Identifying Unhealthy Love Relationships
What are the signs and symptoms that tell you your love relationship is unhealthy? The categories I’ve selected obviously overlap. But for the purpose of a simplified illustration, I’ve separated the signs and symptoms of unhealthy love relationships into three basic categories. A love relationship is unhealthy when one or both persons in the relationship are either hurting themselves, hurting each other, or emotionally immature.
When one or both persons in a love relationship are hurting themselves, they are obviously doing something self-destructive. If there is self-destructiveness in a love relationship, the relationship is predictably unhealthy. If you and/or your lover are not taking care of yourselves, your love relationship is negatively affected. There are many different ways to neglect and abuse oneself and many different ways it could affect your relationship. The presence of self-neglect or self-abuse is a pretty reliable sign that a person has negative feelings about him or herself.
The important point is, how you feel and treat yourself will determine the quality of your relationships with others. One of the more common ways of mistreating oneself involves how a person takes care of his or her body. If you are abusing your body with substances or self-destructive eating patterns your ability to love and be loved will no doubt be disrupted. The same applies to your mind. You can abuse your mind by hanging onto beliefs, opinions, and expectations that are fundamentally false and limiting. For example, you could believe something about yourself or other people that distorts and disturbs your ability to love and receive love from others.
A good example of this is, when a person believes he or she is not ‘lovable.’ A patient the other day told me she thought she was ‘cursed.’ Apart from any superstitious evidence for it in her mind, there was the self-destructive impact of believing this about herself. You can’t walk around believing that you’re cursed without paying an emotional ‘price’ for it and unconsciously creating the conditions and experiences that confirm this belief and expectation. Our beliefs about ourselves shape and reshape our experiences in life.
If one or both persons in a love relationship are drawn to hurting each other, the relationship becomes a place where one person gets hurt because the other is unable to deal with his or her own hurt without turning it into aggressiveness. That’s the formula we have to pay attention to. The transfer of hurt from one person to another by the way he or she treats others. I hurt you because I’m hurt and I can’t deal with or refuse to deal with my own hurt in a healthier way.
This kind of problem accounts for a lot of the aggressiveness, violence, and abusiveness that can occur in a love relationship. If you are in a relationship with someone who is having difficulty dealing with his or her own hurts directly, your love relationship will be painful and unhealthy. People who have a hard time expressing hurt, and prefer to convert it into violence, are in need of help. Their love relationships will be a struggle to tolerate, without offensiveness or defensiveness, the vulnerability of intimacy.
The last category of signs and symptoms of an unhealthy relationship involves how emotionally immature the lovers are. It’s hard to put an age on this, even though some people like to say that one decade is more ready for love than another. I say it’s best to go individual by individual. Some people grow up faster than others. Some people are ready for true committed love earlier than others. By the way, you can be physically mature and be emotionally immature. Emotional immaturity is usually accompanied by things like dependency, insecurity, and control. These three characteristics of an immature relationship are responsible for a lot of the misery people encounter in an unhealthy love relationship.
Dependency usually shows up in a love relationship when lovers are trying to get old childhood needs for love met in an adult love relationship. The assumption in a dependent love relationship is, you cannot live or function without your lover. Of course the problem with dependent love is the dysfunction it usually creates. You can’t chronically rely on someone else to do something for you you can do for yourself without experiencing a loss of functioning.
Insecurity is the internal feeling of instability that occurs when the person you are dependent upon won’t stay in one place and function as your ‘rock.’ Of course the problem here is that most people are not 100% cooperative with an insecure lover’s demands. People like to be free to do as they please, at least to some extent. This fundamental independence tends to create more insecurity in an insecure person.
Insecurity inevitably leads to escalating efforts to ‘control’ the person being loved. The more dependency and insecurity being experienced, the more aggressive the control that’s attempted. Control in a love relationship can escalate into aggressive attempts to reduce a lover’s freedom in order to reduce the level of insecurity being experienced. As if that’s not bad enough, another tragic consequence of this inadequate solution to the problem of insecurity is the fact that the person doing the controlling continues to suffer painful feelings of insecurity.
The solution to emotional dependency and insecurity in love is not more and better forms of control, but more effective efforts to grow as a person. What the insecure lover fails to understand is, a lover will never cure his or her insecurity. That’s not the way people grow. Taking care of insecurity as an emotional problem, on the psychological inside, makes it easier to function in a love relationship on the outside. Then you’ll understand that your lover or any lover cannot be the reason you are secure and emotionally stable. Dr. T. Jordan