We all have bad days with our partner. We fight, act badly, and say things we don’t mean. At times we lose our ability to self-soothe, think logically, and treat our loved one well. For healthy couples, however, these missteps are addressed and resolved respectfully. In a healthy relationship, partners genuinely apologize, learn from their mistakes, and integrate this new knowledge into their relationship in a meaningful way. It can be easy to see where you and your partner are doing it right. But what kinds of problems are signals that your relationship is not healthy and functional? It can be much more challenging to see these problems for yourself. Below are 9 signs that you might be in a dysfunctional relationship. If any of these sound familiar, consider it a red flag. You may need to seek out help and also make changes within yourself and your relationship.
- 1. One (or more) of the “4 Horsemen” are constantly present. Dr. John Gottman has performed extensive research about what makes long-term romantic relationships successful, and he has found that there are 4 actions that, if they occur often enough, can actually predict a relationship’s demise. They are: criticism, contempt, stonewalling (i.e. shutting down), and defensiveness. If these kinds of behaviors are consistently present in how you and your partner communicate, then consider it a red flag. You may need to make some significant changes, as these behaviors can erode a relationship.
- 2. You walk away feeling “crazy.” When one partner always places blame on the other, constantly invalidates his/her partner, or refuses to take responsibility for his/her actions, it can make the other partner feel like a bad or even “crazy” person. Do you walk away from an argument with your partner and feel like you have lost your sense of reality or your sense of self? It is often a sign of relationship dysfunction if this is happening.
- 3. Manipulation. Happy, successful couples know how to accept influence from one another, but this is very different than manipulation. Manipulation, or when your partner tries to control or exploit you, is toxic to a healthy relationship.
- 4. Abuse. Similarly, any kind of abuse – emotional, psychological (manipulation can be a form of psychological abuse), physical, or sexual – is a sign that you are involved in a dysfunctional relationship. Exercising power and control in this way is unacceptable and is never the basis for a healthy relationship.
- 5. You are not separate individuals. Happy, healthy relationships are characterized by partners who know how to be both separate and connected individuals. One sign that you are in a dysfunctional relationship is if you feel as though you are not accepted for who you are or allowed to be the unique individual you are. We all change as a result of our relationships, but if you have to be together all the time, like all of the same things, and think/feel the same way about everything, then you are not actually relating to one another as separate people.
- 6. You want to “fix” the other person. A relationship will not stand the test of time if either one of you is in it to fix the other person. Relationships work when both partners take responsibility for themselves and remain open to the feedback and influence of the other. You are not relating to who your partner really is if your agenda is to fix or change your partner.
- 7. You feel out of control. If your relationship causes you to lose control and violate your own long-held values about who you are and what matters to you, this may be a sign of dysfunction within your relationship.
- 8. Isolation. If you are in a romantic relationship and then all of your other friendships and relationships (like with family) seem to end or disappear, you should consider this a red flag.
- 9. Feedback from friends and family. Similarly, if you are consistently getting feedback from your friends and family that they think your partner is not good for you or that your relationship seems unhealthy, perhaps they are on to something. It can be hard to see your relationship for what it is when you are in the thick of it, so be mindful of what your loved ones are saying to you.
Contributed by Staff Therapist, Rachel Goldsmith