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Home / Advice / Relationship Issues / Building Healthy Relationships: Recognising Red Flags and Seeking Support

Building Healthy Relationships: Recognising Red Flags and Seeking Support

By: Claire Brown

Updated: 16 February 2024

Building Healthy Relationships: Recognising Red Flags and Seeking Support

Relationships exist on a spectrum, from healthy to abusive. What started off as a healthy relationship, can become unhealthy. Similarly, unhealthy relationships can become healthy through dedicated work. Sometimes, humans' natural tendency to adapt to the worst of conditions can be our downfall, as we stay in relationships that don't make us happy simply because its what we’re used to or think we deserve. We will go through definitions and characteristics of some of the main types of relationships, to provide a clear picture and comprehensive understanding of relationship dynamics. 

Healthy relationship dynamic

A healthy relationship fosters happiness and security. In a healthy relationship, both partners are supportive of each other, share responsibilities equally and are able to communicate their needs openly and honestly. In this dynamic there is a weight put on listening to each other's perspectives to find solutions, both partners compromise to find a solution that suits both parties. Partners in this dynamic work together to reprioritise and readapt behaviours to further support the relationship. The importance of boundaries are stressed, with encouragement to connect with loved ones and interests outside of the relationship. Further, consent is never implied, and always discussed, and both partners feel comfortable asserting their sexual preferences, and reproductive health.

Importantly, a healthy relationship is not one without conflict or issues. The above explanation is one that only stays like that on paper. It's part of the human experience that our ability to communicate and emotionally regulate won't be perfect all the time.

It's completely normal to go through difficult periods, to argue and feel frustrated and sometimes unheard. However, those core values of being supported, communicating and compromising remain unwavering. 

Unhealthy Relationship Dynamic

An unhealthy relationship fosters insecurity and anxiety. It is a relationship that is marked by unhealthy communication styles, patterns of behaviour and habits. Some common characteristics of an unhealthy relationship are: 

Control

This is seen when one partner holds influence over the other and can take autonomy away from the partner, control is exerted usually over several aspects of their life. For example, what they wear, who they speak to, and what to do. It can also extend further to isolate them from their loved ones. Often there are unfounded accusations of infidelity.

This can also manifest through intimidation in which the effort to exert control is strengthened by making the other partner fearful.

Negative communication

Negative communication is seen through levels of hostility wherein one partner antagonises the other consistently. This can put the other person in a position wherein they feel they have to change their behaviour to avoid this reaction. It is also expressed through levels of dishonestly and disrespect in communication, wherein both or one of the partners omits information, ridicules and can extend to damaging something important to the partner.

Further, this style of communication often treats issues in the relationship with avoidance and conflict, as opposed to talking through them. There is often a dismissal of the other persons point of view, adopting overly critical language, blaming each other for mistakes and using generalised negative blanket statements (e.g. You always do this!) 

Dependence

An over dependence can manifest in a few different ways. It can be seen when one partner looks to the other for approval and to make decisions, resulting in poor boundaries around their own needs and wants. This can cause an undermining of autonomy, wherein the other partners can end up believing they cannot make their own decisions, they will not find fulfilment on their own and an increased fear of rejection.

It can also manifest in one partner feeling wholly dependent to the extent that they may threaten to harm themselves if the relationship ends. Another element of unhealthy dependence is seen in codependency, where the partners are wholly reliant on only each other.

Support

A lack of support is one of the hallmarks of an unhealthy relationship. A lack of support means that our emotional needs are not met. This can lead to an increased sense of loneliness and an underlying building sense of resentments.  One example of this is minimising an emotional response to a situation, for example, “You’re overreacting”. 

Importantly, an unhealthy relationship is not synonymous with an abusive one. In fact,  unhealthy relationship dynamics can be mitigated through communication and a willingness from both parties to take personal responsibility, and implement healthier patterns of behaviour. It's important to recognise that these characteristics are on a spectrum, and in an unhealthy relationship it can manifest from one or both parties, and result in a negative experience for either. Unhealthy relationships have a significant negative effect on our mental health. They can be oftentimes harder to recognise as their unhealthy patterns can be covert and malleable. 

Abusive Relationship Dynamics

Abusive relationships, however, is a pattern where one partner exerts almost complete control over the other. In this dynamic, one partner wields almost all the control and power. There is absolutely no semblance of equality. Part of how this control is exerted can be achieved through different types of abuse; emotional, physical, sexual or financial. Often belittling, humiliation and gaslighting are employed to maintain control. In Ireland, emotional abuse is the highest reported type of abuse for men and woman, across heterosexual and homosexual relationships (Women's Aid, 2022; Men's Aid, 2022). 

What to do if you're in an unhealthy dynamic

Unhealthy relationships come from complex places. Oftentimes unhealthy patterns of behaviour stem from how we learned to cope with things as a child, and our parents or guardians act as models for how to act in relationships, which we internalise and often replicate. Couples and individual counselling are supports that can help to understand the unhealthy patterns and change them. For example, Emotion Focused Therapy is a form of couples counselling that boasts a 75% success rate (Schofield et al., 2012).

If you're unsure of the nature of your relationship, counselling provides a safe, non judgemental space to explore this and help you find the solution that is best for your wellbeing. If you’re struggling with recovering from an unhealthy relationship, counselling provides a space to rebuild your confidence and sense of self.

If you're trapped in an abusive relationship there are immediate supports available:

Women's Aid: 1800 341 900

Men's Aid: 01 554 3811

MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS WORKING WITH Relationship issues ISSUES:

Stephen Watkins Psychologist Location: Cork

Approach: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Works with: Individual Session , Couples

Specialities: Addiction , Anger , Anxiety , Bereavement / Loss , Depression , Personal Development , Relationship issues , Self-Esteem , Stress , Trauma

Next avaialble appointment: 12:00 27 May 2024

Sheena Lawless Psychotherapist Location: Online

Approach: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) , Humanistic & Integrative Psychotherapy , Mindfulness , Person-Centred Therapy

Works with: Individual Session

Specialities: Anxiety , Depression , Personal Development , Relationship issues , Stress , Trauma , Work Issues, Work/Life balance

Next avaialble appointment: 14:00 28 May 2024

James O'Regan Counsellor Location: Online

Approach: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) , Humanistic & Integrative Psychotherapy , Mindfulness , Person-Centred Therapy , Other

Works with: Individual Session , Couples

Specialities: Anger , Anxiety , Bereavement / Loss , Depression , Isolation / Loneliness , Personal Development , Relationship issues , Self-Esteem , Stress , Suicidal Ideation / Self Harm , Trauma , Work Issues, Work/Life balance

Next avaialble appointment: 13:00 28 May 2024

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