Caitlin Lacy LCSW-C, 200 RYT
Relationships can be a huge source of support, love and happiness. However, they can also be a source of anxiety and dread. If you’re feeling drained by a relationship/situationship/an “it’s complicated” but are unsure if the relationship is healthy, read on for some signs it may be.
As a therapist, one of the most common topics clients bring to session are relationships. Be it a friendship or something more, I spend a lot of time discussing the ins and outs of relationships. Each time I have these conversations I can’t help but wish we talked more to our kids and the general public about what is healthy and unhealthy in a relationship. During my time at the University of Maryland I worked as an advocate at a sexual assault/intimate partner violence crisis center. As part of the work I did I attended court with clients, helped them get medical care, and process their feelings. In doing this work, I began to learn a ton about unhealthy relationships and taught clients signs to look out for. Unfortunately, a lot of us don’t have this knowledge and it's not our fault! Thanks to Disney we come to relationships with unhealthy ideas about what love means and this is further impacted by the relationship we see our caregivers have.
Because of this, I think one of the biggest acts of self-care we can do for ourselves is to learn more about relationships. What characteristics are signs of a healthy relationship and which are not. This empowers us to recognize what we want in friendships/partners and what we don’t so we can have the connections we deserve. I’ve put together a list of some of the biggest signs your relationship is unhealthy, read on to see what you think.
#1 You Rarely Spend Time Apart
This is a subtle one. While its normal to want to spend time connecting with the people we hold most dear, too much closeness can be a sign of enmeshment. This basically means that our sense of self and self-worth is tied up in this other person. As a result, when we’re not with them we feel anxious, depressed and lonely. While it may be our instinct to reconnect with this person as soon as possible, doing so continues to reinforce the thinking that you need this person to be okay. As time goes on we begin to lose our sense of individuality and may struggle to have a sense of identity outside of the relationship.
#2 Control or Fear
Fear has no place in a relationship. What I mean by that is, you should NEVER feel afraid of your partner and they shouldn’t feel afraid of you. Relationships are a source of connection and intimacy, and that can’t happen if we don’t feel safe. Secondly, control should have no place in your relationship. If you are being controlled or attempting to control your partner this is a sure-sign things are not healthy. This can look like controlling the clothes your partner wears, needing to know who they are spending time with, where they are going. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s totally normal to have curiosity in your partner’s whereabouts but you are NOT entitled to that information.
"Relationships are a source of connection and intimacy, and that can’t happen if we don’t feel safe."– Caitlin Weese LCSW-C
Another sign of trouble is the presence of guilt. If you constantly feel guilty in your relationship, this is something you should look at more closely. Guilt is often used as a manipulation tactic to get another person to do what we want. If the person doesn’t do what we want we attempt to make them feel guilty and punish them for their disobedience.
#4 Lack of Trust
As I mentioned above, relationships should be a source of intimacy and safety. In order for your relationship to thrive you have to have trust in our partners and their words and actions. If we feel we can’t trust our partner this is something we need to examine more deeply. Ask yourself if you have any evidence to point to as to why you shouldn’t trust your partner. If you do, work on rebuilding that trust over time. Brene Brown does a great job describing trust here and you can learn more about how to rebuild it. On the other hand, if you can’t find any evidence that your partner has violated your trust, you need to look at what might be bringing up these feelings in you. Examine whether or not this is baggage from a previous relationship or experience. We all bring baggage with us into our relationships but it isn’t fair to put this on our partners.
#5 You Don’t Feel Safe Communicating Your Feelings
This is key, again relationships are built on intimacy. Part of having an intimate relationship with someone is being able to discuss your feelings, positive, negative and in-between. Therefore, if you feel anxious or apprehensive about communicating what you feel to your partner this is a huge red flag. Spend some time identifying what it is you imagine will happen when you share your feelings. If you have evidence they've reacted badly in the past, try and approach them about this. If you're the partner who is having the reactions, be open to change and work on some emotion regulation skills like the ones listed here.
#6 There is No Privacy
No one likes to feel like someone is watching them over their shoulder. It's the same in relationships. Despite the fact that this may be one of the closest or the closest relationship we have, it does not mean we're entitled to know everything about the other's life. Privacy is a boundary that helps to separate us from our partner. We need these boundaries to have healthy relationships. If we don't have them, it's usually a sign of deeper trust issues and something we need to explore.
Relationships don't have to be unhealthy. Thankfully, not all unhealthy relationships are abusive, but some can be. If you feel you're in an unhealthy relationship visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline to connect with someone who can help. The most dangerous time in abusive relationships is often when we decide to leave, get support and create a plan to protect yourself.
If you're ready to create healthier and happier relationships, click here to get started.
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