Do you think you can spot unhealthy relationships? From how far away?
Tina and Mike are the perfect couple - or so it seems. They hold hands, seem respectful of each other, always say “I love you” before hanging up the phone, and kiss goodbye before they leave each other.
No one would ever guess that they haven’t had sex in over a year, sleep in separate rooms, and rarely speak when they’re alone together. Yet the signs of the unhealthy state of their relationship are actually there for everyone to see – if you know what to look for.
How To Spot An Unhealthy Relationship
Unhealthy relationships can be tricky at times to spot. It's easy to see that a relationship with domestic violence isn’t healthy, but not so much when partners are being outwardly caring towards each other like Tina and Mike. After all, a relationship with caring partners is healthy, right? Not always.
Not all outwardly caring behavior is always inwardly healthy. It’s not uncommon for the behavior we see to be masking deeper problems or done simply as a matter of habit. We have to dig below the behavior and examine the motivation for it to know for sure.
If you know what to look for, however, an unhealthy relationship will always have signs. They may not be things other people can see, but rather subtle warning signs within the relationship. And if they’re present, they need to be addressed.
For instance, if you see or feel any of the following, you should pause and evaluate things on a deeper level.
- Double Standards. Although partners may have different roles in a relationship, they should treat one another as equals. If one partner attempts to tip the scales by taking too much control or creates different standards for themselves than for their partner, there’s a problem.
- Quid Pro Quo. One of the sneakiest ways a relationship can become unhealthy is when one partner tries to leverage the affection of the other to get what they want. “I will be nice to you if you (fill in the blank) for me.” “If you do what I want I will give you (fill in the blank).” This is a form of manipulation that can be presented as compromise, but it’s actually controlling and unhealthy.
- Distrust. A relationship is unhealthy and unstable without trust. Once one partner starts to doubt or question the other there’s a problem.
- Anger. Everyone gets angry sometimes and all couples have arguments. But if one partner angers quickly and often, and the other feels like they have to walk on eggshells as a result, it sets up a very unhealthy dynamic.
These are not all the indicators that a relationship may be unhealthy, but they are some of the clearest warning signs.
The Most Subtle Sign Of Relationship Trouble
Most of us are familiar with the term "people pleasing." We're also aware that it's unhealthy, even though it often takes the form of caring behavior. Not many of us probably associate people pleasing with romantic relationships, but it can occur there too and create relationships that aren't healthy.
Here's a post I wrote on social media about people pleasing. As you read it below, keep in mind the distinction I made earlier between outward behavior and inward motives.
A guy told me, and his wife, yesterday in couples counseling, "It's my job to make her happy." I disagreed. It's his job to care about his wife's happiness, and to do what he can to positively influence it, but her feelings are not his responsibility. Each of us is responsible for our own feelings.
One of the things that make this man's belief so dangerous in romantic relationships (and creates unhealthy relationships) is that he's trying to control something he cannot control. And it sets him up for huge disappointment and the relationship or marriage failing.
The reality in this guy's relationship is that no matter how hard he tries, he just can't make her happy, and that's because it's not his job, it's hers. Another consequence of his belief is the neglect of his own needs and the ill will that arises from it.
Is it really any wonder why this couple has an unhappy, unfulfilling . . . unhealthy relationship? This guy is very sad and unhappy, and he says he's unhappy because his wife is unhappy, but it's really because he's wrongly made his happiness dependent upon hers.
Unhealthy relationships often have some form of people pleasing in them. It can occur for different reasons, but it always leads to the same outcome -- disappointment and failure. As I wrote in the post above, people pleasing is a dangerous trap all of us can fall into. So, we all must continually check our motives and make sure our caring behavior isn't for unhealthy reasons.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about people pleasing in romantic relationships and how it creates relationships that aren't healthy. Please leave a comment on this post below.
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Editor's Note: This post was originally published November 2, 2013 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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