Every relationship is different. What works for one couple might be completely different than what works for another. However, there’s a difference between a relationship being unique and individual, and a relationship being harmful or unhealthy for one or both partners. It can be hard for people to know if they’re in an unhealthy relationship, since you can grow used to the lifestyle or deny that problems exist. If you think your relationship might be unhealthy or you aren’t sure, take a look below to find several common warning signs in unhealthy relationships.
One of the most common hallmarks of an unhealthy or dangerous relationship is physical abuse from one partner to the other, often in the form of hitting or slapping. No matter who hit whom or how often it occurs, physical abuse is just that: abuse. No healthy relationship should resort to violence.
Ridicule and Name Calling
It’s normal for couples to argue from time to time, but if your arguments ever descend from a disagreement about an issue to ridicule of each other’s character or personality, you might have a problem. Calling each other stupid, lazy, or other negative terms can show a lack of respect between partners, and that doesn’t spell a happy couple.
If you feel like your partner is constantly checking up on you, interrogating you about your friends or activities, or making you feel bad for doing things away from them, that could be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. Overly needy or possessive behavior also counts as jealousy, so don’t be flattered when your partner is unreasonable about you spending time elsewhere or doing things with other friends.
Unsavory Behavior towards Others
While it’s not a direct symptom of an unhealthy relationship, undesirable behavior towards others can often signal deeper problems or potential for abuse. If your partner is verbally or physically sexist, racist, or abusive toward other people outside your relationship, there’s a greater chance that he or she will also turn that behavior toward you. Remember, you should be proud and happy to be with your partner, not reluctant or embarrassed.
History of Abuse
New relationships often take on some of the character of previous relationships in our lives. If your partner experienced an abusive relationship when he or she was growing up, they might unconsciously emulate some of those behaviors in their own relationships. Counseling can help people deal with past abuse and have healthy relationships again, but it’s not easy or quick.
Threats and Ultimatums
One characteristic sign of an unhealthy relationship is when one partner starts making threats or ultimatums for the other person. These can be threats of violence, such as promises to hurt or kill the other person, or threats of leaving the relationship or exposing secrets. Threats can even be promises to hurt themselves, like threats of suicide (“I’d kill myself if you left me.”). Ultimatums – demands that the other partner do something, no matter what – also fall into this category. In any case, all of these techniques are ways for one partner to control the other with force.
Lack of Support
A common thread in many unhealthy relationships is one partner feeling unsupported or cast away by the other partner. If you feel like your hopes and ambitions are met with criticism and negativity rather than support and guidance from your partner, you might be in an unhealthy relationship. Remember that your partner isn’t obligated to support you all the time, but they also shouldn’t leave you feeling resentful or unhappy.
Alcohol or Substance Abuse
Again, a history of alcohol or drug abuse is not necessarily indicative of an unhealthy relationship. However, alcohol and drug abuse do often point toward other mental or psychological problems such as depression, addiction, or impulse control problems. You might suggest counseling before leaving your partner for their substance abuse problems, but if they aren’t willing to work on the problem it’s a bad sign.
Cheating and Infidelity
If you’re in an exclusive relationship and your partner cheats on you, that can be a major sign that he or she doesn’t respect you or the relationship you have. Regardless of what they say or promise afterward, cheating is a bad sign. Some people’s relationships can weather this storm, but it’s entirely up to you whether you feel comfortable taking your partner back or not.
Obviously these aren’t all the signs of an unhealthy relationship, but they are some of the biggest and most visible. If you think you’re in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, help is available from several sources, including the Domestic Violence Victims Service from the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council. You can also learn more about healthy relationships from online sources like Love is Respect.