Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships

What is a healthy relationship?

Healthy couples:

  • Tolerate and respect of individual differences
  • Accept responsibility for one’s own thoughts, feels and behavior
  • Experience a give and take relationship
  • Have realistic values and expectations
  • Exchange caring behaviors
  • Want to know his/her partner and to be known
  • Communicate effectively
  • Enjoy freedom to express all emotions
  • Spend time together
  • Make sure both partners’ needs are being met in a balanced way
  • Share in decision-making
  • Celebrate their partnership

When we are looking at our relationships – we need to be aware of the things that have impacted us in the past, those things which make up who we are, how we think, how we feel, what we fear, how we communicate, how we respond to life’s stressors and how close we let others get to us.  At the same time, we need to acknowledge that the person with whom we are in a relationship with, is also drawing on their past experiences.  They may be struggling with issues of their own. 

 What is an Unhealthy Relationship?

Unhealthy relationships are based on the imbalance of any or all of the ingredients of a healthy relationship.  Unhealthy relationships are based on power and control.  Some of the examples below can be found in varying degrees in an unhealthy relationship.  How many of the examples can you relate to in your relationship?    In violent relationships, one person uses or threats to use forceful, physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, psychological or spiritual means to coerce another, to do something that they want, in order to maintain their control in a relationship.

Some examples are:

Isolation Controlling what another does, who they see, talk to, where they go
Jealousy Making false accusations and/or getting angry when the other person talks to others/doesn’t pay enough attention to them, questioning (interrogating) a person about where they were or who they are with, not believing the answers they give, using cell phones and pagers to keep track of a person.
Criticism The way a person talks, thinks, dresses, dances, walks, the way they do things, etc.
Intimidation Putting them in fear by:  making threats, using looks, actions, gestures, loud voices, smashing things, destroying property
Using Privilege Treating a person like they are a servant of lesser value.  Making all the BIG decisions.  Acting like the MASTER.
Threats Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to harm another.  Threaten to take the children, commit suicide, report them to welfare/family services, blackmail, extortion, etc.  Threaten to leave them with nothing.  Using privileged personal information (past history) against that person.
Using the Children Using the children as leverage to get something they want from you.    Making the person feel guilty about their parenting skills, using the children to deliver negative messages, using visitation as a way to harass the other, complaining about the other to the children
Sexual Abuse Forcing/coercing a person to do sexual things against their will.  Physically attacking the sexual parts of another’s body.  Treating another as a sexual object.  Unwanted sexual experiences which are degrading, hurtful, unpleasant and/or painful.  Withholding sexual contact as leverage to get what they want – NO MEANS NO.
Economic Abuse Trying to keep them from getting a job or keeping a job.  Interfering with their work (constant phone calls and unwanted harassment at a person’s workplace – putting their employment in jeopardy).  Making them ask/beg for money, giving them an allowance, making them account for every penny spent, taking their money, gambling their money.
Emotional Abuse Putting them down or making them feel bad about themselves, calling them names. Dumb, stupid, clumsy, idiot, whore etc).    Telling lies. Distorting the truth/making a person second guess their perceptions/ Making them think they are crazy by playing mind games.  Making unrealistic demands.
Physical Abuse/Aggression Pushing, shoving, hitting, slapping, choking, punching, kicking, using a weapon, beating, twisting arms, tripping, biting, harming another person, pet or others’ belongings.
Gender Disrespect Negative comments on how a person is dressed, their life-style, their physical/sexual attributes or any vague/general negative gender comments directed at a person.
Drug/Alcohol/Substance Abuse The abuse or overuse of a substance by a person which negatively impacts the relationship.  The dynamics of substance abuse can include any/all of the previous examples used.

No one is comfortable looking at these definitions, especially if we have treated another or have been treated in any of the ways listed above.

We usually think of abuse as physical attacks on our person – however, abuse is about power and control – and it attacks the mental, emotional and spiritual part of our being as well. It is about ‘how can I best get my own way’ – and people use different forms in order to do this.  When relationships are deteriorating – any person – even those who would never dream of physically harming anyone or anything, are at risk of abusive behavior.  How many characteristics are there in your relationship?   If individuals continue to act and react in the negative, old familiar pattern they are bound to destroy the relationship and each other.  Abuse is serious.