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I would like to preface this article by saying: any relationship can be unhealthy.
This includes your relationship with your partner, your parents, your family, your friends, your thirty-year-old sugar daddy. Any relationship can be manipulative, emotionally abusive, and obsessive. It’s okay to end or distance yourself from any of these – whether you just need a break from each other or – if you know it won’t get better – leaving that relationship altogether.
On that same note, any relationship can also be healthy. Chances are, you and your thirty-year-old sugar daddy will have a wonderful life together.
When I was 17, I found myself in a relationship that made me cry every night.
This guy was my age, about an inch taller than me, geeky glasses and a geeky personality, and otherwise rather ordinary. Here’s the thing: unhealthy relationships don’t always feature overtly bad or toxic people. Sometimes, a relationship is unhealthy because it’s between two people who don’t fit well together and the effort it takes to maintain a relationship that has run its course is what makes it unhealthy. ‘Unhealthy’ encompasses everything from physical/verbal abuse, to obsession, to possessive behaviour, or a relationship that just doesn’t make you happy anymore.
What makes a relationship unhealthy is the effect it has on you.
I started isolating myself, messaging him at night, and thinking about him in class so much I couldn’t concentrate. It got obsessive: I wanted to hear from him all the time, talk to him all the time, and when he ignored me for days on end, I hated myself for it. Then, as reliable as ever, my depression crept back into my life, and I sank to a low place.
I had close friends who helped me leave the relationship before it did any more emotional damage. He and I are still friends and remain in sporadic contact, but we’re both glad it’s over.
It can be hard to see the red flags until it’s too late. I want to destigmatise talking about unhealthy relationships and write a list of some of the things to keep an eye out for.
- It takes effort to get them to reply to your messages
Are you wording messages in a certain way to guarantee a response because they don’t always reply? Does it feel like walking on eggshells? Yeah, this isn’t a great sign.
Any relationship should add to your life. If you’re someone who needs conversation, who needs someone to talk to about your day, then make sure you find someone who is as open to regular dialogue as you.
- You infer hidden meanings from their messages
Romance and relationships should not remind you of GCSE English, where everything is a metaphor for something else. If this is a healthy relationship, you won’t need to second guess their messages, and you won’t be fishing for double meanings and hints about how they feel. Healthy relationships have healthy communication. Likewise, you shouldn’t be over-analysing if they’re angry at you: this is not healthy, either.
- You constantly complain to your friends about them
Has your best friend become an agony aunt for all your relationship problems? Chances are, you should start addressing these yourself.
If you need someone to vent to (and have for a while) then these are issues you need to bring up in your relationship, not with a third party. Especially if you find yourself ranting to someone else about the same problems repeatedly – this is something that clearly matters to you; for a relationship to be healthy, you should not be afraid to bring up things that make you unhappy.
- Thinking about them disrupts your concentration at school or work
If your relationship is taking its toll on your work, because you spend your time daydreaming about that one time your partner was so lovely to you (and carefully ignoring all the other times they weren’t), then this is getting obsessive. Obsession is difficult to spot from your own perspective but be wary of a relationship that isolates you from others, that plays on your mind all the time, or that takes up your entire mental capacity.
- Friends or family are worried about you
The most obvious one (but the one most commonly dismissed) is listening to your family and friends when they tell you they’re concerned about how you’ve changed since being with your partner or how sad you seem lately. Sometimes it’s hard to take a step back to gain some perspective – those closest to you will be able to tell if something is wrong. Listen to what your closest friends have to say because they are likely worried about you.
- Their comments or messages have made you upset/angry/self-harm
If you have cried or hurt yourself because of something they’ve said, this should be a blinding bright red flag. Nothing said or done in a relationship should ever make you feel this way and, if you’re already coming up with excuses or contradictions to this rule, then you’ve already answered your own question.
- Your relationship has good days and bad days
Relationships should not resemble a roller-coaster of good days and bad days – you should never find yourself dreaming back to the “good” days or worrying about when the next bad day is coming. Relationships take work, of course, but the right person will make it easy – they should be the support you turn to when you’re stressed, not the cause of your stress.
- You’re “not allowed” to see certain people
If you avoid friends because your partner or your parents have warned you against seeing them, this is unhealthy. Relationships should not be isolating; they should be an integrated addition to your existing social network. Some particular red flags here include a partner who expresses discomfort or treats you differently for spending time with friends they’re jealous of; the most common example, of course, is the straight woman whose male partner despises her for time spent with other male friends but this extends equally to any LGBT+ relationship and any gender identity. Jealousy is not healthy.
This isn’t exhaustive, but it should inspire you to start looking at your relationship from a more objective perspective and to be critical about how it affects you. You owe nothing to a relationship beyond what you’re comfortable with and what makes you happy.