Relationship satisfaction is generally determined by how positive each partner feels towards the other and how committed they feel towards maintaining in the relationship. Healthy relationships create a safe and supportive space for each partner to express their needs and wishes respectfully. This, in turn, promotes ongoing check ins for both partners around relationship satisfiers and dissatisfiers. In contrast, unhealthy relationships can lead to power and support imbalances, whereby there is not enough space, trust or understanding for each partners’ needs and wishes to be met adequately. When emotional, physical, sexual or financial abuse features, many partners can feel ‘stuck’ in unhealthy relationships and their damaging or hurtful cycles.
Healthy relationships feature the following characteristics:
- Mutual respect. Respect means that each person values who the other is and understands the other person’s boundaries.
- Trust. Partners should place trust in each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt.
- Honesty. Honesty builds trust and strengthens the relationship.
- Compromise. In a dating relationship, each partner does not always get his or her way. Each should acknowledge different points of view and be willing to give and take.
- Individuality. Neither partner should have to compromise who he/she is, and his/her identity should not be based on a partner’s. Each should continue seeing his or her friends and doing the things he/she loves. Each should be supportive of his/her partner wanting to pursue new hobbies or make new friends.
- Good communication. Each partner should speak honestly and openly to avoid miscommunication. If one person needs to sort out his or her feelings first, the other partner should respect those wishes and wait until he or she is ready to talk.
- Anger control. We all get angry, but how we express it can affect our relationships with others. Anger can be handled in healthy ways such as taking a deep breath, counting to ten, or talking it out.
- Fighting fair. Everyone argues at some point, but those who are fair, stick to the subject, and avoid insults are more likely to come up with a possible solution. Partners should take a short break away from each other if the discussion gets too heated.
- Problem solving. Individuals can learn to solve problems and identify new solutions by breaking a problem into small parts or by talking through the situation.
- Understanding. Each partner should take time to understand what the other might be feeling.
- Self-confidence. When partners have confidence in themselves, it can help their relationships with others. It shows that they are calm and comfortable enough to allow others to express their opinions without forcing their own opinions on them.
- Being a role model. By embodying what respect means, partners can inspire each other, friends, and family to also behave in a respectful way.
- Healthy sexual relationship. Partners engage in a sexual relationship that both are comfortable with, and neither partner feels pressured or forced to engage in sexual activity that is outside his or her comfort zone or without consent.
Unhealthy relationships are marked by characteristics such as disrespect and control. It is important for individuals to be able to recognise the signs of unhealthy relationships before they escalate.
Some characteristics of unhealthy relationships include:
- Control. One partner makes all the decisions and tells the other what to do, what to wear, or who to spend time with. They are unreasonably jealous, and/or tries to isolate the other partner from their friends and family.
- Hostility. A partner picks a fight with or antagonises the other. This may lead to one partner changing their behaviour in order to avoid upsetting the other.
- Dishonesty. Lying or keeping information from one another. Also, stealing or repossessing gifts or treasured items from the other.
- Disrespect. One partner makes fun of the opinions and interests of their partner or destroys something that belongs to them.
- Dependence. One partner feels that they “cannot live without” the other. They may threaten to do something drastic if the relationship ends.
- Intimidation. When a partner tries to control aspects of the other’s life by making the other partner fearful or timid. One partner may attempt to keep their partner from friends and family or threaten violence or a break-up.
- Physical violence. One partner uses force to get their way (such as hitting, slapping, grabbing, pushing or shoving).
- Sexual violence. When a partner pressures or forces the other into sexual activity against their will, their preferences or without consent.1
It is important to be educated about the value of respect in committed relationships. Also, of the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships so that you can start to reflect on the types of relationships that have felt satisfying or dissatisfying, including the one you might be in whilst reading this article.
Some may not be equipped with the necessary skills to develop and maintain healthy relationships. Others may not know how to break up in an appropriate way when necessary. Relationships are complex systems that require ongoing check in, effort and attention to meet the needs of both (or all) parties. Maintaining open lines of communication may help partners to form healthy relationships and proactively recognise the signs of unhealthy relationships. This may also help to prevent relationship abuse or violence before it starts.
If you and your partner would like to work on your relationship dynamics to improve patterns of communication and rituals of connection, please contact us. Our dedicated relationship and marriage therapists are psychologists who have undertaken specialised and intensive training in the Gottman Method (Certification pending), Schema Therapy and Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT).
— Written by Kasia Gordon of Cause Effect Psychology
1 Adapted from Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. National Centre for Injury Prevention and Control. (2005). Choose respect community action kit: Helping preteens and teens build healthy relationships. Retrieved from http://www.aldine.k12.tx.us/cms/file_process/download.cfm?docID=BED9BF514B2EAD07(link is external)