How Can I Tell If This Is a Bad Relationship?
Whether it’s deliberate or innocent, we can turn a blind eye to the signs that our relationship is unhealthy or toxic. Here are a few clues to help you honestly assess your relationship.
It doesn’t matter if this is your first bad relationship or the dozenth, or whether you’ve been together a month or a decade. Bad relationships take all shapes and forms. Sometimes, we don’t even recognize that they’re bad. We’re so used to the toxic signs from our own past relationships or those we’ve seen our parents, siblings, and friends in, that they seem perfectly normal to us.
Some people will say that if you have to ask if you’re in a bad relationship, you are. That’s not necessarily the case, though. Again, if we’ve spent our lives surrounded by unhealthy and toxic relationships, we might not know how to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy — but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve unwittingly ended up in an unhealthy one. We can just as easily stumble into a good relationship.
But it never hurts to do a little checkup and make sure your relationship is healthy. And if you go through the signs and begin to realize that it’s not healthy, it’s time for a change.
You’re constantly fighting or arguing
Every couple has disagreements. Whether it’s politics, religion, where the kids should go to school or even how to load the dishwasher, every couple has arguments. In fact, The Gottman Institute says that every couple has at least one perpetual problem, or a problem that will never be solved no matter how many times they were to argue about it.
In a healthy relationship, these arguments might get a little heated, and you might even need to take a break and come back to it later. But you can generally find resolution. You can recognize a perpetual problem and agree to disagree or find a compromise that allows your relationship to continue without arguing over it all the time.
In an unhealthy relationship, you’ll have constant arguments. These arguments will get loud, possibly violent, and might also include slamming doors, threats to break up, and leaving in the middle of the argument. These arguments will be repetitive, arguing about the same things over and over. You’ll also argue over many things — maybe even just about everything.
You do things for your partner hoping for “returns”
In love, we are generous. We bring our partner a glass of water when we get one for ourselves. We make their favorite dinner when they’ve had a hard day. We rub their back or their feet when they’re in pain. We do these things because we love them and we want them to be happy and healthy. We don’t do them expecting for something in return.
Unless it’s an unhealthy relationship, that is. In an unhealthy relationship, we do things in hopes that by doing them, we will get our partner to do something for us. It might be something specific. It might be that we cook them their favorite dinner in hopes of getting them to go to a concert with us this weekend. Or it might be as simple as that they never do anything for us, so we keep doing things in hopes that they’ll pick up on the hints and start doing things for us.
Whichever the case, it’s toxic. It’s a sign of not only our partner’s potential selfishness, but our own inability to simply speak up and ask for what we want or need. The two combined are a bad mix, and are a recipe for a disastrous relationship.
You’re jealous or don’t trust your partner
Every time your partner goes out with friends, you’re jealous. You don’t trust him with his female friend he’s known since sixth grade, or with the female co-worker that seems just a little too into him.
Maybe your partner is giving you reason to feel jealous or not trust him. Or maybe you have these issues from past relationships and are bringing them into this one. Either way, it’s not healthy. The key here is figuring out which one is the case.
If it’s your own issues from past relationships, you might need to work with a therapist to put the past behind you and move on. But if your partner is giving you reason to feel jealous or not trust him, it may be much more complicated and difficult to try to resolve.
Whichever the case, if you recognize this dynamic in your relationship, it’s important to figure out why it’s happening and get busy resolving it or ending the relationship. Continuing the dynamic will only make things worse, and whether it’s in this relationship or a future one, the pattern will continue to repeat until you do the work to heal it.
You don’t feel loved, wanted, or cared for
In a healthy romantic relationship, both partners should feel loved, wanted, and cared for. How that looks varies from one relationship to the next, and even between two partners in the same relationship. What makes you feel loved, wanted, and cared for depends on your love language.
This can come about one of two ways. Either you haven’t told your partner what would make you feel loved, wanted, and cared for, or you have told them, and they aren’t making the effort. Either way, the relationship is unhealthy.
But if it’s a matter of you not telling your partner how to love you, your relationship can still have a chance. If you open up and tell your partner how they can make you feel loved, wanted, and cared for, they can begin doing those things for you. It requires being vulnerable and honest, but it can be worth it.
On the other hand, if you have told them (especially if you’ve told them more than once) and they simply aren’t making the effort, this is a sign that they don’t care enough to try. Unfortunately, that won’t be as easily remedied, and perhaps can’t be fixed at all.
You’re disrespectful toward each other
Respect is a critical component of any relationship, including professional and family. In a romantic relationship, it’s especially important because you share so much of your lives with each other. Being able to respect each other’s opinions, thoughts, feelings, and time can often be what makes or breaks your relationship.
If one or both of you can’t or won’t respect the other, the relationship is doomed to see much more unhappiness than anything else.
While some unhealthy relationship dynamics can be blamed on having poor role models, respect isn’t one of them. When you’re able to respect other people in your life, but not your partner, it’s a sign of a problem unique to your relationship.
Before you give up and walk away from the relationship, you should at least consider couples counseling. A counselor may be able to help the two of you get to the root of why one or both of you is disrespectful of the other and improve the relationship. And if not, at least you’ll know you gave it your best shot before you ended the relationship.
One or both of you is abusive to the other
Abuse takes many forms: physical, verbal, emotional, sexual. Sometimes it’s subtle and you don’t realize it’s happening right away. But once you are aware of it, it’s time to go. Abuse is the only situation in which I don’t recommend counseling and other attempts to repair the relationship before leaving.
Abuse tends to escalate and get worse over time. Trying to convince yourself it will get better is usually just wishful thinking.
If you’re the abusive partner, and you don’t want to be, it’s time to see a therapist.
And if your partner is abusive, and you realize that this is not the first time you’ve been abused, a therapist is also a good idea. They can help you figure out why you keep ending up in those types of relationships.
You’re afraid of your partner
There might not be any clear abuse, or any other clear indication that things are bad. But maybe you just have this fear of your partner. You might not even be able to explain it, but it’s there.
Being afraid of your partner, even if you can’t explain why, is never a good sign. You should never be afraid of your partner.
Whether you’re afraid of how they’ll react to something you’ve said or done, afraid of how they’ll treat you in certain situations, or afraid that they’ll hurt themselves because of something you say or do, fearing your partner traps you in the relationship. It limits what you say and do because you don’t want to create the situation you fear.
If you’re afraid of your partner, for whatever reason, it’s likely they’ve said or done something that caused you to feel that way. The fear itself is unhealthy for the relationship, but the fact that your partner would instill that fear in you is also unhealthy.
You’re afraid to leave
Being afraid of your partner isn’t the only fear you might have. You might also be afraid to leave, and this is also unhealthy.
You might be afraid to leave because your partner has given you reason to be afraid. They might have threatened you. Or maybe you’re afraid you can’t financially survive on your own. Maybe you’re afraid of ever finding another relationship. Maybe what you’re afraid of is that you’ll leave and have regrets, wondering whether you made a mistake, if the relationship could have been saved.
Whatever your reasons for being afraid, fear of any kind is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. If fear is holding you in the relationship, it’s critical to get to the root of that fear fast. You might resolve the fear and find that the relationship improves and doesn’t have to end. Or you might resolve the fear and find that the relationship is over. But either way, you can’t live with the fear.
Your whole life revolves around the relationship
A romantic relationship is a huge part of anyone’s life, and it’s normal that you might sometimes structure other parts of your life around it. For example, you might turn down a night out with friends because you already have a date night planned with your partner.
But your entire life shouldn’t revolve around the relationship. More specifically, if your whole life revolves around the relationship and other aspects of your life are suffering as a result, it’s a bad relationship.
Are you spending less time with friends? Being less open with friends? What about family? Has your boss been complaining about the quality or quantity of your work since you entered this relationship? If you’re in school, are your grades suffering? Are you spending more money than you can afford?
The slide into disaster might be slow and subtle at first but it won’t take long for the destruction to be obvious. It will be in every other area of your life, and perhaps the worst part is that your relationship might also be in shambles.
You don’t want to share your feelings with your partner
You might be fine telling your significant other you love them. But when you need to deliver bad news, or express a concern, are you suddenly filled with dread? Do you feel like it’s easier to keep things bottled up than risk the argument or silent treatment or something else from your partner?
If you don’t want to share your feelings with your partner, that’s a huge red flag. A healthy relationship allows room for both partners to express feelings, both positive and negative. There might be hurt feelings, different perspectives on the same situation, and even disagreements, but both people should still feel comfortable expressing themselves.
Some people are raised, or taught by previous relationships, to hide their feelings. If this is the case for you, therapy can help. But you should also assess your relationship honestly. Even if you’ve been taught to hide your feelings, do you feel like your partner is receptive? Or do you feel like they don’t care, will ridicule you, or otherwise make life difficult? You might go to therapy and get better at opening up, but if your partner isn’t receptive, it doesn’t really matter.
You try to be the person your partner wants you to be
You’re pretending to like football even though you don’t understand it. You wear dresses and skirts even though you hate them. You pretend to be helpless so they can fix things for you — or you don’t ask for help when you need it because they prefer you to be independent.
We all have our preferences in what we want in a partner. And we’re all allowed to have those preferences. But you should never feel pressured to pretend to be someone you’re not in order to be with someone.
If you meet someone who describes their ideal partner as someone completely different (or even a little different) than you, you shouldn’t take that as a challenge to change who you are. Instead, you should embrace who you are and allow the other person to decide what they want.
Sometimes when we find someone who doesn’t match the ideal partner we have in our minds, we’re willing to scrap the mental image and enjoy the wonderful person before us. Other times, the mental image matters more and we decide not to see the real person anymore.
Either way, your life will be much happier if you don’t fake who you are. Your partner will be much happier too.
You FEEL like it’s a bad relationship
I left this for last, but it is not least. In fact, I’d say this sign matters more than anything else.
Sometimes there’s nothing specific you can point to and say, “This is why my relationship is bad.” Sometimes all you have is a gut feeling that this relationship just isn’t right. Something is just off about it, and you’re just not happy.
You don’t have to have a specific reason. No one can demand you give them a valid-in-their-eyes reason for deciding a relationship is bad for you. If you feel like the relationship is bad, then it probably is.
When we’re in good, healthy, happy relationships, we don’t generally question their status. We don’t wonder if it’s bad. We don’t look for signs of trouble. We’re happy, things are good, so we’re content with the status quo.
If you’re thinking the relationship is bad, if you’re wondering and looking for problems, your intuition is telling you it’s not right. This doesn’t have to mean that the relationship is or would be abusive or otherwise horrible. It could just mean that you and your partner aren’t compatible. But incompatibility itself can make for a bad relationship in the long run.
Trust your intuition. If it feels bad, it probably is, and it can be that simple.
Bad relationships can be turned around in some circumstances. But the first step to that is admitting that things are bad. That requires both of you to admit things aren’t good and to commit to making them better. A good starting point might be sharing this article with your partner and seeing if they agree with you on the signs in your relationship. If nothing else, if you’ve found that some of these signs exist in your relationship, it’s time for a talk.
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