harmony.

Just like a muscle that gets stronger once it tears and repairs after working out, so does a relationship get more powerful when the couple works through a disagreement.

Many couples don’t have an effective repair mechanism after they fight. A lot of them sweep their issues under the rug. Yet you will know that you’re in something healthy when you can fully resolve the conflict and find new solutions to your disagreements.

What to do if not?

If you are in a relationship in which you sweep problems under the rug, then it can be helpful to work with your partner to find new ways of making up after a fight.

Talk to each other about what you saw in your families growing up. How were fights and make ups handled there? What would you each want in order to resolve arguments such that your relationship could grow stronger from them?

2. Your sex is relaxing

Modern couples have so much going on in their lives that they don’t need sex to be another task; instead it needs to be something that nourishes and relaxes them.

Couples often rate the health of their sex life by measuring how passionate it is. They assume that they need wild, hot sex in order to demonstrate that their love life is where it should be. Yet you don’t need to be swinging from the rafters, or having kinky sex in dangerous locations in order to prove that your relationship is strong.

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While it certainly doesn’t hurt to have intensity and intimacy in your love life, what most couples report to me in couples counseling is that they benefit from having a sex life that is relaxing and affirming. Rather than there needing to be pressure to have sex be something that defines how wildly or deeply you love each other.

A healthy sex life these days is one that causes both people to be more relaxed, open and connected.

Couples are often concerned about how often they have sex and want to know what a normal frequency is for married couples. Recent research shows that married couples who have sex once a week are happiest.[1]

The key was to maintain a sense of connection and intimacy, yet having sex more than once a week didn’t make couples any happier. For modern healthy relationships, you don’t need to have sex every night but instead make sex something that is loving and connected.

What to do if not?

If sex in your relationship is not relaxing, then it can be helpful to talk with one another about what would help make it so.

Rather than allowing the chatter in your mind to govern how you experience sex, try to turn the dialogue into something that will bring more honesty and connection into the bedroom.

3. That little voice inside your head is quiet

People used to judge their relationships based on if you have outward similar values or enjoy doing the same activities together. Today’s healthy relationships are ones in which each person has an experience inside themselves of knowing that they are with the right person. It is an inner felt sense that you’re where you are supposed to be.

People want to feel certain about their relationships. While nothing is a guarantee when it comes to love, there is something healthy when that little voice inside your head is not questioning every little thing that happens.

I hear from clients all the time who are trying to interpret their partner’s behavior, or who are constantly worrying where the relationship is going. They keep evaluating what sort of future they might have with the other person, which causes them excess psychic stress.

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A modern healthy relationship is one in which that little voice in your head is quiet. The chatter starts to go away and confidence in the solidity of the relationship emerges.

What to do if not?

If that inner chatter is there and you are worrying if you’re with the right person, or if the relationship is heading in the right direction, then it can be very helpful to get those thoughts out of your head and make them speakable.

Perhaps start with a trusted friend or well trained counselor to talk through and make sense of what you want from the relationship. It can sometimes be healing to hear your thoughts spoken out loud, rather than rattling around in your head.

Then, when the timing feels right, you could try talking with your partner and share your thoughts such that you can feel more confident in what you have together.

4. It’s easy to cry

Another old way of defining a healthy relationship is one in which the couple communicates well. However, with modern couples the better way to define health is that it is easy to be emotional with one another. Can you cry, laugh, scream, sulk and worry openly with each other?

Most people think that they need to have healthy communication with their partner to make the relationships work. The word “communication” is really an umbrella term to describe something much more complicated.

Most couples know how to do the mechanics of talking and hearing each other. The problem is really not how to communicate but how to manage emotions when we relate.

When the part of the brain that manages emotions (the Amygdala) gets activated, it shuts off access to the part of the brain that manages communication (the prefrontal cortex).

In relationships, people often describe becoming overwhelmed with emotion and then shut down their ability to connect and communicate. They describe becoming emotionally flooded or triggered. When this happens, couples tend to go into more of a fight-flight mode. They struggle with openly emoting and relating at the same time.

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If you are in a relationship where you have access to one another’s internal lives and you share your emotions freely, then you are in good shape.

If your relationship is one in which you hold in emotions, then you might need to work to develop your emotional intelligence.

If you and your partner either shut down or have big blow ups when there are strong feelings involved, then you might need to do some deeper work to be more connected .

What to do if not?

The three steps involved in this sort of connection are being in touch with your feelings, naming them and then communicating them. The feelings exist in the body, so you would need to be in touch with your body to feel what is there. Then give a name to what that feeling is.

Once you have named it then you can tell your partner. For example, you feel unsettled in your belly. You might name that as anxiety. Then you could tell your partner, “I’m feeling anxious about my presentation this afternoon.”

Being able to put your thoughts and feelings into words can go a long way towards healthy relating.

5. You become more accountable

Most of us rate our relationships on how they make us feel. The old way of judging if you have a healthy relationship is to gauge if you feel better about yourself. But just because we might feel good doesn’t mean the relationship is healthy. Our partner might be co-dependent or there might be power dynamics in play that we don’t quite realize.

A new way to judge if you have a healthy relationship is to notice if you are more comfortable acknowledging your faults and taking accountability for your limitations. When it’s safe in a relationship to say “I’m wrong” or “I’m sorry,” then you know that the relationship is in good shape.

A lot of people focus on blaming the other person for the problems in their relationship. When there is no blame game, it opens the interaction up to something more creative. You may actually feel better about yourself when you admit and accept your weaknesses but still know that you are deeply loved and accepted.

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Saying to your partner, “I don’t always get it right,” and knowing that’s OK can go a long way towards being comfortable taking accountability for your side of the relationship struggles.

What to do if not?

If you find yourself not comfortable taking accountability, you might want to see what happens when you try dropping your defenses just a bit.

Try acknowledging a shortcoming and test the waters to see what happens when you admit faults. Knowing that you can step out of the blame game can be a relief.

If you’re stuck in it, then couples counseling can always help with creating a more safe space in the relationship to take a closer look at what’s going on.

Remember, this is not your grandmother’s marriage. It’s not your mother’s or father’s relationship either. In fact, having a healthy intimate relationship in this day and age is nothing like we’ve ever seen before.

Take my advice, be honest with yourself and your partner and work together to make your relationship stronger.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

[1] Society for Personality and Social Psychology: Couples Who Have Sex Weekly Are Happiest

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David Klow

Marriage and Family Therapist and Author

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Published on April 7, 2021

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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2. They Make Everything Transactional

Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

Some statements to be wary of include:

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  • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
  • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
  • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
  • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

3. They Criticize Everything

One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

  • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
  • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
  • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
  • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

5. They Socially Isolate You

Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

  • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
  • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
  • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
  • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

Final Thoughts

It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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