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Why Do I Keep Getting Involved in Unhealthy Romantic Relationships?

By Eric Dean JD, MBA, MA, MA, LPC, CADC

There are numerous reasons why we may find ourselves getting involved in unhealthy romantic relationships or with unhealthy partners. A common reason is that we lack examples of what a healthy relationship looks like. Throughout our lives, starting in childhood we have observed many examples of unhealthy relationships and dynamics, but not much else. Thus, we have a strong familiarity with unhealthy relationships and limited exposure to healthy ones. 

In this post I am going to review four attributes of healthy relationships to guide you when looking for a significant other:

  • We can be ourselves 

Healthy relationships flourish when we feel comfortable being our authentic selves. If we feel as though we need to put up a façade or compromise our values to be liked by our partner, we will eventually become exhausted and lose track of who we truly are. If someone doesn’t like you for you, then it is time to move on. 

  • We trust that self-disclosures will not be used against us

Healthy relationships thrive when we can share openly and honestly with our partner without fear that we will be punished or humiliated for our disclosures. I view partners in a romantic relationship as a team. One thing that successful teams have in common is Psychological Safety, a term coined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, defined as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” When there is psychological safety, team members feel comfortable sharing mistakes and challenges, asking for help, and asking questions that may seem uninformed. If we fear that we will be reprimanded or embarrassed for a mistake, then we may not share at all, which will make the situation worse.  

  • We can engage in constructive conflict

Conflict in relationships is unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to be negative. Those in healthy relationships do well at keeping conflicts constructive, allowing all partners to share their views uninterrupted even if they disagree with one another. Constructive conflict happens when partners seek to understand each other rather than “win” an argument or be “right.” Constructive conflicts may include negotiation, compromise, and/or sacrifice. Unhealthy conflicts often include toxic communication styles such as, what Dr. John Gottman calls the Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Stonewalling, and Defensiveness (a separate blog post). Partners in healthy relationships can reframe conflict from something to be avoided to an experience that can catalyze personal and relationship growth.

  • We share our appreciation for our partner

Having appreciation for your partner is important, but sharing that appreciation is even more important. In healthy relationships, partners consistently and clearly express or demonstrate their appreciation for one another, which makes them feel valued and validated. Even a small compliment can go a long way to making our partner’s day a little bit better. Expressing appreciation for our partner can be done in the moment and/or we can set aside time every week – the key is consistency.  

Wrapping Up

The first step to building a healthy relationship is identifying what a healthy relationship looks like. Remember, if we have limited experience with healthy relationships, being in one may feel unfamiliar or awkward at first. However, over time we will begin to embrace and benefit from these positive connections.

So, let’s get started – call Symmetry Counseling in Chicago today at 312-578-9990.

References

Edmondson, Amy C. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2018.

Gottman, J. M. (2008). Gottman method couple therapy. Clinical handbook of couple therapy, 4(8), 138-164.

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