Healthy Relationships 101
In the midst of a pandemic, many of us may have moments where we find ourselves stressed, overwhelmed, and irritable. For couples, this “new world” we live in has brought on a variety of additional stressors, far outside of the norm—balancing working from home, serving as teachers to children, juggling household chores and mealtimes, entertaining children to keep them busy, all while locked up together inside four walls, and the list goes on. Even the healthiest of couples can find themselves getting frustrated with each other due to feeling overworked, exhausted, and unable to partake in their typical self-care and stress relieving activities. While this is to be expected in this difficult time, there are some things to consider when it comes to what healthy expressions of stress and frustration should look like in a relationship. Just how do you know if you’re in a healthy relationship? What might some warning signs be that things are not working, or are heading somewhere that could potentially be unhealthy or unsafe? Keep reading to find some helpful red & green flags that are important to consider.
Relationship Green Flags—What to Look for in a Healthy Relationship
While all relationships are different and have their own unique quirks, there are some common elements to look for to make sure you’ve found a healthy match in your partner. Some key traits of a healthy relationship include:
*Trust: Trust is key to a solid foundation; you must be able to feel safe and secure with each other. Feeling constantly on edge due to inability to trust a partner creates anxiety and limits emotional intimacy.
*Effective Communication & Conflict Resolution: Disagreements happen, that’s unavoidable. It’s how you handle them that counts. Open, honest communication and “fighting fair” is essential to effective problem solving and maintaining a healthy relationship. Communicating thoughts and feeling in a calm, respective manner is the goal.
*Honesty: As human beings, we all make mistakes. However, patterns of dishonesty can be very telling in relationships. Take accountability for mistakes, and don’t just apologize—make changes. That’s what every partner needs to stay connected and on the same page.
*Affection & Appreciation: All couples are different in what feels comfortable in terms of physical expression of love, however, we all need to feel desired and appreciated by our partner. Challenge yourself to communicate your needs and to also speak the love language of your partner to meet theirs.
*Empathy: Being able to look at a situation from your partner’s perspective is essential in creating a deeper connection and feeling valued in a relationship. While you may not always agree, take the time to listen to your partner and validate their feelings. Relationships have to be about the “we” and not just the “me”.
*Growing Together: None of us are exactly the same person throughout our lives, but that doesn’t mean couples have to grow apart. Create plans, build, and work to grow and change together.
*Compromise: Be willing to admit fault and consider what’s best for BOTH of you. Sometimes that means bending to make each other happy and comfortable, even if we lose out of a little of what we hoped for. Just be sure that both of you are willing to take your turn!
*Balance: Sometimes in relationships we have to be flexible. Plans change, we have to work late or the sitter gets sick. Be willing to be flexible to meet the needs of each other, even when life doesn’t go to plan.
*Independence: Each partner needs to have their own “me time”. Having your own friends, interests, and hobbies is so important. While it’s necessary to have common interests and be collaborative in life goals, it’s important to also support your partner in their personal dreams. Independence is healthy, not a sign of emotional distance or disconnection.
*BOUNDARIES!: Openly communicate your own individuals needs and boundaries, and respect those of your partners. If someone is uncomfortable with something, respect their feelings and expect the same of your partner. Being close and connected does not mean sacrificing your values or signing up for being taken advantage of.
Relationship Red Flags—Warning Signs for Trouble Ahead
Sometimes, relationships just don’t feel right. Something is off, a behavior is alarming or strange, or our bodies are telling us to get out. Don’t ignore those feelings! Human beings, by design, are equipped with an internal alarm system which aims to ward of feelings of danger or discomfort. Unfortunately, many of us aren’t aware of what to look for or simply choose to overlook or ignore red flags. Here are some important red flags to consider:
*Lack of/Poor Communication: Have a partner that never communicates their feelings? Or, when they do is it consistently done in a verbally aggressive or blaming manner? Change in communication patterns is non-negotiable, as it can be a warning sign for challenges to come as the relationship progresses.
*Distrust: Feeling that you cannot trust your partner or believe that they will follow through on commitments can create significant conflict. Do not ignore the signs if your partner is showing you patterns of dishonesty, lies, and cover-ups for bad behavior. A reluctance to be open and honest, especially early on in a relationship, is not a good sign.
*Irresponsible/Unpredictable Behavior: Having a partner whom is reckless, irresponsible, and lacks follow through is not only frustrating, but it can feel like complete and utter disrespect. If you find yourself continually confronting your partner about selfish, impulsive actions it may be time to reconsider the relationship.
*Controlling or Possessive Behavior: Is your partner demanding, always needing to know where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re up to? If you’re a few minutes late, are you flooded with angry calls or texts? Does your partner try to distance you from friends and family, and constantly accuse you of disloyalty or cheating? These are major red flags, and in some cases, can be indicators for future risk of intimate partner violence. Definitely don’t ignore this behavior if you’re confronted by it in your relationship.
*Friends and Family Just Don’t Like You Partner: This is a tough one. Often times, our friends and families can be tough critics when it comes to relationships. However, there is merit in listening to their input. They may be picking up on some red flags that we can’t see, due to feeling blinded by early feelings of love or infatuation. Your friends and family know you better than anyone else, it’s likely that they’re onto something.
*A Dark Past: While people certainly can make mistakes, patterns of behavior don’t lie. If your significant other has a dark past, such as serial infidelity, criminal behavior, substance use, or a history of violence don’t ignore the red flags. These can be indicative of deeper issues that may place you in a dangerous situation.
*Codependence/Needed to be Needed: Having a partner whom cannot do anything without you or have an identity separate from yours may use strategies to manipulate you into meeting their needs. This can include threats of self-harm/suicide, or other erratic and unstable behavior. This is not healthy and can escalate into abusive behavior.
*Abusive Behavior: Is your partner verbally abusive, cruel, or demeaning? Do they often insult or belittle you, or attack your positive qualities or appearance? Have things ever gotten to a place where threats of violence, or physical or sexual abuse has occurred? These are more than red flags; they are red alerts to get out of the relationship immediately. Abusive behavior is never acceptable—even if they’re hurt, angry, sad, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. No one deserves to be physically or emotionally harmed by anyone else.
***If you or someone you love is involved in an abusive relationship, please connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24/7 via phone 800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 866-331-9474. They will be able to provide crisis response help and guidance, to connect you to local resources and assist you with making a plan to get somewhere safe. You deserve to feel loved and safe.***
When to Seek Professional Help
As outpatient clinicians, we may not be the best option for immediate safety assistance or finding a plan to leave an abusive situation. However, we are here to help with a variety of concerns related to relationship issues: if you find that you’re facing challenges with patterns of entering unhealthy relationships, you are safe currently but struggling to cope with trauma that has resulted from past abusive/unhealthy relationships, premarital counseling or the treatment of marital issues, infidelity, need help coping with divorce, or simply feeling unsure of how to begin dating or to start again after divorce or a spouse’s passing. If you’d like help with navigating relationship concerns, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.
Boniuer, A. (2018). What does a healthy relationship look like? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/friendship-20/201812/what-does-healthy-relationship-look
Brenner, A. (2014). 10 relationship red flags: Ignore them at your own risk. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201407/10-relationship-red-flags