When Your Relationship Isn't Healthy, Here's How You'll Know
One of the biggest lessons I learned from being in an unhealthy relationship is that you don't always recognize how bad the relationship is until you’re out of it and you can reflect back on it. That’s because, all too often when your relationship isn’t healthy, it's something that developed slowly and subtly over time. While sometimes an unhealthy relationship can be really obvious, it can also be a situation where you have a sort of low-grade emotional fever. Something is off, something doesn't feel right, but you can't quite understand why. This is no way to love. You deserve a happy and healthy relationship, period. So, if you sense something has gone awry in your relationship, it's time to examine that and find out why.
But what exactly is an unhealthy relationship? "It means that the foundational components of your relationship aren't fostering your best interest," NYC relationship expert and love coach Susan Winter tells Elite Daily. "Who you must be, in order to be in this relationship, is not good for you. The choices you make —or feel that you must make — are not good for you," she adds
According to Dr. Patti Feuereisen, a psychotherapist specializing in sexual abuse and author of Invisible Girls: Speaking The Truth About Sexual Abuse, the easiest way to recognize an unhealthy relationship is to compare it to what you consider to be a healthy one. "First it is really important to define how you feel healthy," Feuereisen tells Elite Daily. "Do you feel healthy when you don’t skip the gym and have your workout, when you are creative, when you follow through with friends, when you have self care, when you excel at work, when you get out and go to places on your list? If those are signs that you feel healthy then let’s look at your relationship." If the feeling you have in your relationship falls short to the feelings you have when the healthy parts of your life make you feel good, then it's time to be honest about how healthy your relationship actually is.
While these are helpful guidelines, there are also some specific behaviors the experts say you should pay attention to, and, if they resonate, you'll know your relationship probably isn’t a healthy one. Here's what to be on the lookout for — and what to do about it.
1. You feel like you're always walking on eggshells.
How safe and secure to be yourself do you feel in your relationship? If the answer is that you're unable to feel totally at ease, Winter says that's a clear sign that your relationship might be an unhealthy one. “You fear your mate, and you fear the repercussion that may be caused by displeasing them. You become self-editing and self-conscious as your main job in this relationship is to pacify your partner's emotions. The majority of your time is spent making sure they're OK, so that you'll be OK,” she explains.
Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent relationship therapist in Los Angeles, agrees that you should never “fear being in the presence of your partner," he tells Elite Daily. “If you find yourself dreading being with your partner, then it is very unlikely that your relationship is unhealthy,” he says.
2. There's an obvious power imbalance.
In a healthy relationship, partners should feel like equal partners. If that power balance is off, that’s often an indication that there is a larger problem in the relationship, Winter says. “Your mate is the one with the power. Whether you've put them on a pedestal or they grabbed it due to financial or psychological imperative, it's clear you're the lesser mate. You find yourself seeking their approval out of insecurity, fear and obedience,” she explains.
3. Your partner pressures you to spend all your time with them.
It’s normal to want to spend time with your partner. After all, what's the point of being in a relationship with someone whose company you don’t enjoy? But it's also important to have alone time, or time with your friends when you want to. Which is why Dr. Feuereisen says that if your partner guilts or pressures you whenever you want your independence, that is a huge red flag.
“If your new [partner] whines about you spending more time with your friends, time away from the relationship to pursue creative projects, [time] back to the gym without [them], have a chat,” says Dr. Feuereisen. “Let your new flame know that these are the things that make you healthy and strong and that you need the space to do these things. If your [partner] wants to control your time, [and] needs more time with [you] then you are probably heading into an unhealthy relationship.”
4 . Your partner constantly puts you down.
“[If] your partner constantly ridicules you — privately and in public,” Dr. Brown says you are not in a healthy relationship. He adds that there is a difference between disagreeing and being insulting, and, if it’s the latter, then it’s time to take a closer look at your dynamic. “While even in the best of relationships there are going to be the inevitable conflicts from time to time, you don't want to be with someone who is shaming you just because you have a different point of view,” concludes Dr. Brown.
5. You're never good enough.
When you are with your partner, do you feel confident and like they are bringing out your best self? Because that is how a healthy relationship normally feels. However, if the opposite is true — if you feel like your self-confidence is waning, slowly but surely — then Winter warns your relationship is not a healthy one. “You never feel smart enough, pretty enough, or accomplished enough to satisfy your mate. You're always striving to impress them, yet continually feeling like you're letting them down,” she says.
6. You're doing things you don't want to do to please your mate.
It’s good to have partner who helps you break out of your comfort zone and experience new things, but not to the point where it makes you feel uncomfortable or bad in any way —especially, Winter says, in the bedroom. “[If] you're engaging in sexual activity that makes you feel uncomfortable, yet your greatest fear is displeasing your mate,” the relationship is an unhealthy one, says Winter.
7. You’ve stopped doing things that make you feel happy and healthy.
Do you find yourself reminiscing about things you used to do and realize they all stopped when you started dating your current flame? Consider that another warning sign. “If you find that you stop doing things that make you happy and make you feel healthy when in a relationship because of the pressures from your partner, you are in an unhealthy relationship,” says Dr. Feuereisen. It’s essential to continue to do the things you love and be an individual in the relationship, although Dr. Feuereisen says that’s a message that people don't always hear. “Our culture tells girls and women to be counterintuitive — if he loves you and is kind and wants to be with you all the time, appreciate it, when you are feeling smothered and you do not appreciate all the attention. Positive relationships bring out the best in people, they are relationships that give space to grow together and individually,” she says.
8. Their compliments make you feel guilty.
Compliments from your partner should make you feel good, appreciated, and special — unless they have an ulterior motive. Using compliments to manipulate, guilt, or control a partner is a very subtle, toxic sign that the relationship is unhealthy, explains Dr. Feuereisen. “If your partner constantly showers you with compliments so that you feel guilty to go out with your friends when [they] tell you ‘but I love spending time with you, you are so amazing, couldn’t you just skip this one night out and spend it with me…’ That one night can turn into many nights,” she warns. Her advice if you sense this is happening in your relationship is to be on the lookout for when they love-bomb you with compliments to the point where “you feel guilty to say no because [they’re] so attentive and ‘nice’ — but you feel smothered.”
9. Your partner is unfaithful.
Can you count on your partner to be faithful? Or are you constantly worrying that they'll cheat — again? If you can't be sure your partner will remain faithful or keep their word, Dr. Brown says this is a clear sign that the relationship is not a healthy one for you to be in. “If this is the case, you have to ask yourself why you need to be in an unhealthy relationship where you clearly cannot trust your partner to be loyal,” he says.
What to do if your relationship is an unhealthy one.
Recognizing that the relationship is not healthy is a difficult step. Not only can many of these behaviors masquerade as being loving and attentive, but once you see the evidence clearly, it means doing something about it, which can be a scary step to take. That said, you deserve to be in a healthy and loving relationship, so it's safe to say it's worth it.
The first step, Winter says is to “Ask yourself which is more important: Pleasing your mate or pleasing yourself? Lovers come and go. But you must count on yourself for a lifetime.” But that doesn't automatically mean the relationship has to end. Dr. Brown says it's time to talk to your partner about what you are feeling. “My advice would be to talk with your partner about these and any other issues," he advises. “If they cannot be resolved by yourselves, then it's probably time to consider talking to trusted family, friends, and to seek professional counseling to help you better understand whether or not it is healthy to continue in your relationship.”
Dr. Feuereisen agrees that the first step is to open the lines of communication with your partner, but just as important is recognizing when it's time to cut your losses and let go if they don't hear you out. “Tell your partner what you need, be clear. Give the partner a month to see if the behavior changes. If it does not, and you still feel unhealthy in the relationship, it is probably time to move on,” she says. “In any relationship you need to say what you want and need, if that does not bring fruitful results it is time to move on. Don’t ever stay just because you are afraid to be alone. The truth is when you are strong enough to get out of an unhealthy relationship, and you have learned what is good for you and what isn’t, you have that knowledge to bring into your next relationship and it will be better.”
That last sentiment is really the ultimate takeaway here. Learning to spot an unhealthy relationship and knowing that you have the strength to deal with it head-on will help you find the kind of love and partnership that you truly do deserve.