ARTICLE

Is Your Relationship Healthy or Harmful?

Every relationship is different, and while we may expect them to be perfect, they never are. Whether you are entering a new relationship or are have been together for years, understanding what makes a healthy relationship versus a harmful one is important to keeping you safe. Learn more from domestic violence survivor advocate Kelley Wotherspoon.

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Relationships can be challenging and tricky at times. They create a bonding or growing connection between two individuals who each have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Despite how we might perceive other people’s relationships, not one is perfect. But there are some very clear characteristics that can help us distinguish between a healthy relationship and a harmful relationship.

If this is an emergency, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233).

Qualities of a Healthy Relationship

  1. Your partner has a healthy understanding of conflict resolution and balance of blame. This means there is no constant, one-sided finger-pointing, and conflict is resolved without fear of personal safety.
  2. There is a less turbulent and more peaceful flow to your interactions. You experience very few instances of ‘mountaintop’ highs and ‘deep valley’ lows.
  3. You can speak freely about your relationship when talking to your friends and family. You don’t feel embarrassed about how others may react to the way your partner is treating you.
  4. Your partner embraces your positive characteristics and encourages you to stay true to yourself.
  5. Your partner demonstrates healthy concern for you without a constant need to know your every move.
  6. Your partner supports your independence while encouraging a healthy level of mutual dependence on each other. You feel free to rely on your partner for some things without feeling pressured to rely on them for the majority of your needs.
  7. Your partner does not show verbal or physical aggression toward you. They do not harm you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or financially. Instead, they support and encourage positive growth in these areas.

Qualities of a Harmful Relationship

  1. Your partner insists that you are the consistent problem in your relationship.
  2. There is a cycle of controlling and/or aggressive behavior followed by a period of apology (frequently saying ‘I’m sorry,’ giving you gifts to make up for the negative behavior, promising to never act like that again).
  3. You find yourself constantly hiding or justifying your partner’s behaviors. You avoid giving too many details because you don’t feel others will understand or that you will be judged.
  4. Your partner controls who you interact with along with when, where, and how you interact with others.
  5. You feel pressured to change your personality, especially any positive, strong qualities you have.
  6. Your partner exhibits a pattern of mistrust toward you (i.e. questioning everywhere you go, the details of your conversations with others, etc.)
  7. Your partner discourages any independent behaviors (i.e. socializing without him or her) and encourages an unhealthy level of dependence on them.
  8. Your partner is abusive physically (ANY physical harmful act), mentally (gaslighting, game playing, etc.), emotionally (name-calling, character assassination, etc.), spiritually (forceful submission erroneously justified by religion or faith), or financially (creating financial dependence to keep you trapped in your situation).

What should you do if you suspect that you are in an unhealthy relationship?

If you suspect that you are in an unhealthy relationship, do not attempt to handle the situation on your own. harmful individuals can become increasingly more agitated and aggressive when faced with confrontation about their destructive behavior. If you feel at all unsafe in your relationship, the first thing you should do is create a plan. You need to notify another adult you trust so that another individual is aware that you may be in danger. Ask your trusted adult to help you seek proper counsel and safety measures to ensure you are not harmed any further. A great place to start would be to communicate with a local domestic violence shelter, or if you’re a teen in school, your school counselor. They will most likely have resources and wise advice for next steps.

As hard as it may be, you can not focus on your partner’s feelings at this point. You are helping them by taking action against their negative behavior. This doesn’t mean you love them or care about them any less. It means you are choosing to keep yourself safe in an unfortunate situation.

What should you do if you suspect that you may be an unhealthy partner?

Sometimes, we find ourselves in situations where poor behavior has been modeled to us or we have feelings and emotions we have trouble controlling. If you’ve read through the list of harmful relationship qualities and have identified that you may be the one treating another person this way, it is not too late to reach out for help. You are better than your past mistakes. Seeking guidance can pave the way for a healthier future and prevent you from harming someone you love. Please confide in someone you trust and work together to contact a local domestic violence shelter. For teens in school, contact your school counselor who may offer guidance and resources. The trusted network will be able to assist you through this challenging segment of your life.

For Immediate Crisis Assistance

Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for immediate assistance at 800-799-SAFE (7233). To learn more, visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Meet The Expert


Kelley Wotherspoon

Kelley is a Christian, wife, mother of 3, author, business professional and domestic violence survivor advocate. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help you find joy in the hard stuff and encourage your spirit. Kelley has dual undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Family Studies and a Master’s degree in Executive Business Administration. She is driven to write, serve and advocate for those who need a louder voice. Kelley has served on the board of a local domestic violence shelter for the better part of a decade, and she runs The Kind Kids Academy with her eldest daughter. She is also in the process of developing another nonprofit that will continue to support survivors as they rise above their past abuse.