A healthy relationship isn’t the one where you never have arguments, rather it’s the one where you can feel loved and cared for, even in the moments when you’re not happy with your partner. Healthy relationships are the 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 a lot of work and it can be tricky to tell if you are making efforts to nurture a healthy relationship, or if you’re stuck in an unhealthy one, making it difficult for you to see and recognize your own blind spots. Which is why in this article, I will be talking about the 5 characteristics of a healthy versus unhealthy relationship.
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’re 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. And 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 your relationship with 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 outside of your relationship or no solo hobbies, that you can 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. Codependency is where you feel completely dependent on your partner.
Losing oneself into another person sounds great in Disney movies, but do you really value yourself so little, that you’re 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. 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.
The second characteristic of a healthy versus unhealthy relationship is trust. Now 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 that there are no trust issues in the relationship. But something as simple as snooping through your partner’s phone, can be a sign of covered up trust issues in a relationship. And the biggest problem with not completely trusting your partner is that you can’t ever let your god be fully down. Vulnerability is essential in relationships. I made a couple of articles, 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 ways to be more vulnerable in your relationship can only work when there is foundational trust. You need to know that your partner will be able to emotionally hold you, to understand and comfort you, to believe in you, before you can explore the darkest 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. 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 can you both take to start building this foundational layer of a healthy relationship.
The lack of emotional compatibility.
Which is so fundamental, but is often overlooked. In a world where we commonly hear about abusive or toxic relationships, it’s easy to assume that the lack of a physical or verbal abuse makes a relationship healthy. But 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 say that it can 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 down, when you’re feeling scared or vulnerable. Still, 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. The tricky part though, is that people don’t always gaslight others; you can also gaslight yourself. When you hear the same message over and over again, 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. And a distant cousin of gaslighting is minimization, which involves dismissing an uncomfortable conversation by simply making statements, such as, it’s not that bad or you are overreacting. These might be intended to reduce the tension, but often create self-doubts in the other person, who might be feeling emotionally alone and misunderstood.
And this brings us to the second defense mechanism that couples often show when facing emotional incompatibility, which is intent versus 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’re stressed. It’s a good gesture, a good intent. But is that what you need at that 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 your partner’s intent in this example of helping you feel better will certainly make you less 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 here 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 those actions impact you, rather than just telling yourself “oh they didn’t mean it that way.” When you see things clearly, you can talk about them. You can do something about them. And this intent vs impact is a foundational piece for happiness in any relationship. Still it’s so often overlooked, which is why I decided to make a separate article entirely dedicated to this topic. So be sure to subscribe and hit the bell icon, so you can get notified when the next article is posted.
Controlling or manipulative behavior.
This kind of 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’re less likely to do it again. Like building a wall slowly, 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 and relationships have 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 where you can or can’t go, making you feel bad for doing things that 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 happier and healthier relationship. The last fundamental characteristic of an unhealthy relationship, I want to mention, isn’t something that’s discussed very often, and that is being stubborn in a relationship. If your partner has an attitude that they’re 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 a 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 even a little 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. Be happy, stay healthy, live intentionally.