Healthy Relationships


Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships

Relationships are a necessary part of healthy living, but there is no such thing as a perfect relationship. Relationships, from acquaintances to romances, have the potential to enrich our lives and add to our enjoyment of life. However, these same relationships can cause discomfort, and sometimes even cause harm. It is a good idea to stay informed about what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like!

What makes a healthy relationship?

A healthy relationship is when two people develop a connection based on:

  • Mutual respect
  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Support
  • Equality
  • Separate identities
  • Good communication
  • A sense of joy from being together

All types of relationships (with friends, family, coworkers, employers, and romantic partners) require effort. Maintaining personal boundaries, communicating clearly, and stating one’s intentions are excellent ways to begin a healthy relationship.

What are signs of a healthy relationship?

A healthy relationship should bring more happiness than stress into a person’s life. Every relationship will have stress at times, but partners should want to prevent prolonged mental stress on either member of the relationship. Below are some characteristics that are present in healthy relationships.

While in a healthy relationship, a person:

  • Takes care of their emotional and physical health
  • Has good self-esteem independent of the relationship
  • Maintains and respects the other partner’s individuality
  • Maintains relationships with friends and family
  • Has activities apart from their partner
  • Is able to express themselves to their partner without fear of consequences
  • Feels secure and comfortable
  • Allows and encourages other relationships (ex. Coworkers, classmates, and friends)
  • Takes interest in the other partner’s activities
  • Does not worry about violence in the relationship
  • Trusts the partner and is honest with them
  • Has the option of privacy
  • Has respect for sexual boundaries
  • Is honest about sexual activity (if it is a sexual relationship)
  • Allows their partner to influence you in a healthy/encouraging way (ex: going for runs together or trying new hobbies)
  • Resolves conflict fairly: Fighting is part of even healthy relationships; the difference is how the conflict is handled.

What are the signs of an unhealthy relationship?

Any relationship could have some of the characteristics listed below. However, unhealthy relationships will exhibit these characteristics frequently and begin to disrupt your daily life. Some of the unhealthy traits can even affect your emotional and physical health due to extreme stress.

While in an unhealthy relationship, a person:

  • Puts their needs first and neglects the needs of their partner
  • Puts the partner’s needs first and neglects caring for themselves
  • Feels pressure to change who they are for the other person
  • Feels worried when they disagree with the other person
  • Feels pressure to quit activities they usually/used to enjoy
  • Is expected to always agree with their partner
  • Has to justify their actions (e.g., where they go, who they see)
  • Lacks privacy and may be forced to share everything with the other person
  • Experiences arguments not being settled fairly
  • Experiences unnecessary yelling and/or screaming during an argument
  • Attempts to control or manipulate the other partner
  • Attempts to control how their partner dress and criticizes their behaviors
  • Does not spend time with their partner
  • Spends an unhealthy amount of time with their partner
  • Has no common friends, or lacks respect for their partner’s friends and family
  • Experiences an unequal control of resources (e.g., food, money, home, car, etc.)
  • Experiences a lack of fairness and equality

If a relationship has some of these characteristics it does not necessarily mean the end of that relationship. By recognizing how these characteristics affect each person, people in a relationship can begin to work on improving the negative aspects of the relationship to benefit both parties.

If a relationship has several of these qualities, it may be time for partners to seek professional help – either individually or together.

When should a person seek professional help for their relationship?

  • If they feel obligated to have sex/engage in sexual activities OR they have already been forced to have sex/engage in sexual activities
  • If the partners do not agree on safe sex practices (contraception, STI protection, use of safe words) OR if a partner’s boundaries for safe sex practices have been ignored/violated
  • If physical violence is involved during an argument
  • If sexual violence is involved during an argument
  • If a person is unhappy in a relationship, but cannot decide if they should accept their unhappiness, try to improve the relationship, or end the relationship
  • If a person decided to leave a relationship, but the other partner actively tries to maintain the relationship
  • If a person thinks they are staying in the relationship for the wrong reasons, such as fear of being alone or guilt about abandoning their partner
  • If a person thinks they are staying in the relationship for fear of having basic resources denied to them (ex. food, shelter, financial stability)
  • If a person is staying in the relationship out of fear that terminating the relationship would limit or deny access to one’s children (especially among married people who are anxious about potential divorce outcomes)
  • If a person has a history of staying in unhealthy relationships

Attempts by a partner to force sexual activity or to cause harm through physical violence are strong signs of an unhealthy relationship. In that situation, a person should consider getting help, or ending the relationship if they feel confident and safe to do so.

Every person deserves to feel safe, secure, and happy in their relationships. The Center is here to help when things seem uncertain and scary.  You can always call our toll-free crisis and information line, day or night, at 1-844-237-2331 (1-844-BE-SAFE-1).

The content for this page was adapted from the following source:
Hall Health Center Health Promotion Staff. “Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships.” University of Washington, Jan. 2014. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.