This week, in light of 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence 2020, we’re thinking about domestic violence awareness and asking the fundamental questions: what does a healthy/unhealthy relationship look like, and what happens when our relationships start to negatively impact our emotional well-being?
Within the context of romantic relationships and partnerships, a relationship can perhaps best be conceptualised as falling on a spectrum, ranging from “healthy” on one end of the spectrum to “abusive” on the other end, with “unhealthy” occupying the murky space in the middle. Healthy relationships are mutual ones in which communication is open and welcome, trust is a fundamental pillar, respect is free-flowing, boundaries are respected and both individuals are regarded and treated as equals.
Having a healthy relationship does not necessarily mean that everything is “sunshine and rainbows” all of the time, but it means that any difficulties or obstacles impacting the relationship can be dealt with and resolved without any of these fundamental bases being compromised.
If you have an argument with your partner or spouse, you should not have to worry or question if they’re going to hurt you in some way – emotionally, verbally, psychologically, or physically. You know that you can talk it out, maybe having a cooling off period, and ultimately, you’ll clear the air and move on (or leave the relationship – if you decide that’s what’s best for you!).
A healthy relationship should be a source of joy, comfort, support, companionship and fun in your life. It should ultimately make you feel good! Relationships can be incredibly fulfilling and rewarding!
On the other hand, an unhealthy relationship can make you feel drained, unhappy, confused, anxious and like you’re walking on eggshells. You might feel as though you’re not being treated as an equal, that you’re not respected or trusted, or that you’re being pressured or controlled.
Behaviour that is a cause for concern and characteristic of an unhealthy relationship includes:
- Calling you names or making you feel bad, when alone and in front of others
- Controlling behaviour such as telling you who you can and can’t interact with
- Trying to take control over your finances or make you financially dependent on them
- Invading your privacy – going through your phone and reading private messages against your knowledge or will
- Pressuring you to do things that you don’t want to do
- Becoming easily and unpredictably angered with you and making you feel uneasy or unsafe
- Ignoring you for prolonged periods of time (the “cold shoulder”)
- Physical violence or harm of any kind
Of course, domestic violence – repeated patterns of abusive and violent behaviour within the home – not only implicates mental and emotional well-being, but physical safety and well-being too.
I’m going to link to some vital resources and information on domestic violence for anybody that might require them or find them helpful:
- Rise (Sussex Based Charity, support children as well) look at what’s in your area https://www.riseuk.org.uk/about-us
- Safe in Sussex (support children as well)
It is important to identify they key elements of a healthy relationship – standards or criteria that we can measure our own relationships against in order to assess whether they are truly good for us.
Additionally, you may well know instinctively and without question whether you are in a healthy relationship or not, but sometimes our circumstances and the specific influences within our relationships make it difficult to discern whether what we’re experiencing is normal or acceptable. You might begin to question your own perception or sanity, which can be the outcome of a particular form of abuse known as gaslighting – in which the perpetrator consciously attempts to manipulate the victim’s perception of reality and claiming that things which are true are false, often placing the victim in the wrong somehow.
It may be the case that, you know your relationship is detrimental to your emotional well-being, that it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, and yet somehow it has been made to appear that any unhappiness or discomfort is your own fault – that you need to modify your behaviour in order to be worthy or respected within the relationship. Our identities, self-image and sense of self-worth can become so deeply entangled and entrenched in our relationships when they are shaped under these circumstances, through mechanisms of control and coercion, it becomes seemingly impossible to detach ourselves from them for fear of losing everything.
This is why awareness and recognising the signs is so important. The more armed we are with the knowledge and tools to identify unhealthy patterns, the better.
That being said, nobody enters into a relationship expecting to be manipulated or controlled – abuse is insidious, can unfold incrementally over time, and is never the fault of the victim. Abusers and perpetrators are often able to fluently influence others’ perceptions of them, and abuse is particular to each relationship’s context and dynamic.
So – what does the core of a healthy relationship look like?
Let’s explore the pillars of a good, healthy relationship:
- You should be able to openly express your feelings, views, opinions and grievances with your partner without fear, and be heard and respected, and vice versa!
- You should be able to state when something is wrong, or ask for something in particular with regards to your emotional needs, without judgement or anger
- Being truthful and up-front with your partner, not lying directly or lying by omission, is the basis of building a trusting relationship
- As mentioned above, you should be able to be open and honest without fear
- If you’re feeling pressured to lie about something innocuous such as going to see a friend due to fear of your partner’s response, that could be an early warning sign – on the flip side, if you find you’re lying to protect their feelings because you know that your own behaviour is disingenuous, that’s also a sign it’s not meant to be
- Fundamentally, you and your partner should trust that neither of you will cheat or betray each other’s trust in another way, such as lying or breaking a promise
- Both partners words and actions should be conducive to a trusting relationship – so not making your partner doubt your relationship by doing or saying inappropriate or disrespectful things
- Partners in a healthy relationship should talk positively to and about each other, treating each other as equals and respecting each other’s boundaries, and respecting individual interests and pursuits – this is important to prevent a relationship from becoming co-dependent or controlling
- Remember that your individuals first and foremost, you’re not the same person – you’re two people in a working partnership
- Respect means there is no pressure on either end to rush anything or do anything the other does not want to do
- You and your partner should be a source of support each other in terms of emotional wellbeing and life pursuits – encouraging each other’s self-development, consoling and celebrating each other, telling each other how amazing the other is!
- This doesn’t have to be done exclusively with words if that is not your communication style or “love language” - it can be through physical affection, gift giving, actions and acts of service, or dedicated quality time!
Maybe you have experienced an abusive or unhealthy relationship in the past and you’re still healing. Trauma from abusive relationships and partners can run deep and those feelings may stay on the surface for a while, but with time and plenty of emotional and social support, there is hope for a lighter future. If you’re struggling to let go of the past, whether it is due to relationship trauma or something completely unrelated, you can book in a discovery call with me here and I would be delighted to help you start your transformational journey to a more empowered state of emotional well-being.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, I really hope you found it useful!
Check out my therapy and coaching services here
Take care of yourselves and each other – speak soon!