Characteristics Of Healthy And Unhealthy Relationships: 7 Key Differences To Bear In Mind

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If the numerous songs, poems, movies, television shows, novels, and even reels on Instagram are anything to go by, being in a relationship can be one of the best things life has got to offer. But like most other things on this planet, there are two sides to this coin as well. Irrespective of the amount of time, love, energy, and money that’s spent by two people in a partnership, certain ones are toxic while others are healthy and destined to thrive. The real question is how one can tell the difference between the two? While cheating and lying are the most obvious red flags out there, it isn’t as simple to fully identify whether a relationship is unhealthy, especially when you’re in the thick of it.

And are all the dating tips you see out there on social media good enough to help you evaluate whether you’re in a toxic place? We’ve listed a few telltale signs and characteristics of unhealthy and healthy relationships so you know whether you or your loved ones should look for an out or go ring shopping. 

1. Having Mutual Respect For Each Other vs Constantly Putting Down/Controlling Each Other

The key to keeping a partnership on equal footing is to have mutual respect between the two people involved. And the term “respect” might seem like something that only ever pops up in vague dating advice columns but essentially refers to both you and your partner paying heed to each other’s wants, needs, and boundaries while making an effort to acknowledge and fulfill them. It also means that you value who they are as a person. This marks a healthy relationship.

On the flip side, unhealthy relationships find partners lacking respect for each other, leading them to pick fights where they antagonize the other person. This is especially true for manipulative and controlling relationships where one partner tries to control aspects of the other by making them fearful, timid, and afraid of speaking up while also isolating them from their friends and family by threatening to break up with them. The use of force to get their way is also common. If your loved one finds themselves in a physically abusive relationship or even changing their behavior to avoid upsetting their partner, it’s a concerning sign of a toxic relationship. 

2. Communicating Effectively vs Being Passive Aggressive

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of a healthy relationship, communication is the backbone to a long-lasting partnership. Recognizing that most relationships tend to have quarrels is step one to understanding how to navigate them. Differences of opinions, goals, and actions are worked out without name-calling or putting the other person down in a healthy equation. Signs of maturity include sitting down to have a calm conversation, voicing concerns without playing the blame game, and speaking your truth about your needs and expectations. It also includes having a conversation about one’s dreams, fears, and joys.

To approach a problem as them vs the world as opposed to them against each other helps establish a healthy way to handle the parts of life that are unclear. Both partners listen, even if it’s an uncomfortable conversation, and support their partners unconditionally, no matter how difficult things get because they’re their person. Partners in a loving relationship such as this learn to ride the waves of life together instead of being stressed out through it. 

In an unhealthy relationship, meanwhile, partners actively avoid communicating and expect the other person to be able to read their minds and “just know.” This is a set-up for surefire disappointment and isn’t fair to the partner. In addition to this, toxic relationships cause partners to keep things from their significant other, say yes when they really want to say no, and feel resentment at the end of every argument. This leads many to take the passive-aggressive or silent-treatment approach which severely hampers the growth of the relationship and the happiness of the people involved. 

3. Maintaining Individuality vs Being Codependent

A relationship is about two whole individuals coming together to be partners. When this is healthy in nature, each person is aware of their needs and doesn't rely solely on their partner to fulfill them. When both people are whole in themselves when apart, they’re bound to feel complete and happy together. And this is why healthy relationships don’t find themselves in a cycle of fixing both partners or preventing them from experiencing life and growing. For instance, if your partner tends to wake up late and has lost jobs due to the same, going out of your way to “save” them from the consequences of their mistakes can not only keep them from learning and growing but also make them extremely dependent. 

When two partners are in a lasting, healthy relationship, each person understands that it’s not up to the other person to complete them or be their sole source of happiness and take charge of their own joys while adding to that of their significant other. 

Meanwhile, in toxic relationships, partners often compromise on who they are to be able to mould themselves to their partner’s identity, needs, or goals. To do this, they might put a lid on conversations about their own happiness, distance themselves from their friends, or even avoid doing things that make them happy (but their partner doesn’t particularly enjoy themselves). They might not take up a new hobby, make new friends, or go out as often so they can invest all their time solely in their partner instead. This leads to the feeling of not being able to live without the other. While sometimes this could be the only consequence of being codependent, abusive, and manipulative relationships go a step further where one partner might threaten to hurt themselves or do something drastic if their relationship were to end, making the other person feel both guilty and trapped. 

4. Sharing Common Interests And Activities vs Not Feeling Comfortable With Shared Activities

While it’s true that opposites attract, having at least 3-4 things in common is what will determine how long the relationship lasts. In healthy relationships, partners come together to make memories doing things together, whether serious or outright silly. If they’re fundamentally different, they put in the work to explore and find common interests that they can indulge in together. They also show an active interest in trying to understand and engage with the things their partners are passionate about. 

On the contrary, in unhealthy relationships, one partner might feel burdened with the task of being accommodative to the interests of the other person and find themselves agreeing to do things they don’t wish to do. This could be anything from always having to watch a show the partner wants or prioritizing their own family below that of their partner. When things are one-sided, the relationship inevitably tumbles towards its end.

5. Trusting Your Partner vs Being Aggressively Jealous

This one’s a big one and has been said endlessly across all advice columns, podcasts, psychiatrist offices, and conversations with close friends. In healthy relationships, partners learn to laugh together, appreciate each other, trust each other, and give each other the benefit of the doubt. 

Jealousy, on the other hand, stems from insecurity and can be extremely damaging to a relationship. Sure, a little jealousy can be cute, but a lack of faith in your partner can lead to a toxic relationship. This translates to constantly checking up on where the partner is, what they’re doing, and who they’re interacting with. Some partners go so far as to message excessively and force the other person to do the same. Manipulative relationships are characterized by one partner making all the decisions for their significant other, demanding they do things a certain way or not speak to certain individuals. This can very quickly become exhausting for the other person and should be addressed as soon as possible.

6. Being Attentive To Your Needs And That Of Your Partner’s vs Overextending Oneself

Intimacy comes naturally in healthy relationships. Partners know each other’s likes and dislikes, their preferences, their love languages, and give them what is important in order to make them feel loved. They do things out of love for their significant other, not obligation, and establish a healthy system of give and take.  

However, when partners do things out of obligation or the fear of the other person leaving, invest all their time and attention in them without ever receiving enough in return, or find themselves doing all the emotional and physical labour in the relationship, it might signal the development of an unhealthy relationship. Since most people can only burn their candle for so long until there’s nothing left, it’s a good time to reevaluate the relationship if one person is the giver and doing everything to keep things alive. 

7. Having A Healthy Sex Life vs Violating Consent And Being Sexually Abusive

Partners who are in healthy relationships engage in healthy, consensual sex that both partners enjoy and feel safe with. But in unhealthy relationships, sex can be used as a tool for punishment, there’s pressure on one partner (or both) to step outside of their comfort zone, and the boundaries of consent are blurred. This can quickly turn abusive and needs to be addressed at the earliest. 

Although this is, by no means, an exhaustive list, it’s good to keep a check on whether your relationship is still within the boundaries of what’s considered healthy. You don’t want to spend your precious time and love with someone who’s hampering your growth and keeping you from experiencing joy to its fullest. 

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