top of page

Can You Recognize an Unhealthy Relationship?

If in your previous relationships you did not feel seen, appreciated, loved, and supported or, even worse, you had many conflicts, drama or even (physical, emotional, mental) abuse, it is very likely you have had unhealthy relationships. If you are reading this article, you may be searching for solutions so you can create a healthy, loving, and passionate partnership.

The first step is to be able to distinguish healthy relationships from unhealthy ones: imagine that up until now, you have been eating fast food and you haven’t been feeling that well, so now you want to improve your health and you are looking for better kinds of food. You want to allow yourself time to “read the label” (pay attention to what the other person says and does), check for the quality of the “ingredients” (what their life values are), if the “food” is “prepared” safely (how they are taking care of themselves) etc.

Since I would love to see you create the best relationship you can imagine,out of my own experience and various trainings I have distilled 5 principles you need to pay attention to when you are dating someone new:

1. Relationship development in time

What we are used to seeing (especially in movies) is that she and he meet, they have crazy chemistry, they immediately have amazing sex, move in together and then things start to deteriorate. This is how an unhealthy relationship evolves: very fast, stages are skipped, one or both partners start to feel insecure (they do not know if the relationship will still exist the next day or the next month), conflicts can be aggressive; they do not have much in common except for chemistry, one of the partners may want a committed relationship, but the other not so much; one of the partners can still be dating other people with or without the other partner’s knowledge.

On the other hand, a healthy relationship develops more slowly and steadily, both partners feel safe and secure. They allow themselves time to get to know one another, to discover who they really are (not who they think their partner is), to pay attention to the other person’s behavior, to do activities together, and see how they feel with that person, to create pleasant memories, to talk about their values, dreams, and passions, so they build a lasting partnership.

Of course, there are cases when the relationship can develop fast and still be healthy; however, these are rather the exceptions than the rule. You may be asking yourself, “OK, but how much time do I need to invest in a relationship before knowing I can build a lasting partnership with this person?” There is no specific rule per se, as this depends on every person, but if you want to discover faster if a person is right for you, what you should pay attention to when dating someone, how to create meaningful and fun dates, what questions are the most relevant to ask on first dates and much more, then you can download my free “Guide for Conscious Dating”.

2. Love-Hate dynamic

The love-hate dynamic is very common and real, and it happens when we start a relationship with someone, and in the beginning we love everything about that person (even their flaws), but then we start hating them or feeling something in-between. Relationship expert Harville Hendrix calls this phenomenon imago.

Imago refers to our tendency to seek partners that reproduce our childhood trauma. On some level, we find comfort in the familiar, even if the familiar is precisely the behavior we find hurtful. We seem to be experts in attracting (we usually call it “having chemistry with”) partners who can hurt us the same way we have been hurt before, so we can reproduce the conditions in order to have a second chance at healing that part of ourselves that was traumatized the first time.

This dynamic make things look like heaven one minute, only so that 5 minutes later hell may unleash: one or both partners yell, say nasty words about each another, they may even hit one another, raise their voice even when something small happens, they may even say “I hate you!”, gossip about their partner to their friends, and may end up cheating on them, too.

However, in a healthy relationship, the partners love one another even when some things do not go according to plan or when unpleasant emotions are experienced. The two partners support each other in order to heal and grow together, and each of them is responsible for their traumatized parts and works on healing them.

3. Dependency

When it comes to relationships, there are 3 ways in which people experience dependency: independency, codependency, and interdependency.

An unhealthy relationship is often based on unhealed trauma, and the most common dynamic is the following: one partner is independent, and the other partner is codependent. Here is what I have observed by watching the relationship between my friends Anna and Dan (names have been changed for confidentiality purposes):

In their relationship, Dan is the independent one: his self-esteem is high most of the time, and he does not rely on Anna for reassurance or emotional support. However, their relationship remains superficial, because he does not let her in. It is as if, at some point, he built a wall to avoid closeness and intimacy. As soon as things get serious, he withdraws, and tries to find a reason to end the relationship: he becomes highly annoyed by Anna’s behaviors, habits or even physical appearance. Consequently, he starts drifting off and distancing himself from her. The reason why he does this is because he believes that he does not need emotional intimacy in his life, but he is not aware that this belief is preventing him from building a loving relationship.

When the man is independent, the chances are the woman is codependent: Ana thinks highly of others, and therefore of Dan, but she often suffers from low self-esteem. Anna is very sensitive and attuned to Dan’s needs, but can be often insecure and anxious about her own worth in their relationship. If Dan rejects her or fails to respond to her needs, she blames herself or labels herself as not being worthy of love. She needs constant reassurance that she is loved and cared about, that she is worthy and good enough. Because she has a strong fear of abandonment, she often experiences anxiety, intense jealousy or is suspicious of Dan.

This fear also makes Anna feel desperate, clingy, and preoccupied with the relationship, because she is often afraid of or even incapable of being alone. Ana seeks intimacy and closeness, and is highly emotional and dependent on others, especially on Dan. The presence of the loved one appears to be a remedy for her strong emotional needs which she can’t satisfy by herself.

Being independent it not limited to men. There are also women who find themselves stuck to this pattern, and I used to be one of them. It has not been easy to heal myself so I can open my heart and love, but thank to all the experiences I have had and all the things I have learned, I can now help other people with their own struggles.

In a healthy relationship, both partners are interdependent: they have a positive view of themselves and others. They do not need reassurance in order to feel valued or worthy of love. However, this does not mean they reject or do not want intimacy or emotional closeness, but that they simply feel good on their own, as well as in relationships.

They tend to trust their partners and not feel the need to be jealous or doubt their loved ones’ intentions. They are able to accept displays of affection, without fear or confusion. They are most commonly warm, loving, and lovable. They aim at and are capable of building and maintaining meaningful and long-lasting romantic relationships. They are comfortable with proximity and easily bond with others.

4. “Needing” versus “choosing” a relationship

Many people enter relationships because they have unsatisfied needs, and they expect their partner to become the provider of whatever they need: support, affection, love, sex, money, security, fun, well-being, happiness, health etc. When you put another person in charge of your life – because this is what actually you do when you ask them to take care of your needs –, you are basically saying, “I am too weak to take care of myself, please save me and do for me all the things I can’t or won’t do for myself. My life is now yours.” This may sound a little bit exaggerated, but when you take a closer look, you will notice that a victim-savior dynamic is born, and when these two roles are set, it is bound for the role of the aggressor to turn up in the relationship, too (I will speak more broadly about this dynamic in a future article).

People who have healed most of their emotional wounds and have a clear idea on what kind of relationship they want to create consciously choose to be in a relationship. They do not need a partner or a relationship, because they can satisfy most of their needs by themselves or through other healthy relationships in their life. Instead, they choose to be with someone because they have genuine feelings of love, appreciation, respect, admiration and attraction towards that other person. This gives them freedom in how they live their life, and these people are genuinely happy and fulfilled.

5. “You complete me” vs. “With you I become a better person”

If you think you need someone else to be complete, you will spend your time chasing other people.

This will ultimately lead to wasting your life, as no one can give something that can only be found within yourself. The qualities you’re drawn to already exist inside of you. You don’t need to look for them in a partner, externally; you can discover and cultivate them in yourself. However, this requires taking responsibility over your life and leaving the victim mentality behind, and this takes courage.

When someone sees themselves as whole, they do not need anything from anyone else. Of course, they can express their admiration, and they can even be so inspired that they can start developing within themselves that quality they like. The difference between healthy and unhealthy dynamics is that people in a healthy partnership don’t rely solely on their partner to satisfy their needs.

The way we speak says a lot about how we think and feel. Pay more attention to your words as you create what you speak. For example, instead of saying, “I need a relationship to be happy”, say, “I am creating happiness by myself and I will share my happiness with my future partner”, or instead of saying, “I don’t like being single”, say, “I am taking advantage of this period in my life to get to know myself better and become an amazing person.” If you already are in a relationship, you can replace, “My partner doesn’t make me happy” with “My happiness is my responsibility.”

In closing this article, I leave you with 3 questions. If you really want to experience a different type of relationship than you have had so far, it would be wise to answer them:

  • Which of these dynamics have you experienced in your relationships?

  • What kind of relationship do you want to build next?

  • What depends on you for this relationship to become reality?

The key to creating the relationship you envision is taking responsibility over your life. The sooner you start to bring your own shadows to light, the faster you will enjoy beautiful experiences with a high-value partner. Waiting for a relationship to happen will cause you frustration and disappointment because you do not receive what you want, but only what you are ready for.

The most valuable epiphany I have had in my 6 years of deep and intense work with myself is that we are creators, and we have the capacity to co-create our desires with the universe, so stop waiting, roll up your sleeves and start working!


bottom of page