7 signs of an unhealthy romantic relationship

7 signs of an unhealthy romantic relationship

Sometimes we feel uneasy about our relationships but we’re not quite sure why. Based on the fact that about 1 in 3 adolescents in the U.S. has experienced an unhealthy romantic relationship at some point in their lives, it’s natural to wonder if what you’re experiencing is normal or a sign of something more concerning.

If you notice that your romantic relationship causes distress, makes you feel emotionally vulnerable, or undermines your self-esteem, you should know that it’s not okay. It’s true that all relationships have their ups and downs, but there are specific indicators that can predict serious issues in your relationship that negatively impact your well-being, mental health, and overall functioning.

In this article, we’ll discuss 7 of these indicators that suggest a relationship may be unhealthy. If you feel these signs are present in your romantic relationship, it might be worth considering professional help from licensed couples’ counselors.

1.  Frequent criticism

Criticizing our loved ones is something we all have done at one point or another. When done constructively, criticism can be a valuable way to help people become more self-aware and grow personally. However, the thing that distinguishes constructive criticism from toxic criticism is that it comes from the desire for mutual improvement and focuses on specific behaviors instead of character traits. Therefore, one can receive such criticism without feeling attacked or devalued.

But unfortunately, sometimes people criticize each other with the purpose of attacking their partner’s character and diminishing who they are. This form of criticism is a sign of an unhealthy romantic relationship, especially if it happens repeatedly.

The reason is that frequent criticism in relationships creates a hostile environment that leads to anxiety and emotional withdrawal. As studies show, people who receive criticism from their partners often experience negative emotional reactions and distance themselves from relationships (Neoh et al., 2022).

2.  Disrespect for boundaries

Regardless of how close you are to your partner, you still need to feel that you have your own personal space and that your identity isn’t blended with theirs in a way that compromises your individuality.

Healthy boundaries can be defined as limits we set for ourselves and our partners in order to protect our well-being and maintain our sense of self in the relationship. Having these boundaries is especially important in romantic relationships to clarify how much time we need for ourselves, how much effort we can dedicate to our partner, and, in general, how we manage our independence and autonomy.

On the other hand, disrespect for personal boundaries can disrupt emotional balance, which is important for healthy romantic relationships. Therefore, if your partner doesn’t respect your boundaries or doesn’t want to communicate with you about establishing boundaries at all, you’re likely to find it hard to deal with future conflicts constructively. In that case, consulting a professional therapist might help you and your partner develop healthy boundaries and maintain a respectful relationship.

3.  Hostility or aggression

Hostility or aggression in a relationship is a serious red flag that should not be ignored. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), today, around 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience intimate partner violence. This hostility can manifest in either emotional manipulation, verbal attacks, or physical aggression. Speaking of which, 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been physically injured by an intimate partner.

Regardless of the particular form, aggression and hostility can erode trust and safety, which are critical components of any healthy relationship. As a result of the fear and tension that accompany aggression in a relationship, it becomes difficult to maintain a loving and supportive partnership.

4.  Lack of trust

Another significant indicator of an unhealthy romantic relationship is a lack of trust. Having trust in relationships means that partners can share their thoughts, feelings, and vulnerabilities without fear of judgment or betrayal.

But if this reciprocal self-disclosure isn’t present in a relationship, chances are that intimacy between partners will reduce significantly and this, in turn, will negatively reflect on overall relationship satisfaction.

Interestingly, trust issues often come from attachment styles we develop in early relationships with caregivers. Specifically, an anxious attachment style — a pattern where individuals struggle to feel secure in their relationships — can make people more susceptible to feelings of insecurity and fear of abandonment (Yilmaz et al., 2023). This also influences how trust is managed in romantic partnerships as adults.

5.  Poor communication

Did you know that communication style is one of the key predictors of relationship satisfaction? Empirical studies focused on relationship dynamics have found that the way couples talk to each other and handle conflicts can determine the longevity and happiness of their relationship.

In particular, a 2021 study published in the Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin shows that negative communication within a couple, such as criticisms or dismissive remarks, lowers relationship satisfaction. Interestingly, this study revealed that it’s the decrease in negative interactions, rather than an increase in positive ones, that most strongly correlates with improved relationship satisfaction (Johnson et al., 2021).

That’s why it’s important to manage and reduce negative communication before it leads to deeper issues. Given these insights, couples counseling often focuses on strategies to reduce negative communication patterns and enhance understanding.

6.  Codependency

Codependency is one of the most common, but difficult to recognize, issues in romantic relationships. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), codependency is a

a dysfunctional relationship pattern when one individual (or both partners) is psychologically dependent or even controlled by the other in a relationship.

As a result of this need for emotional support, approval, and even identity from the partner, codependent individuals end up losing their individual autonomy and satisfaction within the relationship.

Instead of codependence, couples that maintain interdependence experience healthier dynamics. Being interdependent means that partners rely on each other for support but they still maintain their independence and self-identity. Thanks to this balance, each partner can pursue their own goals and interests alongside a shared one.

7.  Stress and unhappiness

Finally, if you notice that stress has become an integral part of your communication with your partner and you no longer feel happy in your relationship, you can be certain that it’s time to take a step back and assess the situation. That’s because unhappiness is a deep-seated issue that undermines the foundational elements of trust, communication, and emotional connection in a relationship.

Unfortunately, persistent unhappiness can lead to disengagement, resentment, and a breakdown in mutual support. If you notice that you or your partner feel this way, it may be beneficial to seek therapy. Professional couples’ counselors can help both partners understand the underlying causes of their dissatisfaction and develop strategies to rebuild their relationship.

Counseling for Unhealthy Romantic Relationships

If you recognize any of these 7 signs of an unhealthy romantic relationship, it might be time to consider couples counseling. Whether you’re struggling with communication issues, feel that your partner doesn’t trust you, or just want to set healthy boundaries, you should know that professional help is available and can make a significant difference.

Abuse or Controlling Relationships

If you are in a relationship that you believe may have aspects of domestic violence, or that someone is using their power over you to control you, then please seek help with the Domestic Violence Hotline or chat line first BEFORE getting into therapy.

At Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids, we offer specialized programs for improving your relationships, such as Relationship Maintenance Program for Couples, Premarital Counseling Program, or Healthy Relationship Dynamics program for LGBTQIA + couples. These programs rely on evidence-based techniques to help partners improve their communication, rebuild trust, and establish respectful boundaries through expert guidance.

Don’t wait for the issues in your relationship to resolve themselves. Reach out to us at Grand Rapids, MI, or Ada, MI, or schedule online counseling sessions to take proactive steps toward healing!

Learn more about the Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids

Learn more about Counseling and Therapy services at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

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