Heartsick: 7 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

Heartsick: 7 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship5 min read

Does your love life need a checkup? Could that nagging doubt about your marriage, engagement or courtship explode into a heart-rending break-up? What are the signs of an unhealthy relationship?

Just like pulling an annoying loose thread on your favorite blouse or shirt can unravel a seam, and leave an unsightly gash in your garment, a small disagreement, or annoyance, in a relationship may be the single domino that causes everything to fall flat.

Almost everyone who’s been in love, knows what it’s like to break up. It’s better when the signs of incompatibility show up before a couple makes a commitment to a long-term relationship. But, we’ve all seen the divorce statistic: at least half of marriages end in divorce.

How is your love relationship going? Could it be that you’re no longer compatible with the man or woman you once longed to hold in your arms forever?

In the early years of my first and only marriage I sometimes wondered if my marriage would make it. My wife and I fell into some turbulent times. But 25 years later, we’ll both tell you there’s healing for unhealthy relationships.

Love can last a lifetime, but no relationship is fool-proof. No matter how much love and affection may have existed in the beginning, if both partners shirk their responsibility for nurturing the relationship, love can hit the rocks.

Here are some warning signs of an unhealthy relationship, signaling that your love boat might be breaking up in the surf and that it’s time to call for help:

1) You feel afraid to share your true feelings.

If you’re bottling up your true feelings inside for fear of how your partner will react, it could be a sign that trust is tentative, and the safety that love provides isn’t present. Don’t try to fix this by unloading your feelings on your partner all at once. There are times to bite your tongue and keep your thoughts to yourself. There are also constrictive and destructive ways of saying how you feel. First, understand the source of your fear and fix that–then learn how to express your feelings constructively. When carefully communicated and with good timing, sharing your true feelings can be a positive experience.

2) You’re keeping secrets.

Another sign of fractured trust may be that you often keep secrets from your partner in order to hide what you’ve done or what you’re planning to do. Just as with sharing true feelings, there are times to bite your tongue and keep your thoughts to yourself. It’s ok to keep a secret about a gift you plan to give to your partner, or plans for a surprise party. On the other hand, it’s not ok to bury your partner under a pile of confessions, dumping on them every negative thought you ever had about him or her. Intimacy is built of self-disclosure of your hidden self, but not at the expense of your partner’s dignity and self-image. If you’re frequently keeping secrets in your relationship because you fear your partner will react negatively, work at understanding why that is. The solution won’t be to suddenly reveal everything you’ve been hiding; first trust needs to be restored.

3) Arguments include threats of separation or divorce.

Ultimatums don’t lend well to cooperation and cultivating trust. If one or both partners resort to threats to get their way, love has been overcome by self-centeredness. While disagreements happen in healthy relationships, the partners work through them using the skills of effective conflict resolution. If your arguments escalate into threats, get some help to learn how to talk through conflict constructively.

4) You have more negative thoughts than positive.

When negative thoughts outweigh the positive, this pulls down ones mood. A low mood often causes one to retreat from relationships, or find others who share their dismal views. If the negative thoughts are about your partner, there’s trouble in the relationship that needs to be worked out.

For help in addressing the problems behind these first 4 warning signs, read Telling Each Other the Truth.

5) You and your partner have few shared interests or things you enjoy together.

Love between partners thrives when the couple have common interests and activities they can share with each other. In the absence of these, the bond between the couple is compromised, and lasting love becomes more difficult to cultivate. Break the stalemate by fostering a genuine interest in at least one thing your partner enjoys, and expect your investment to produce some positive dividends in your relationship.

6) You can’t imagine living in the relationship for the rest of your life.

If thoughts of living the rest of your life with your partner put a pit in your stomach, or a dark cloud over your mood, somewhere the relationship took a turn off of Lovers’ Lane onto Despair Drive. It’s time to stop and ask for directions before you get lost, or get a map and a compass to help you return to the good life you shared together.

7) You have more complaints than compliments about your partner when talking to friends and family.

It’s not uncommon for a disgruntled lover to begin complaining about their partner to friends and family. Doing this habitually only pits you and your sympathizers against your partner, and can widen the gap that needs to be crossed to restore lost love. While bottling up dissatisfaction builds up frustration and may harm your health, complaining produces the same consequences. Real problems need to be addressed in a way that is helpful to you and your partner. But, when we start complaining, sometimes we can make mountains out of mole hills. It will be better to find solutions to your discontent and put them into action, rather than to continue to be annoyed.

What Now?

This is not a complete list of warning signs of an unhealthy relationship. But these are common culprits, and if they’ve crept into your relationship, don’t shrug them off.

For help addressing the problems behind all 7 warning signs, read What Makes Love Last: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal.

Don’t discount the value of getting help. First, start by cultivating the abundant life for yourself, and see how God’s transforming power at work in your life can positively impact others. But also get counsel from people with experience making love last. Think twice before wasting the effort you’ve already invested in the relationship.

Do you know of other signs of an unhealthy relationship? Please add it to my list by commenting below.

Also, please share your tried and tested solutions to unhealthy relationships with a comment below.

Jon Beaty

I'm a counselor, writer and believer in the power of God to help you thrive in your marriage and family. I live with my family, a small herd of Boer goats, and thousands of honeybees near Portland, Oregon.

  • Cynthia Derrick says:

    Whether within these 7 signs or in another category would be any number of personality disorders that affect the relationship. Under the umbrella of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) are disabilities/behaviors that can cause conflict and hardship within the relationship. Aspergers, PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified), and Autism are very challenging to those who do not suffer from them (as well as those who do, of course). Even if properly diagnosed they can test even the most patient partner with symptoms ranging from lack of social skills, repetitive behaviors, communication challenges, and even just simply the lack of eye contact.

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