If you’re looking to identify signs of healthy vs unhealthy relationships or if you simply want to see your own relationships more clearly, you’re in the right place.
In this blog, I’m going to share 10 signs that indicate healthy vs unhealthy relationships.
While it can be daunting—even a bit scary—to honestly reflect and examine your own relationships, it’s an essential skill to achieving balance and fulfillment in this area of your life.
Humans are social creatures, built for connection, and none of us exists in complete isolation. Even the most introverted among us (I’m raising my hand here!) need connection.
I created this list with intimate/romantic relationships in mind, however, these signs still apply to other kinds of relationships as well, including friends, family, professional, and so on.
In addition, this is not an exhaustive or definitive list, obviously—there are many other signs of healthy vs unhealthy relationships. However, here I list some of the most common and noticeable signs as a good starting point for reflection.
For each sign of healthy relationships below, I also include the corresponding sign of what often happens in unhealthy relationships.
Partners in healthy relationships share compliments of each other freely and often. Whether complimenting appearance, an achievement at work, or a partner’s talents – genuine compliments help foster connection.
Unhealthy relationships criticize. Frequent criticism, especially when not balanced out by compliments, tends to cause hurt and can damage connection over time.
Forgiveness requires a decision to forgive AND the genuine process of forgiveness itself, which can be difficult at times and takes intention and inner work. But true forgiveness (not just going through the motions, or paying lip service) is a hallmark of healthy relationships. It allows healthy couples to move forward and strengthen trust, rather than linger on past hurts.
Unhealthy relationships hold grudges. Relationships become stuck in negative cycles when one or both people insist on bring up accusations from the past over and over again, and hold onto hurt by rehashing the past and using it as ammunition against the other partner.
Similar to offering compliments, couples in healthy relationships actively look for and focus on things to appreciate about their partner and express appreciation often.
Unhealthy relationships resent. Resentment can be toxic and corrosive to the long-term health of relationships. It causes emotional wounds to become “infected” and linger much longer than needed. Over time, resentments build when they’re not addressed, and eventually this leads unhealthy couples to their breaking points. The work to repair the relationship at that point is therefore much more difficult.
Respect takes many forms, and is demonstrated in many ways. For example, healthy partners respect each other’s feelings, desires, time, other friendships & connections, autonomy, and so much more. Even when there is disagreement on these things, there is respectful communication about it.
Unhealthy relationships show disrespect. There are just as many ways to show disrespect. Often this is failing to address an issue that one partner has expressed is important, repeatedly engaging in behaviors that damage the relationship or hurt the other person, or even outright verbal disrespect in the way things are communicated (or not communicated).
Healthy relationships always require give-and-take. Likewise, this requires active participation and communication from both partners to work through the compromises and balance things out, so that one partner doesn’t feel unfairly discounted or taken advantage of.
Unhealthy relationships make demands. Stubbornness and rigidity are hallmarks of unhealthy relationships. People reach impasses in their relationships when one or both people make unrelenting demands and refuse to budge. (In cases of addiction or abuse, there are times when a demand may be appropriate. But these are usually in crisis situations when the relationship has become extremely unhealthy in some other way).
Partners in healthy relationships express positivity and encouragement to their partners. They would never dream of saying something that would discourage their partner from a worthy goal, and likewise, express affirming words to help their partner’s persistence and confidence when needed.
Unhealthy relationships insult. Insults can be incredibly toxic to relationships, even when made sarcastically or in jest. Yet sadly, I see this all the time in people that feel insulted, hurt, and put down by their partner. This can start a vicious cycle where people try to get back at each other, and few things will destroy a relationship faster than that.
Similar to many signs of healthy relationships, trust requires active participation and work from both people, and is demonstrated & communicated in many ways. Trust must be built, maintained, and practice. And when trust has been damaged before, it requires a choice to practice trust again for the sake of strengthening the relationship.
Unhealthy relationships distrust. Often, people will refuse to trust their partner, or worse yet, accuse the partner before any crime has even been committed. This of course leads to further distrust, and becomes a very unhealthy cycle.
Partners in healthy relationships support each other, plain and simple. They help lift each other up when life is difficult. Each person wants what is best for their partner, and encourage their partner’s efforts toward success and being the best person they can be. They want their partner to be happy and healthy. The couple work as a team and try to pull in the same direction. When one falls down, the other steps up, and there is a give and take with this too, as each person will need support at different times.
Unhealthy relationships compete. Similar to many signs of unhealthy relationships, competition can erode the relationship over time and cause unnecessary conflict. Competition often comes into play when one or both people in the relationship struggle with personal insecurity. Unfortunately though, competition tends to pull couples apart rather than closer together.
Communication is at the crux of any relationship. So often, the problems people experience in relationships stem from communication breakdowns. But honesty and openness in communication are essential to a healthy relationship. Healthy partners talk about things, even when they’re difficult.
Unhealthy relationships hold secrets. Most people tend to avoid things that are uncomfortable, including potential conflict or sharing vulnerabilities. However, keeping things hidden in relationships can lead to all manner of problems including frustrations, hurt, resentment, lack of trust, and so on.
In healthy relationships, people learn how to handle conflict productively. The ability to validate the other person’s feelings or viewpoint—even when you don’t agree—is another key skill that healthy couples practice often. Acknowledging and validating what the other person is expressing can literally make the difference between a productive conversation and an argument.
Unhealthy relationships blame. The “blame game” is one of the unhealthiest behaviors of all in relationships. When blaming starts, people shut down and become defensive, and nothing gets accomplished.
Here’s an info-graphic I created to help lay out the signs above.
As I mentioned before, this is not a completely exhaustive list. These are just some of the most common signs of healthy vs unhealthy relationships. So, what would you add to this list?
Please feel free to comment below!
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In addition, if you recognize signs of an unhealthy relationship in your life and want to take your insight deeper, I recommend you check out my blog series on self-worth. Often, when people stay in unhealthy relationships long past the expiration date, or despite seeing warning signs of an unhealthy relationship, it can stem from deeply held beliefs related to self-worth and what one “deserves.” These blogs will help you identify and take action steps to correct negative beliefs and build genuine self-worth, which will help you make healthier choices in every area of your life.
Thanks for reading and sharing, and as always – Be Well!