Relationships can have a major influence on our health and wellbeing. Relationships expand beyond our interactions with close intimate partners; it can be a relationship with family members, work colleagues, friends, or coaches. When you’re in healthy relationships, you feel secure, encouraged and able to openly communicate. With unhealthy relationships, you are more likely to feel upset, hurt and bad about yourself. With any relationship, there are going to be moments of joy and sadness. That’s natural. However, if you are experiencing more negatives than positives, it might be worth exploring is this relationship healthy for you.
It can be difficult when in a relationship to distinguish the difference between what is healthy and unhealthy. It can be even more difficult to know the difference when we have never experienced a healthy relationship before. Indicators of healthy relationships include feeling loved, cared for, respected, comfortable about yourself, can be your true self and can communicate openly to your partner.
When in an unhealthy relationship, you may feel sadness, guilt, worthlessness, trapped, anxious, not being able to be your true self, and unable to communicate openly. Other indicators include a lot of ups and downs i.e. one day feeling wonderful, the next day feeling awful. Any form of abuse (e.g. physical, psychological/emotional, financial, sexual) are also signs of an unhealthy relationship.
Some things that may help
Even healthy relationships can end or fizzle out for a number of reasons. Some relationships end when there’s a difference in values, other relationships grow apart due to life transitions, or the bond is just not the same anymore. When we are in unhealthy relationships, it can be hard to recognise any toxicity while in the relationship and even more difficult to set boundaries or leave the relationship. When it comes to leaving intimate relationships, in particular, you may experience fears such as “What if no one else will love me?” or “What if I’ll be by myself for the rest of my life?”
Talk about it: If your partner, family member or friend is open to communicate, try to talk to them what you’re feeling. They may not be aware of their behaviours and how it is impacting you. If they’re willing to make lasting changes, you may be able to find ways to make it work.
However, if your partner, family member or friend is not willing to listen to you or it could perhaps put your safety in danger, speak to a trusted friend or family member about what you are experiencing. It’s more beneficial to speak to someone that you are going to feel heard by as opposed to speaking to someone who may judge your experiences and want to offer solutions e.g. “Just leave them”.
Reaching out to someone outside of work can offer non-biased support and an outsider’s perspective. Counsellors and therapists can help explore your emotions and thoughts regarding your relationship. If your partner is open to making changes to your relationship, you could potentially both attend couples counselling. If not, there are options for you to attend counselling individually. A therapist can help support you in whatever you decide. You don’t have to decide immediately if you want to stay or leave the relationship; only you know what the best decision for you is. They can offer a space that is non-judgemental to explore the impact of your relationship. Therapy can offer healing while also supporting you in your decision and exploring your options.
Self-care: It is important to look after yourself and remind yourself that you are not to blame for another person’s behaviour. Being in unhealthy relationships can be draining and take a lot of energy. Create a self-care list to engage in activities that can help you feel energised. Self-care can be a mixture of solo activities (e.g. listening to music, reading, taking a bath) or joint activities with those who you have healthy relationships with (e.g. going for a walk with a friend, going for coffee).
Build your support network: Regardless of whether you decide to stay in or leave your relationship, it’s important to have a range of supports around you. These can range from self-support (i.e. setting time aside for yourself, self-care), to friends, family and professional supports.
Write it out: Sometimes we feel that if we think about our thoughts enough, we can process them and help ourselves to feel better. This rarely happens and often, it’s more beneficial to get our feelings out of our heads and bodies. By journaling, you can explore your experiences, thoughts and feelings possibly more freely compared to when you talk to others. Your journal is just for you and no one else. There is no right or wrong way to journal, it’s your personal experience. Generally, a pen and paper work best, but if typing is more comfortable for you, then type it out. You can make your journaling experience more soothing with perhaps your favourite music, a candle or a relaxed environment. If the thought of journaling is daunting, there are other ways to express your feelings e.g. through art, music, movement. Draw in on your strengths and interests.