Last week we explored why it is important to be happy and whole before entering into a relationship and looked at the warning signs of mentally and physically abusive relationships. This week we explore what an unhealthy relationship dynamic looks like and examine what unhealthy relationship behaviors there are and what we can do about them.
Unhealthy relationship dynamics
One of the first things I was taught in treatment was what an unhealthy relationship looks like. Although there are definite traits which contribute to a relationship being unhealthy (more on those later) there are several models which show unhealthy dynamics. Let’s look at each one and why they are so unhealthy.
In this model we see two people who have so little contact that their shared life is very small. This is unhealthy for several reasons. We need a certain amount of quality time and inter-connectedness in our lives to romantically bond with someone. Without enough contact the people are unable to offer a healthy level of emotional and mental support to the other and if there is too little contact whether in person or by Skype, phone and text, the relationship is weaker as a consequence.
This is when two people spend the vast majority of their time together, to the exclusion of their own friends and family and hobbies and interests. This type of relationship is unhealthy because it doesn’t promote a distinct sense of identity in the two individuals outside of the relationship, nor does it nurture existing outside relationships with friends or family.
This is probably one of the most unhealthy relationship models, whereby one persons life is mostly inside the relationship and the others is mostly outside the relationship. This creates an imbalance in the relationship, either emotionally or in terms of power. It can sometimes indicate the partner with most of their life outside the relationship is dominant or controlling within the relationship.
Unhealthy relationship behaviors
There are several less severe but nonetheless important behaviors of unhealthy relationships listed below, fortunately with a little work you can change these traits and adopt more healthier ones which we will look at later in the series.
Having unrealistic expectations
Fairytales have a lot to answer for. Growing up I imagined dating someone famous and going on holiday in our private jet. The reality I have now is different, but to me it is infinitely better. I don’t have the media following me and weekly engagements at gala charity functions but in all honesty I wouldn’t exchange what I have with my man for anything.
He’s a wonderfully gifted writer and has written me a tender, touching poem, he sends me romantic picture quotes and when he looks at me I feel like the only girl in the world. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to realize that it’s really real. So whilst it’s important to realize that true love does exist it’s equally important not to define too early on what that looks like for you.
Molding your personality to fit theirs
In my first relationship I fell into this trap, mainly because I hadn’t developed a strong sense of self yet. I liked whatever he liked, I adopted his beliefs and opinions, I socialized almost exclusively with his friends and family.
Before long I had lost myself, this contributed towards my depression and once I realized I wasn’t happy in the relationship I was so lost that leaving all I knew was incredibly daunting and scary. This is why it is so important to maintain your own identity and remain inextricably yourself no matter who you are with.
Spending ALL your time with them
Again I did this with my ex and it was incredibly unhealthy. When we spend all of our time with our partners we fail to nurture our relationships outside of our intimate relationships and our world gets smaller and smaller. This often leads to failing to nourish our life outside of the relationship, our hobbies, our interests, our sense of identity as an individual in our own right.
Adopting every interest they have, even if you don’t like them
Yet again I am guilty of this one too. I was seeking to please my ex but in reality it just lead to my unhappiness. Obviously there are varying degrees and it is healthy to explore which of your partners interests you may enjoy but adopting every interest they have, even if you don’t like them, will ultimately make you lose respect for yourself (as it did me).
Relying on them for happiness and wholeness
Again, guilty! I was searching for happiness and wholeness long before meeting my ex as I grew up with depression. Unfortunately my ex just contributed to my misery which only goes to show that it can be very misguided to look to a relationship for happiness and wholeness.
Even if your partner is wonderful, when you look to the relationship to meet needs which you are really responsible for meeting in yourself, it places a huge burden and amount of pressure on both the relationship and your partner, and the relationship usually suffers as a consequence.
Looking to the relationship for security
The one thing I’ve learnt in the past is that no partner is a safe bet. People surprise us all the time. Whilst a relationship is wonderful to have, we should never think of it as security because anything can happen.
If we find our sense of security exclusively based on our intimate relationships we make ourselves very vulnerable if it dissolves. The cure for this is simple – become self sufficient – financially, emotionally, mentally and then when you enter into a relationship it is a bonus and not a necessity.
Taking the relationship or your partner for granted
Although there will inevitably come a time when you are comfortable in the relationship and the honeymoon phase has faded taking the relationship or your partner for granted can be very destructive.
Not only will your partner notice but you will neglect things that prior to becoming complacent would have been automatic. Take time to tell your partner how much they mean to you, do sweet things for them and make sure they know you value both them and the relationship.
Demand for sacrifice from the other
After having been single for so long I had to be mindful of not falling into this trap. This is when we think it is warranted for our partners to sacrifice for us but, if we are really honest with ourselves, we are not willing to do the same.
Thankfully I was aware of this trait and so actively worked at avoiding this. But it is easy enough to do if you have a tendency to be rigid. A healthy intimate relationship is about finding a workable middle ground, whereby both are open to sacrificing for one another and each individual does not take advantage of this. It is about compromise which is borne from a loving and understanding place.
Do you recognize yourself or your partner in any of the unhealthy relationship behaviors we looked at this week? Have the behaviors listed in the article made you consider the impact they can have on relationships in a different way? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, insight and support from our community, we’d love to hear from you.
‘The relationship skills workbook: A do-it-yourself guide to a thriving relationship’ by Julia B Colwell, Ph. D. An ideal book for you or – even better – both of you!
‘Safe People: How to find relationships that are good for you and avoid those that aren’t’ by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend
Stay tuned – next week we will continue to examine unhealthy relationship behaviors that with just a little effort, we can work to change!