Many of us have experienced the emotional pain of an unhealthy relationship. Maybe we knew something was wrong, but couldn’t quite explain why. The following is adapted from a questionnaire called “Toxic Relationships”, to which I’ve added a few items. I hope it will help you if you suspect you had – or are currently having – this unfortunate experience.
Signs of an unhealthy relationship
• Your partner uses physical force or threats of force – or verbal weapons such as cursing, name calling, accusations, degrading comments, destructive criticism, or blaming – to make you do something you don’t want to do.
• Your partner humiliates you in public, or degrades you when he/she is unhappy with something you do.
• Your partner forces or manipulates you to perform sexually in ways you don’t want to do.
• You fear your partner; for example you are afraid to disagree with him/her.
• Your partner is verbally or physically abusive when he/she is frustrated or angry.
• Your partner threatens to turn your kids against you or has “poisoned their minds” against you.
• Your partner does not respect your thoughts, emotions, or needs.
• You have felt a strong impulse to verbally or physically abuse your partner.
• When you argue, your partner wears you down verbally and emotionally, even when you are clearly upset or exhausted and in no condition to communicate.
• You and your partner don’t share equally in making important decisions.
• Your partner controls the money.
• Your partner prohibits you from working, or from any other activity that would allow you social contact.
• You have given up things that mattered greatly to you, just because your partner insisted on it.
• Your partner uses the “silent treatment”.
• When you need your space, your partner disrespects that.
• Your partner lies to you or to others.
• Your partner enlists other people, such as friends or family members, as allies, in conflict with you.
• Your partner plays ‘mind games’, like trying to confuse or distract you or make you question your judgment.
• Your partner makes you feel guilty for not meeting his/her needs.
• Your partner is overly dependent on you.
• Your relationship, in general, is not a relationship of equals, but more like a parent-child relationship.
• When your partner is unhappy with you, it’s devastating.
• You find yourself apologizing on a regular basis, and sometimes wondering, “why was I the one to apologize?”
• When you talk with your partner about a problem you’re having, you often end up feeling as though it’s your fault.
• When your partner makes an error, he/she blames you.
• When your partner is caught doing something hurtful or wrong, he/she makes excuses.
• You don’t feel safe in the relationship.
• You don’t feel loved, cared for and protected by your partner.
• When you talk about your work, your needs, desires or interests, your partner shows little genuine interest.
The inspirational song, “The Greatest Love of All” makes a wonderful statement about the importance of loving oneself. Some people would even say that it’s not possible to truly love someone else, until you’ve learned to care for, to respect and to love yourself. Love in this sense is not the adoring or worshiping kind of love, but the love that says, “I want the best for you; I want you to be strong, capable, safe and free to reach for the stars, to realize your full potential so you can make a real contribution to our world.”
If you’ve traveled on an airplane, you remember that the safety instructions include, “in the event of a loss of air pressure, an oxygen mask will drop down in front of you. Place the mask over your nose and mouth before you place it on the mouth of your child …” etc. That says it all. We’re in no position to do good unless we ourselves are safe and free. We are in no position to give love, true love, unless we have a strong sense of ourselves, who we are, what we can do, what we can’t or won’t do, and so on.
Let’s say that many of the statements above apply to your relationship. What’s to be done? This brief article doesn’t allow for an in-depth discussion. For that, it would be best to consult a trusted and wise friend or family member, or in some cases, a professional counselor.
But here are a couple of thoughts at any rate:
First, trust your intuition, your “gut” feeling. If you have a sense you may be a victim of verbal, emotional or physical abuse, even sexual abuse, do not ignore that feeling. Check it out with someone else; get honest and sensitive feedback from someone who is safe to talk to.
The setting of boundaries and limits in relationships is absolutely crucial. If you’re feeling exploited, used, or taken advantage of so that your life is in disarray, you should seriously consider consulting a professional. In addition, if you would accept a faith-based message, I strongly recommend the book, Boundaries, When to Say Yes and When to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It is a treasure-trove of helpful information on relationships.
Many people can get caught up in unhealthy relationships, largely because their history has conditioned them to not be assertive, to be overly self-sacrificing, to be passive and even in some cases, to take on a ‘victim mentality’ or the personality of a ‘martyr’. The truth is that your history need not be your destiny. Things can change. You can change … If you believe … if you want it badly enough … and if you’ve had enough mistreatment, already. Your life can become a miracle to you and a beacon of hope to others. And I would love nothing more than to be part of that.