Relationships can and often do bring out the best in people. They make us stronger (both individually and as a couple), help us feel more united and remind us that we are not alone in this big wide world. They allow us to feel good about the direction in our life. Yet, there are important signs of unhealthy relationships that should not go missed.
Now, I know it’s fair to say that when relationships start, just to be together is enough. At that moment, all of our attention and focus is on this new person in our life. If we start to notice some behaviors that might rub us the wrong way, we quickly dismiss them and brush it off. We prefer to see what’s good in the person and what we like, rather than the stuff that we don’t like. We ignore unhealthy traits in a person.
We create an image in our mind of this person we want him/her to be. That’s understandable. We say, ‘give it more time.’ ‘How bad can it be?’ ‘No one is perfect!’ We do this because while in the throes of lust and love, the very last thing we want to happen is for anything to disrupt that or make us question the other person – or, more importantly, make us question ourselves or our judgment.
But, eventually as time goes on our rose-colored glasses because less rosy, and slightly more transparent. We start to examine our relationship with our eyes wide open. And guess what happens to those things that were ‘tugging’ at us earlier in the relationship? Yep. They rise to the top and become those things that really start to bother us. Those things that are often hiding in plain sight. What looked like a healthy relationship has now potentially become an unhealthy relationship.
Hey – don’t be too hard on yourself. We are ALL guilty of that one.
And so it here that we find ourselves – being in a relationship that starts to take on a direction into ‘unhealthy land.’ Maybe you feel the relationship is starting to suck the energy out of you. You feel less enthused. Drained. You question it. You start to notice other things that are negative. You begin to question your judgment.
Yet, not attending to these relationship red flags can result in wasting your time and emotional energy and keeping you stuck in a not so great relationship.
Here are a few of those red flags that may encourage you to run for the hills…
1.) He/she lacks empathy and can’t see your perspective. Your partner is someone who is consistently unable to see or hear your point of view and cannot focus their attention on anyone besides themselves. This is trouble. Big trouble. Their inability to be empathic is a huge red flag. If they cannot empathize with you on the small stuff, what happens when the big stuff rolls around. Eekk!
For example, when you speak, they are not listening to what you have to say but rather waiting for an opening so they can talk. Defensiveness. They are unable to put themselves in your shoes and rare not even interested in taking the time to understand why you might feel the way you do. These are one-sided conversations that undermine the trust and healthy communication relationships are suppose to have. Lack of empathy equals big trouble.
2.) You don’t feel safe sharing. You must feel safe in your relationship and what I mean by this is you feel safe expressing how regardless of the topic. Sure some topics are more difficult than others but overall, an emotionally safe environment to share your concerns and fears is a MUST. You have the emotional bandwidth to share and your partner has the emotional bandwidth to feel comfortable with your feelings. Whatever they are.
Without safety, how will you talk about what is bothering you? You will not. You will hold in your feelings, but eventually they will come out a different way. You might find someone else to confide in. Ask, why don’t you feel safe in sharing? What is about this person that makes you feel that way? What is your history? If you do not feel safe and don’t feel you can talk about it, you should seriously reconsider the relationship.
3.) They are overly critical. Sure, we are not perfect human beings. We can be critical towards the one we love. But, I am not speaking of the rare instances of being critical. We all make mistakes. We disappoint the ones we care for the most. No, I am speaking of the ongoing and chronic criticisms that undermines anything good in the relationship.
John Gottman refers to criticism as one of the four horsemen – and they are dangerous to the relationship when prevalent and not remedied. In essence, it is a relationship killer. Because no matter what you do, it’s just not good enough. And when you are with someone who is always critical, you will always feel this way. No getting out of that black hole. Yes, thanks for doing the dishes, but you washed these wrong. Thanks for going to store, but you forgot a few things. Didn’t you bring the list? This is criticism at its heart.
4.) They avoid conflict and resolutions. Most people don’t like to be confrontative. However, there is a difference between being confrontative and being assertive. Someone who avoids conflicts is not interested in resolutions and at the very least communicating about an issue. Ongoing avoidance will lead you to the road to nowhere and will continually result in circular arguments that become dead ends.
There is very little if any effective communication and conversations. Stonewalling (the silent treatment – the worst and another of the Four Horsemen), ignoring you, or pretending problems don’t exist are all part of this equation. If a person is unable or unwilling to look at their communication or conflict style and make changes, you will be forever stuck in circular conversations without resolutions. Because their resolution is to avoid resolution. They continue to run instead of standing still and learning how to effectively communicate.
5.) They are stubborn. Someone who is stubborn in their thinking and not flexible equals little room for compromise. My way or the highway. Sure, we all can be a little stubborn at times and want things to go our way. I am not talking about those times. If they are so stubborn, how will you negotiate your differences? The short answer? You won’t. This will only leave you feeling frustrated and stuck. And who want to feel that way in a relationship?
These types of people are hard to be in a relationship with. Period. Being stubborn drives people crazy. They are only interested in their own self interests and don’t consider another perspective. How do you grow as a couple and build a stronger relationship when one is stubborn and uncompromising? You cannot.
6.) They Are a Debbie or Donnie Downer. Sure, it’s normal to have a day off and not be in a good mood. I get it. We all have those days. but if your partner is always in a bad mood and sees the cup of ‘life’ as always half full or empty, it may be time to take a second look at your relationship. Or they could be depressed and possibly they need to see someone to help them.
But what if they don’t want to? Some people like the misery that comes along with having a bad attitude. Its a life suck honestly. When all these see are obstacles and challenges – and not opportunities, this will wear on the relationship. It really does. You feel like you always have to be the cheerleader, the one that is building up your partner. This is exhausting! When all he/she sees in the world and the relationship are problems and issues, this will inevitably negatively impact the relationship and long term is very difficult to be in.
7.) He/she doesn’t allow you to be your own person. Over time, we all change and grow. That’s life. So why wouldn’t we want to change, explore new options, jobs, friends? This means we are curious about life. But what if you want to do your own thing with friends and have outside interests in the relationship? Are they supportive or do they feel threatened? Figure this out and pay attention. You should feel that you can explore different interests or opportunities in life without being shut down or unsupported. A person like this, doesn’t see life, individuality, and relationships the same way.
8.) You feel like you do all the ‘heavy lifting.’ Doing all the heavy lifting means you feel like you are carrying the weight of the relationship – doing things to improve the relationship, working on the issues, thinking ahead, thinking not just of yourself, but of the relationship. Thinking both small and big picture. That’s ok once in awhile because life happens.
However, if YOU are by and large the one making the decisions, instigating conversations, trying to improve the relationship eventually over time, you will feel drained instead of energized and in a good mood. It’s exhausting (again!) And this is not how a healthy relationship should be. Hands down. Both people should be participating in the relationship and giving their 100% (not 50%).
Do YOU identify with any of these negative relationship patterns? If so, it’s time to give yourself some ‘time’, take a step back (big step), and evaluate if this relationship for what it is and more importantly what it isn’t. And don’t settle.