Many of my clients ask me how healthy relationships are different from toxic ones. Sometimes, when we are in a relationship, it can be very difficult to see how healthy it is. You are just too close, there are too many emotions involved and your friends and family all have different opinions.
Recognizing whether or not your relationship is a healthy one is the best tool for you to use when considering whether or not your relationship has a future.
There are some hallmarks of healthy relationships that don’t exist in toxic relationships. Let me share them with you today so that you can figure out, once and for all, how a healthy relationship is different from a toxic one and what kind of relationship you have.
#1 – No fear.
A healthy relationship is one where there is no fear, that neither partner lives life being scared of physical or emotional pain. A life where disagreements exist but they don’t lead to outbursts of emotion that make one, or both, people fearful.
Do you live in fear of asking your partner if you can go out with your girlfriends, knowing that if you do he will get furious, yelling at you, knocking things off tables and punching walls, because he thinks that you are fooling around and that your friends hate him.
Do you live in fear that if you don’t do your chores on time your woman will verbally berate you, making you feel like an incompetent loser?
There are two people in every relationship and things come up between them. It’s just how it works. And each of those people has wants and needs that they should be able to address without living in fear.
If your partner doesn’t like you going out but is willing to discuss this with you, instead of freaking out, then you are in a healthy relationship. If you don’t do your chores on time and it leads to a discussion of how things can be different next time, then you are in a healthy relationship.
If you don’t do the things that you want to do or can’t make mistakes without fear of being attacked, then your relationship is a toxic one and it’s time to take a good hard look at what is next for you.
#2 – Give and take.
Another indicator of a healthy relationship is when there is an equitable give and take. When each partner has their wants and needs met equally, often a direct result of conversation.
A couple I work with have different sleep habits – she likes to stay up late and he likes to go to bed early. For people in a toxic relationship this could be an issue. One person, or both, might insist that they go to bed at the same time. They don’t discuss it but just assume that this will be the case and, when it isn’t, it becomes a real issue.
A couple in a healthy relationship will recognize each other’s individual needs and work, together, to have those needs be met.
For the couple who go to bed at different times, they discussed what would work for them. They agreed that they would keep their individual bedtimes during the week but that, on the weekends, they would go to sleep together, half way in between their desired bedtimes. By making this decision together, they were able to stave off resentment at the different bedtimes, agree on a solution and move on.
#3 – Equality.
An essential part of a healthy relationship is equality – both partners having an equal say in decisions that are made, both in the short term and the big picture.
I have a friend who has 6 children. When she and her husband were looking at houses, he liked one that had a long flight of stairs leading from where the car is parked to the front door. She, being a stay at home of 6 children, didn’t want the stairs. She could picture lugging groceries and children up those stairs from here to eternity and the prospect didn’t thrill her. When she voiced her opinion to her husband, he brushed them off and proceeded to make an offer on the house.
This, I would argue, is an excellent example of how a healthy relationship is different from a toxic one.
In a healthy relationship, the husband would have been receptive to at least listening to his wife’s concerns and would have been open to working through together how to manage them. The wife’s concerns would have taken equal weight to her husband’s and they could have figured out a compromise that worked for both of them.
If you find that one person is making all the decisions in your relationship and not taking your needs into consideration at all, your relationship might very well be a toxic one.
#4 – Mutual respect.
No relationship can be deemed healthy if there is no mutual respect. If couples can’t look at each other as equals, knowing that they are good people in the world whose perspectives are important and who deserve to be treated well then they are in a toxic relationship, indeed.
I have a client who has a hard time letting her husband make decisions around the day to day workings of their life. She feels like he doesn’t have the consistency and determination necessary to make decisions and follow through with them. As a result, because the workings of their family is so essential to their lives, that she didn’t think that he could handle them caused her to lose her respect for him. She stopped involving him, there was no give and take and every day there was more resentment and anger. Of course, because he felt like she was treating him like a child and disregarding his input, he grew increasingly resentful and lost respect for the mother of his children.
Their relationship was definitely a toxic one and they are now headed for divorce.
So, if you find that you don’t respect your partner the way you did when you were first together, I would suggest that your relationship is not healthy and that you consider working to fix it or move on.
#5 – Feeling good about yourself.
Many people in toxic relationships don’t feel good about themselves.
Years of being ignored and mistreated have led them to doubt their sense of self-worth and not believe that they have anything to offer to the world.
The hallmark of a healthy relationship is being in one that makes you feel good about yourself, who makes you believe that you can take on the world and that you will succeed.
Has your relationship made you feel less than? Has it driven you away from friends and family? Has your career suffered because you don’t believe that you can do your job effectively? Do you believe that you aren’t worthy of love and don’t deserve the life that you want.
If you don’t feel good about yourself or your place in the world, then you are most likely in a toxic relationship, one you want to get out of before you lose all sense of yourself.
Knowing how healthy relationships are different from toxic ones is very important when you are deciding how to move forward.
If you find yourself living in fear, that there is no shared decision making or equality in your relationship, if there is no respect and you don’t feel good about yourself then you are in a toxic relationship and you must decide if you want to stay in it.
The goal is to have no fear in your relationship but rather kindness and consideration, to have mutual respect, to be with someone who makes you feel like you can take on the world and someone who you know makes you happy, at least most of the time. That is a healthy relationship. And that is the goal.
So, take a good hard look at your relationship. If one or more of the above things aren’t a part of it, your relationship just might be toxic and you must consider moving on!
You can do it!
I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.