Sydney Gideon, LSW

From a young age, many of us are taught the normal life trajectory is growing up, going to school, getting a job, then getting married and having kids. While this is a normal and acceptable conversation to have, it’s also important to understand what constitutes a healthy relationship and what leans more towards unhealthy or even dangerous. Having an understanding of the warning signs of these relationships is extremely important in ensuring your safety and happiness throughout your relational journey.

All couples will fight at some point. This is inevitable. Two people with individual identities coming together to form a shared life and identity is very challenging. However, it’s important not to avoid issues that arise. Pretending issues don’t exist does not mean they go away. Learning effective communication skills is necessary for a successful relationship.

Clark Lay, LCSW, stresses three important components of a partnership: you, them, and the relationship. Finding balance and focusing time and energy on these three components is crucial to a successful relationship.

In a healthy relationship, both individuals should be able to express themselves and what they are/are not comfortable with. While this applies to the couple’s sexual relationship, it is also necessary in all components of the couple’s life. If disagreements escalate, it’s important to take time and space to be able to approach the conversation more effectively. Both individuals allowing for this space is crucial. Healthy relationships are those absent of the unhealthy examples listed below. It is also necessary to acknowledge healthy relationships can and will look different in different cultures and backgrounds.

When considering the unhealthy aspects of a relationship, it’s helpful to refer to the power and control wheel. The Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota created this wheel, which is easily accessible by simply searching the power and control wheel online. The wheel is meant to explain the tactics frequently used by an abuser on their victim but can also be applied to any unhealthy relationship dynamic. Ways in which an individual can gain control over their partner can be using privilege, children, isolation, emotional abuse, economic abuse, minimizing, denying and blaming, and using coercion and threats.

When having a discussion or argument, these interactions should never include any physical threats or actions, name-calling, or threats. While red flags can present themselves in various ways the underlying cause is typically a need for control. In a relationship that may turn physically abusive, there are typically signs before the actual physical abuse occurs.

Asserting control can start with small comments of how you should be dressing or acting and getting upset when these “requests” aren’t followed. The individual may then start taking up all of your time preventing you from continuing relationships with friends or family and beginning to isolate you from other supports. Typically, sexual abuse or assault also stems from a desire to gain control over your partner. It’s crucial for an individual to have effective ways to communicate insecurity or jealousy without attempting to gain control over their partner. It’s also common in unhealthy relationships for an individual to be both verbally and emotionally abusive in order to create insecurities in their partner causing them to become dependent on them. All relationships look different and come in different forms and dynamics and it’s important to take this into consideration when evaluating your relationship. Referring to the power and control wheel can allow you to gain further clarity.

Relationships can provide an immense amount of love and support when they’re healthy and safe.

If you’ve found yourself struggling with relational or marital stress, anxiety, or insecurity it may be useful to try counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!