Abuse can be subtle and has so many different forms that it’s sometimes difficult to determine if a relationship is healthy or unhealthy. While no pairing is perfect all the time, there are distinct patterns of behavior that we can call out as abusive. Ultimately, it boils down to imbalance, when one partner tries to exert coercive control over the other. It’s good to learn signs to watch out for, red flags that something is not right, but it is also key to highlight positive indicators, beacons of strong unions between complementary matches. Knowing what a healthy partnership looks like can be just as important as learning what aspects are unhealthy. This is particularly significant for teenagers who may never have been in a relationship before. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, a perfect time to compare healthy versus unhealthy relationships. Of course, these are good examples to be aware of at any age.
Both partners put equal effort into the relationship and make decisions together. They discuss and fairly divide any responsibilities of their shared life.
One partner makes all the decisions for their shared life and tells their partner what to do. This might include regulating their money, time, friends, and personal appearance.
Each partner has their own identity and the freedom to be who they are. They pursue interests, friends, and achievements whether or not their partner enjoys the same.
One partner influences the other without them realizing it. Tactics include guilting or ignoring their partner until they get their own way, threatening to harm themselves or others, and using gifts/apologies to influence decisions.
Each partner values who the other is, their beliefs, and their opinions. They listen to each other and while they may not always agree, they accept their partner’s personal choices.
One partner ridicules the other’s opinions and interests, making fun of them or purposefully ruining something important to their partner.
Partners believe in each other, are comfortable doing things separately, and respect each other’s privacy, both in the physical world and online.
A little jealousy can be a normal feeling, but it becomes unhealthy if it causes one partner to be possessive and controlling of the other, trying to force them to disassociate from the person/activity that evokes the jealousy.
The ability for both partners to be truthful and open with each other without fear of judgment or ridicule. Not hesitating to share opinions and discuss important topics.
One partner lying to the other or concealing important information or activities. It also includes sharing their partner’s confidences without their permission or threatening to do so in order to control them.
Both partners feel comfortable with the level and type of sexual interaction they share. Neither insists on any activity, and neither feels pressure to do anything they are not comfortable with. Consent is asked for and the answer respected.
One partner forces or pressures the other into sexual activities against their will or without consent. This includes but is not limited to violence and rape. Just because consent was given on a previous encounter does not mean it will always be given. Being in a relationship does not give anyone the intrinsic right to sexual encounters with their partner.
Partners will never completely agree about everything and arguments can be part of a healthy relationship. They should be open to hearing their partner’s opinion and share their own without abuse or humiliation.
Any kind of physical violence – hitting, kicking, grabbing, strangling, throwing, etc. – is not okay, whether it is directed at one’s partner or at an object/structure. Partners should not use violent words to hurt or frighten each other. The threat of violence can be as harmful as the actual act.
Each partner supports the other in meeting up and keep in touch with friends and family. They may both join in the gathering or socialize separately, have joint friends or different ones. Neither tries to keep the other from seeing a loved one.
One partner actively tries to keep the other from interacting with their friends and family, either by manipulation or force. They may insist they need all of their partner’s time or that they are more important than anyone else in their partner’s life.
Both partners feel they can rely on each other, that they have each other’s backs. They are faithful to their relationship as they’ve mutually defined it and keep each other’s confidences.
Purposefully harming or ruining their partner’s reputation, success, or achievements, whether by spreading rumors/private information about their partner, threatening to do so, or by forcing them to back out of commitments or not pursue opportunities.
Both partners support each other, their pursuits, goals, and decisions. They provide reassurance, feedback, and assistance if desired.
One partner making the other feel bad about themselves, their appearance, their beliefs, their achievements, their friends/family, etc. They may make rude or mocking remarks, often under the guise of a joke or “helpful” suggestion.
When partners feel safe and at ease with each other, able to be themselves and speak freely. They embrace each other’s differences and apologize when they are wrong or hurtful.
One partner controlling the other through fear. This may include revealing (or threatening to reveal) confidences/private aspects of their relationship, or violence (or threats of violence) against their partner, loved ones, pets, possessions, etc.
While partners may rely on each other, they are not dependent on each other and do not form an excessive part of each other’s identity. They have friends and pursue activities outside of the relationship. Each reserves the right to keep certain aspects of their lives separate from their partner and to end the relationship any time they no longer wish to be together.
One partner feeling they cannot live without the other, are unwilling or unable to have a life outside of their relationship. They may pressure their partner to be closer or more exclusively tied to them and threaten to harm themselves if their partner refuses. They may manipulate their partner into increasing their own dependence.
Each partner is willing to adapt equally to meet the other in the middle when they do not agree. They may adopt some of each partner’s desires or find a different solution that works for both of them.
One partner becomes angry or resentful when asked to adapt by their partner, responding with hurtful language or cool bitterness. This may make their partner feel that they need to “walk on eggshells” around them, to give in completely to their point of view, or to make them wary of suggesting future compromises.
Both partners are accountable for their own actions and words and admit when they are in the wrong. They do not blame each other or take things out on each other when upset.
One partner makes excuses for their actions and words, blaming their partner, other people, alcohol, drugs, mental illness, or past experiences. They may even use experiences such as unfaithful exes or a tough upbringing to “explain” their behavior and garner sympathy.
Partners share their feelings and opinions with each other openly and comfortably. They discuss decisions that affect both of them before making a choice and check in with each other about everyday events in their lives.
One partner chastises the other, making them feel they cannot or do not want to share their thoughts. They don’t ask for their partner’s opinions and make unilateral decisions that affect both partners.
These relationship signs are separated, laid out, and directly compared in order to better discuss and understand them, but in practice, they are complexly interwoven. Some of these concepts overlap with each other and some of them build off each other. Some are not possible without others. Each relationship is unique with these themes interacting in different ways. Use this list as a tool to help determine the health of your relationship or that of someone you love, or to learn what to expect and avoid in future relationships.
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