How to Recognize an Unhealthy Relationship

People are complicated, and when two people are in a relationship the level of complexity is not just additive, it is multiplicative. Just as people’s physical and mental health are on a spectrum so are relationships’ health. In most relationships, there are aspects of those relationships that are more or less functional. Couple’s therapy can help couples identify the parts that are less functional and help them improve those parts of the dynamic. There are however indicators that a relationship is unhealthy just as there are conditions physical or mental that also reflect illness.

The instant there emerges any physical violence in the relationship, the couple should address this development on an urgent basis. If the violence persists at all, the victim should end the relationship. If there is any risk of harm to children, the police should be contacted immediately. Also, recurrent patterns in a relationship of criticism and stonewalling, or worse, of mocking and insulting are indicators of a relationship that is damaging to both partners.

One way for you to discern the relative health of your relationship is to make use of your own experience in the relationship and then to validate that experience. What is your subjective experience of the relationship? Is it supportive? Do you trust your partner? Do you feel secure? Do you feel safe? Or do you feel small? Alone? Scared? If you answer these questions for yourself honestly, next trust your answer as accurate. That said, there are instances when a person knows intellectually their partner to be kind, generous, loving, and attentive, and yet that person still feels alone, small and scared in the relationship. In these cases, I would recommend that person seek individual treatment to try and figure out what is going on.

In regards to couples work, Emotional Focused Therapy and The Gottman Method are both forms of couples’ counseling that can help foster more healthy communication and relational patterns. Structural Family Therapy and Bowenian Therapy are treatment modalities for families.