When your primary romantic relationship is unhappy and unhealthy, your entire life is negatively affected. Even though we may feel frightened, lonely, or unhappy, it’s sometimes difficult to recognize signs of trouble. Here are 20 common characteristics of unhealthy relationships:
- Criticism and Contempt
Frequent criticism and ridicule are a reflection of the contempt that one partner feels toward the other. Contempt is among the most damaging and soul-crushing ways with which you treat another person.
- Communication Issues
A lack of loving, honest, and open communication between partners is evidence the relationship is unhealthy. These conflicts often devolve into blaming and anger, and resolution is never reached. Or, one partner may not feel secure enough to express themselves because they know the other won’t listen.
- Absence of Emotional Intimacy
Emotional intimacy is the connection a couple builds when their trust and communication allow self-disclosure, vulnerability, and open sharing. Each partner feels worthy of unconditional love and acceptance. If this intimacy is absent, the relationship will deteriorate into emptiness and loneliness.
Withdrawal is a common sign that one partner wants to leave the relationship. It occurs when there’s a loss of willingness to invest the emotion, energy, and time into the relationship that are necessary for its health. When one partner withdraws, there are usually not many disagreements, or arguments are mostly one-sided, or the withdrawn partner simply refuses to engage.
Passive-aggressive behavior is a childish attempt to control and manipulate. It manifests as non-verbal negativity, confusion, resistance, procrastination, stubbornness, sullenness, helplessness, resentment, or deliberate failure to perform requested tasks.
- Lack of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is crucial for a long and healthy romantic relationship. If one partner can’t let go of past hurts, anger, or grudges, neither partner will feel secure enough to be intimate. Forgiveness requires repentance and a sincere apology.
Codependency is one partner’s dysfunctional enabling and support of the other partner’s negative personality traits or behaviors such as irresponsibility, addiction, or immaturity. The focus is on one partner’s needs, leaving the other partner feeling wounded, angry, and resentful.
- Substance Abuse
Drug or alcohol abuse by one or both partners makes healthy, authentic relationships impossible. Substances alter personality and behavior and impair self-control and judgment. As substance abuse escalates, the partners are driven away from each other.
- Verbal Abuse
A partner who uses verbal abuse is trying to manipulate, shame, and control the other partner. Verbal abuse includes yelling, swearing, threatening, blaming, and using cruel sarcasm. It shatters self-esteem and makes any type of intimacy impossible.
- Physical Abuse
Physical abuse is violence or force used to endanger or injure somebody. It includes slapping, hitting, punching, shoving, kicking, biting, scratching, using a weapon, and sexual assault.
Physical abuse can build gradually. Often, a one-time incident is a warning sign that future abuse will occur. The only acceptable response to physical abuse is to get out of the relationship. A healthy relationship isn’t possible when one partner is abusing the other.
- Conflict Regarding Values
Disagreement regarding significant life values drives a wedge between partners and becomes a source of continuing discord. Major values include things like religious beliefs, if and when the couple should start a family, and how significant sums of money should be spent or saved.
- Lack of Respect
Respect is proof that the partners understand each other and honor each other’s personal boundaries. When one partner doesn’t respect the other, he or she isn’t supporting the other’s needs and values.
- Diminishing Physical Affection
Physical affection in a relationship is evidence of love and satisfaction. Relationships with an affection deficit devolve into lifelessness as time passes. Physical contact fuels emotional intimacy, which is essential in a healthy relationship.
Being dishonest with your partner, even regarding insignificant things, reveals that you either don’t feel comfortable sharing with your partner, or you’re hiding something. Lying and withholding the truth undermines your partner’s trust and respect.
One partner’s perpetual jealousy reflects a lack of confidence in his or her value in the partnership. Expressing jealousy for no valid reason only pushes a couple apart and reduces the partners’ level of respect for each other.
- Sexual Focus
Healthy relationships don’t revolve primarily around sex. Sex isn’t a basis for enduring connections. Sex without affection, emotional intimacy, trust, and strong communication will ultimately doom the relationship to fail.
- Narcissistic Behavior
A narcissist is self-centered, attention-seeking, arrogant, prideful, and claims entitlement to special treatment. Narcissists don’t seek authentic intimacy and genuine connections.
- Different Money-Handling Skills
Money is a significant source of conflict in couples, even when each partner is fairly responsible. Unbalanced financial relationships usually involve reduced levels of trust and respect. Imbalanced financial responsibilities and skills eventually lead to anger, stress, and resentment.
Ambition in a relationship is a battle for supremacy. It can develop related to career success, friends, money, and even children. The need to upstage your partner is rooted in insecurity. Competitive power struggles destroy relationships because there can only be one winner.
- Intolerance for Imperfection
Some people can’t tolerate their partner’s flaws. They view the partner solely as a fixer-upper project and strive to “improve” their personality, behavior, or appearance. This reflects an absence of unconditional love and respect, because they’re driven by a desire to feel more secure in themselves.
Evaluate your relationship to determine if any of these unhealthy characteristics are present. If so, you need to assess if the relationship is causing you more pain than joy. Acknowledging problems and learning better relationship skills, or ending the relationship, are the options you face as you seek to regain happiness and peace of mind.
Once a relationship devolves into these behaviors, it will be difficult to get things back on the right track without professional help. But even if your partner refuses couple’s counseling, you can go by yourself to work through your own feelings and to contemplate the relationship’s future.