8 Signs You’re At Risk For An Unhealthy Relationship

By Terry Gaspard, LICSW

The best partner will compliment you and bring out your finer qualities. When you are with him or her, you will begin to see untapped possibilities within yourself and in the world. In any relationship, you will face ups and downs and your love will be tested. However, where admiration and respect are found, love will be sustained. But where these things are absent, love will die.  Finding a partner who likes and respects you as much as you do him/her will give you the best chance of finding lasting love.

What is the secret of maintaining intense love and intimacy in an intimate relationship? According relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, the secret is cultivating gentleness and kindness toward your partner. In his book The Relationship Cure, Gottman writes: “It’s not that these couples don’t get mad or disagree. It’s that when they disagree, they’re able to stay connected and engaged with each other. Rather than becoming defensive and hurtful, they pepper their disputes with flashes of affection, intense interest, and mutual respect.”

If you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left. There are a lot of articles that talk about becoming a better partner but few explain what qualities make up a healthy romantic relationship. The first step in finding a healthy partner is to gain self-awareness about your pattern of selecting unsuitable partners and to recognize qualities of a healthy one.

Catherine, an outgoing thirty-eight year old woman, reflects on a troubling trend she has noticed in her relationships when she says, “I always tend to go for men who are emotionally unavailable. I think it’s because I fear getting hurt and so it allows me to protect myself. I like to be in control and keep my distance but when I fall for a guy, I fall hard. I’ve been hurt too many times and I’m tired of revisiting the heartache of a breakup.”

In the beginning of their relationship, Trevor was loving and attentive – until they started to argue about chores and finances after they moved in together.  Over the past year, Catherine feels insecure about Trevor’s commitment and they never seem to make time to talk. Naturally, Catherine’s waiting for the other shoe to drop because most of her relationships have ended badly.  She questions if something is wrong with her since she’s attracted to distant and moody guys – dismissing “nice guys” as boring.

Are you at risk for unhealthy relationships? Some people engage in one-sided relationships and they aren’t aware of it. Taking this self-assessment (based on Jill Weber’s check-list) will help you determine if you are at risk for an unhealthy relationship. The more items you check, the more at risk you are.

  1. Are you super empathetic and easily feel others suffering?
  2. Do your friends often turn to you for emotional support but you often feel that no one is there for you when you have a problem?
  3. Do you tend to hold in your feelings and then suddenly have an emotional melt-down?
  4. Do you judge yourself harshly when you make a mistake?
  5. Looking back, is it hard to remember one or both of your parents comforting you when you were upset?
  6. Did you often find yourself in the caretaker role with one or both of your parents or a sibling when you were growing up?
  7. Do you feel that you grew up too fast either in terms of maturity level or sexual activity?
  8. When you are upset, do you tend to obsess on your emotions and find it hard to move past them?
  9. Are you a people pleaser? If you have this tendency, you may find setting limits hard and you might have trouble asking for what you need from your partner. This is a pattern that often starts in childhood but it can be reversed.
  10. Do you feel like you have to be in a good mood or positive when you are with friends, family, or intimate partners regardless of how you really feel?

Compatibility – which is about sharing common values and goals, having fun together, and liking each other helps to sustain a couple through tough times. However, both chemistry and compatibility are essential to a long-lasting healthy intimate relationship. If you meet someone who is nice and you don’t feel an instant spark, try not to rule him or her out because the chemistry isn’t strong. On the other hand, if you don’t feel like kissing someone after the second date, it’s probably best to bail out.

Are you wondering if you are wasting your time with the wrong person? Many people in one-sided or unhealthy relationships find themselves attracted to others who are their opposites and/or emotionally unavailable. According to author Christopher M. Anderson, “By learning what emotionally mature behavior is, we empower ourselves with important, and often overlooked, information.”

The following list can help you to more clearly define qualities of a healthy relationship – one that is characterized by admiration and mutual respect.

Here are eight signs that your relationship is emotionally healthy:

  1. You are comfortable being your authentic self. In other words, you feel that you can be yourself and don’t have to walk on eggshells. You feel safe in the relationship and free to express your thoughts, feelings, and desires openly without fear of rejection.
  2. There’s admiration and mutual respect. You accept, admire, and respect each other for who you are.  You avoid blaming each other when you have a disagreement and look for ways to have better communication – listening to each other’s perspective and owning your part in the conflict.
  3. Your partner is trustworthy.  He or she follows through on their promises unless there is something urgent going on. He/she takes you out when they say they’re going to do so. When someone is interested in you, they’ll keep their agreements and apologize when they’re unable to do so.
  4.  Your partner makes you a priority because he or she values your relationship. This includes regular text messages or phone calls to show that he/she is thinking of you.
  5. Your partner is your cheerleader. He or she listens more than they speak. Your partner asks you questions about your hobbies, friends, and family. He or she makes space for your feelings and doesn’t make you feel badly for being in a bad mood or having a tough day.
  6. Your partner makes plans to do things with you and includes you in his inner circle. If something special is going on in his or her life, they invite you and encourage you to join them.
  7. You feel good about yourself when you’re with your partner. He or she values you and gives you positive reinforcement such as compliments and support.
  8. Your partner talks about your future together. If he or she says that they aren’t ready for a commitment, take them seriously – they’re just not that into you.  Don’t waste your time on a relationship that doesn’t have a future.

It’s crucial that you begin visualizing yourself in a healthy relationship before you can embark on one. Consider creating a vision board where you post quotes, messages, and photos of the type of person or relationship that you aspire to have. Check it on a regular basis and see if your prospects match up to the type of person who is a good fit for you. You don’t have to settle for less than you deserve.

Follow Terry Gaspard on Facebook, Twitter, and movingpastdivorce.com.  Terry’s book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship” was published by Sourcebooks in January of 2016.

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.

Terry’s book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.

**Terry offers coaching to individuals and couples about divorce, marriage, remarriage, or relationship issues. She is also an expert on matters related to children of divorce and the challenges facing adult children of divorce. You can sign up for low-cost coaching here. In most cases you will be able to meet with her within a week.