The saying "love is blind" rings true for many of us. All of us have known someone or have been that someone who fails to see the signs of an unhealthy relationship. We may brush off a disrespectful remark, justify subtle controlling behavior, or try to forgive and forget an ongoing cycle of arguments because we have convinced ourselves that arguments are "normal," that they (our partner) are not controlling; they care about our safety. They were not trying to be disrespectful; they provided honest feedback.
Unfortunately, we justify our partner's disrespect, insecurity, and belittlement and mislabel these unhealthy behaviors as misunderstood love—overlooking the subtle signs that indicate we are in an unhealthy relationship. Here are thirteen to look out for, according to our guest authors below:
Your interests have taken a backseat: It is normal, in the early stages of dating, that things like hobbies or special interests might take a backseat and become secondary to the new partner. As a healthy relationship evolves, the couple finds ways to balance and integrate their interests into the relationship. If this does not happen, there is a risk of bringing resentment into the relationship and each person feeling personal dissatisfaction.
Example: A person may have had a workout routine that helped them feel emotionally balanced and stay physically healthy. They may stop exercising less as they try to find more time with their new partner. Eventually, that person will need to ask themselves how they will integrate their wants and needs into the relationship to stay emotionally and physically healthy. This might lead to conversations with their partner about their needs and how to comprise where both parties are content.
You feel less energized around your partner: Healthy relationships should recharge our emotional and mental batteries, not drain them. If you frequently find yourself feeling zapped in the presence of your partner or after hanging out with them, it may be a sign that something is off. Our bodies do not lie. Start to ask yourself what wants and needs are not being met.
If things do not go as planned, it is always one person’s fault: Rarely is relationship distress or dissatisfaction a result of just one partner's doing. If you are in a relationship where you are constantly blamed for everything or, conversely, you are the one that is only pointing the finger at your partner and not yourself, something may be amiss.
Gaslighting is when someone makes you doubt your perceptions by persistently putting forth a false narrative. This continues to the extent that you become disoriented and distressed, questioning your reality.
Example: You might be the type of person who rarely loses things. Every day, you place your car keys in the same box by the door. You're on your way out one day, and the car keys are gone. Confused, you look in your purse, on the table, in your coat pocket, but they are nowhere to be found. You ask your partner, who tells you that you must have misplaced them and suggests you look in about five other places. All the while, your partner watches you running around like crazy. Suddenly your partner says they found them — they were “on the sofa.” You were so sure you left them in the box but decided you must have been mistaken.
This may seem like a little thing but pay close attention if this keeps happening. Likely, you are NOT crazy. People who gaslight will take little steps like hiding your keys so that slowly but surely, you lose trust in yourself over time. This increases your dependence on them, giving them more control over you.
Stonewalling means refusing to communicate with another person.
Example: Intentionally shutting down during an argument, also known as the silent treatment, is especially common when you say something the other person does not want to hear — pertaining to them. They may pretend you didn't say it and try to change the topic of conversation or walk away.
This behavior can be hurtful, frustrating, and harmful to the relationship. It is also a red flag that this person will not take responsibility for their actions.
Lack of responsibility for wrongdoing
If we wrong someone, the healthy and emotionally intelligent thing to do is take responsibility for our actions and apologize. Failure to acknowledge any wrongdoing or saying something like “I’m sorry YOU feel that way” is merely shifting the blame onto the other person and simultaneously invalidating their feelings.
Ruining important occasions
Suppose your special occasions such as holidays, a promotion, an anniversary, or something serious like a death in the family keep getting overshadowed by something occurring in your partner's life. In that case, beware, for this is a sign of an unbalanced and unhealthy relationship.
Example: You are excited to spend the holidays surrounded by your family and friends. Your partner does not feel like attending and guilts you into staying behind, missing the occasion entirely, or makes you feel like an unloving partner who abandoned them if you decided to attend without them.
Arguments/conflicts never get resolved.
If you find that following an argument or conflict, you and your partner stop talking about it and act like it never happened, this lack of having a repair process, where you come back together and make sense of what happened, leads to disconnection because it blocks an opportunity to feel seen or heard by our partner, which is a fundamental building block of intimacy.
Partners consistently share their best, worst, most special, and/or most horrible experiences with someone that isn't the other partner.
If couples no longer share their most important or vulnerable experiences with each other but with a friend/coworker/peer instead, the relationship misses opportunities to grow and strengthen. This may also create a feeling of intimacy with others that are not your partner.
"The roommate effect" Sometimes couples report little to no conflict in their relationship. They don't fight, argue, raise voices, or otherwise show big emotion. While that can be a good thing, it is a problem if you are not laughing, talking, playing, or otherwise engaging. Quiet reactivity is still reactivity.
Little things that used to go undetected may start to bother you, like the way your partner talks, eats, dresses, etc. Your brain will find ways to rationalize why you feel negative about someone you are supposed to care for. At times, we may need to recharge away from our partner. However, resentment feels a little different. If you are beginning to crave time away from your significant other, that's a sign that something isn't right.
You find yourself lying.
If you feel the need to lie about things that are otherwise harmless to your relationship, like hanging out with friends, family, or coworkers from time to time or lying about your feelings, this often indicates the relationship lacks trust or that there is a need for control by the partner. That said, you may find yourself lying to avoid an argument.
You are ignoring your needs.
You are pouring yourself into mending the relationship to the point you are neglecting your personal needs. This indicates that the relationship is taking a major toll on your life or that your partner is dominating the relationship and not giving you space to thrive.
About the authors:
Christian Bumpous is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing at Therapie in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s passionate about helping busy professionals get the most out of life, be it with their mental health, work, or their relationships.
Veronica Weedon is the Founder of Revival Health GmbH, an integrative health coaching practice that helps individuals heal holistically after toxic relationships. As a survivor of many toxic relationships herself, with devastating consequences on a mental, emotional, and physical level, Veronica Weedon is no stranger to adversity. After years of her own healing journey, she now helps clients uncover the root cause of their own destructive patterns, reform their beliefs, and transform their relationships and life through a program that addresses health on a mental, emotional, and physical level. Her mission is simple: to create a ripple effect of people so connected to their innate wisdom that their newfound freedom and empowerment allow them to create the relationships and life they want and become the inspiration for others to do the same.
Devon Cozens is a licensed clinical social worker in Denver, CO, and the owner of Goodness Therapy, PLLC. She specializes in helping people in relationships identify and exit negative patterns that keep them stuck. Devon's work with relationships is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) informed. EFT is the gold standard for evidence-based relationship work and uses attachment science to help us understand what is at the heart of relationship distress. Devon believes when relationships are the safe haven we know they can be, there is nothing we can’t do.
A relationship coach in the City of Brotherly Love. I write about relationships, dating, sex, media, and astrology. My website is The Big Fling.