Strong relationships are built on the foundation of mutual happiness and shared long-term goals. Unhealthy relationships, on the other hand, are centered around an unequal balance of power and various types of manipulation, both overtly physical and subtly psychological. While breaking free of an unhealthy relationship can be painful in the short term, it is often better for both parties when considered from a big picture standpoint.
Aspects of a Healthy Relationship
A healthy relationship, whether with a spouse or simply a friendship, should be based upon teamwork, mutual respect and shared responsibility. Teamwork in a relationship means coming together and reaching consensus before acting on a problem to reach a resolution with which both parties can be happy. In some cases, teamwork means compromise between two extremes so that each individual can have some of her desires met; however, in most cases, teamwork leads to a win-win outcome. Shared responsibility means different things depending on the relationship. Among friends, it can mean putting up a fair share of a bar bill for a night out. Between spouses, shared responsibility means each partner committing to carry an equal share of the burdens of day-to-day life. This does not necessarily mean earning an equal amount of money, since other contributions such as child-rearing as a stay-at-home parent also contribute to the overall well-being of a functioning household. Mutual consideration means placing the needs and happiness of another on equal footing with personal well-being and concerns.
Characteristics of Unhealthy Relationships
Unhealthy relationships are characterized by an unequal distribution of power between participants. Physical violence is the most overt sign of an unhealthy relationship; however, manipulation or significant and repeated lack of respect or empathy for the other partner are also worthy of deep concern. Manipulating a partner by using shame or down-talking can be considered an aspect of an unhealthy relationship because of the negative impact to the partner's self-esteem. Control issues are also sometimes aspects of an unhealthy relationship and can involve one partner trying to isolate another from friends or family. A less-discussed problem is abuse of shared resources; for example, if one partner does the majority of the earning while the other does the majority of the spending without taking into consideration negative effects it may have on the household, it can be a strong signal of an unhealthy imbalance of respect.
Conflicts are Natural in Relationships
Few relationships are entirely without conflict. Conflict itself does not mean a relationship is necessarily unhealthy, since differences of opinion are a nearly inevitable part of a shared life. Ultimately, the deciding factor in determining whether a conflict is healthy is the matter in which members of the relationship choose to resolve the conflict. The healthiest way to resolve the conflict is through civilized dialogue ending in a shared consensus. While giving each other space after an argument or to avoid the loss of composure is acceptable, giving a partner the silent treatment is in itself a form of manipulation, as is withholding affection, and should be avoided. A common pitfall couples encounter when in conflict is in dredging up past arguments. Forgiveness is an essential component of successful relationship conflict resolution, and once a partner agrees to forgive the past, the incident should no longer be a frequent point of contention.
Trusting Gut Instincts
Sometimes it can be difficult for a relationship member to really understand they are in an unhealthy relationship; however, more often than not, someone knows at their core whether a relationship is healthy or troubled. Having a troubled relationship is not always cause for an ending, particularly when both partners are willing to admit there is a fault and work on resolving the problem. In some cases though, such as extreme domestic abuse, dialogue should be closed and the relationship ended as a matter of personal well-being. If being in a relationship with someone, be it a friend or spouse, gives rise to a gut feeling of endangerment, it is best to trust the subconscious warning signs rather than risk personal harm.