Relationships, as we all know, are complex, complicated, and often teeming with hidden messages about where we’ve been and where we need to go. We “work through our stuff” in the context of relationship, whether we recognize the process or not.
If we’re paying attention, we see the signs that can help us navigate our relationships in a healthy way.
Sometimes, like it or not, those signs show up to tell us when a relationship isn’t on solid footing. Sometimes they even deliver the unwelcome message that a relationship needs to end.
Sadly, living in an unhealthy relationship is often like living with a slowly developing, “silent killer” disease. By the time the symptoms become unmistakably clear, it’s often too late.
If you were living in an unhealthy relationship, would you know how to recognize it for what it is? If you were dating someone, would you know when and why to rethink the prospects of “forever”?
Because love has its natural ebb and flow of positives and negatives, you may not recognize those damaging behaviors lurking behind the guise of love. What may feel like long-awaited attention in the beginning may really be neediness in the long run. And what may sound like a shower of adoring compliments now may really be a prelude to manipulation later.
A relationship doesn’t have to be “bad” or destined for a boot to the curb to warrant an honest assessment. Some signs will point you in the direction of a good spring cleaning. Others will point you in the direction of sage advice and guidance in couples therapy. And others may point you in the direction of the door.
What’s important is that you know how to recognize when your relationship isn’t as solid as you think it is.
As you read through the following list of signs that your relationship may not be “all that,” contemplate two critical factors:
- What does this have to do with my partner’s issues and behavior?
- What does this have to do with my own issues and behavior? How and why did I attract this to my life? What do I need to learn from this relationship in order to be the best person I can be?
Here are some red-flag signs that your relationship isn’t as solid as you think:
- Your core values don’t align.
It’s one thing to have hobbies and movie tastes in common. But those are the frivolities of life compared to what stirs your soul and keeps your life on course. Building a lifelong relationship with one partner ultimately has little to do with common interests and everything to do with common values.
- Your life visions are in different galaxies.
As with your values, your visions for life need to be in alignment. Not identical, just in alignment.
Perhaps you see only the stability of a home with children and making the world a better place from within your community. And perhaps your partner wants to see the world from a gypsy wagon with no forwarding address.
Before you risk a heartbreak in the near future, you might want to have a heart-to-heart now.
- One of you is needy.
All that attention in the beginning may fill a void in your life…for a while. But when it suddenly morphs into clinginess and an inability to handle time apart, you should see the red flags waving.
Both of you need to maintain your individuality, even as you build a separate identity as a couple. Have your own interests, hobbies, friends, and space. Neediness is an indication of low self-esteem and low self-confidence. And neither contributes to the strength of a relationship.
- Jealousy is your interloper.
Jealousy is a manifestation of insecurity. It drains the mental and emotional energy of the envious one, and it drains and limits the energy of the relationship. Suddenly everyone and everything is a potential threat. Blind accusations get tossed around and resentment ensues.
There’s a reason Shakespeare spoke of jealousy as the “green-eyed monster.” As with suspicious minds, jealousy is predatory. It projects personal issues or insecurities onto another person — in this case, a romantic partner.
- Hypercriticism and emotional abuse.
The insidious damage of emotional abuse is that it slowly erodes your confidence and self-esteem. And it eventually devours your self-worth with an underlying message that “no one else will ever love you.”
When a partner criticizes every little thing you think, say, and do, you will inevitably do one of two things. You will scramble to figure out what your partner wants (which will always fluctuate) so you can prevent future criticism. Or you will feel the sting as a sign that you’re not meant for this abuse.
Constructive criticism that is mutually given with the loving intention of self- and relational growth is one thing. Hypercriticism that tears a person down is another.
If you find yourself justifying your partner’s demeaning comments or behavior — or worse yet, assuming responsibility for them — this person’s not a keeper. (And both of you need to get help. You can’t save your partner. But you can save yourself.)
- There’s no trust.
Sometimes distrust is a sign of betrayal or neglect carried forward. Sometimes it is an indication that a person hasn’t done the work to earn or regain trust after a betrayal. And sometimes it is a projection of distrust in oneself.
Whatever the origin, a relationship can’t survive without trust.
- You have to become someone you don’t like in order to please your partner.
If you have to go against your own integrity to keep your partner “in the game” and happy, there aren’t enough red flags to wave.
Whether you find yourself doing things out of fear or desperation, your gut will tell you that something is very wrong. Listen to it.
You should never, ever be expected to violate your values or do something that makes you feel less than your best self. A healthy relationship elevates. It doesn’t diminish. And it doesn’t require you to make sure your partner is OK so you can be OK.
It asks a lot of people to step back from a relationship and examine it with objectivity, and especially with self-accountability. You may not like what you see — in the other person or yourself.
But remember why you are in relationship in the first place. You want your life to be better. You want to be better.
And you want to feel hope when you ponder the future.
Just because a relationship may not be a threshold to forever doesn’t mean it’s not a steppingstone to it. Be a courageous guardian of your heart and life. The world needs the happiest, healthiest you.
This article originally appeared on YourTango.