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Red Flags of an Unhealthy Romantic Relationship

Updated on February 22, 2016

When a bad relationship ends, we feel terrible. A breakup is emotionally devastating. Why couldn’t we see it coming? Some red flags seem obvious. Unresolved addictions, illegal activities, and behaviors that make us uncomfortable can send us looking for the exit. There are more subtle signs, however, that we need to be aware of. If we look closely, we can see that the relationship is unhealthy.

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Our poor emotional health

As human beings, we long for an intimate bond with another person. Sometimes, we want a relationship so badly that we see the person through rose-colored glasses. We long to be strolling in Hawaii hand in hand like the people in the picture.

We may figure that because our potential partner is a Christian, they can do no wrong. If we have limited choices among people who share our beliefs and values, we may settle. Unfortunately, our need to be with them is driven by our own inadequacies and fears and blinds us to potential problems.

We may feel:

  • Afraid to be alone
  • Feel incomplete without a romantic partner
  • Think we are worthless if we are not loved by someone
  • We cannot live unless we have a partner in our lives
  • Shame when we are not in a relationship, thinking there is something wrong with us
  • Pressure from others to be in a relationship or to take a relationship to the next level

We are aften not even aware of these unhealthy drives. These drives are especially strong in people who have divorced after being married for a long time. Some friends of mine used to run a divorce recovery group at our church and observed this neediness firsthand.

One of their main warnings to the newly divorced is that the first relationship after divorce is usually a disaster because it is motivated by our own selfish needs. They miss being in a relationship and hate being alone. Their focus is on themselves and how the other person can meet their needs.

We cannot have a good relationship if we are emotionally unhealthy ourselves. Our fears and needs place unreasonable expectations on others. We may go into denial about our emotional state by fixating on a dream of a romance that will magically make all our issues go away. A relationship is meant to have give and take. We Christians are supposed to care for and met the needs of others. We cannot do that if we have not dealt with the brokenness and neediness within us.

We are disconnected from our needs

We need to start to understand what we need from a relationship before we take the plunge. One way to do that is to ask questions about our past relationships, such as:

What was reason we were initially attracted to this person?
His this attraction continued?
Was my fantasy and expectation of this person validated in real life?
How long did the relationship go on?
What did we find out about the person that made us change our minds about the relationship?What was the deal breaker?
What similarities or patterns occur in past relationships?

When we understand our needs and reasons for being with certain types of people, we can have a better understanding of what constitutes a fulfilling partnership for us.

Source

Poor communication

Some people struggle to express how they feel or to discuss issues. They shut down and distance themselves emotionally instead of dealing with problems. Resentments and misunderstandings start to fester and become toxic to the relationship.

These people may communicate non-verbally by being moody or giving the “silent treatment.” Communication is vital to address and overcome issues in the relationship.

Immature, irresponsible, and unpredictable behavior

Some people have not mastered basic life skills such as managing their finances, keeping a steady job, and setting goals. They are unreliable and in a constant state of crisis. Their lack of skill creates drama that consumes much of their partners' time and energy. They take and take. Immature people tend to become dependent on their partners to make sure they are on time or prepared for life events.

Some people have trouble managing emotions such anger and are oversensitive. Their partners are unwilling riders on their emotional roller coaster of rage, defensiveness, and hurt feelings. Immature people need to grow up before they can contribute to a relationship.

Partners are not trustworthy

Some people cope with life by being dishonest, hiding under a mask of Christianity. They refuse to admit that they are lying when confronted and resist being held accountable for their actions. Some are so good at it that our friends and family may spot that something is “off” before we do.

We may not want to hear criticism of our new beloved, but we should listen to people who care about us. A word fitly spoken has great value (Proverbs 25:11-12).

Insecurity in the relationship

Are we dating other people or are we exclusive? Are we getting closer? Are we drawing apart? Some relationships seem to be on a teeter totter going nowhere. Insecurity can kill a relationship. We may get a bit of reassurance now and then that the relationship is on track only to find that these moments are fleeting. We may seem to be working hard at the relationship while our partner is not doing much to help. When one person wants the relationship to progress and the other does not, the person seeking more will get hurt.

Unresolved past relationships

A person who has not resolved issues from their past relationships and with family and friends may carry dysfunctional traits that will taint relationships. They may be held back from healing because they do not understand why past relationships did not work out. Some blame others for problems.

Controlling and manipulative behavior

Some men misuse scriptures regarding husbands and wives to control women. They think that women should submit to men and serve them using the scripture that says that wives should submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22). The verse before the one that talks about wives submitting to their husbands (v 21) says that men and women should submit to each other out of reverence for Christ.

After the admonition for wives to submit to husbands, husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave His life for mankind (v 25). Controlling behavior is the opposite of loving a person and being willing to make sacrifices for them.

There is nothing loving about a man trying to control a woman in a relationship. He may feel deeply insecure and jealous because he fears losing his partner. Other controlling men are selfish and think women were created to service them. Then there are men who are cruel by nature. These guys will do anything to keep their partner under control, including destroying their self-esteem, verbal abuse, physical abuse, financial abuse, and limiting or forbidding other relationships. Women can also be manipulative and controlling in relationships.

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Unresolved addictions

Some people struggle with alcohol and drug addictions. Recovery programs recommend that a person be sober for at least a year before starting a relationship. Past addictions do not disqualify a person from being a good candidate for a romantic relationship, but some caution needs to be exercised.

Over the years, I have met many happily married people who have recovered from substance abuse, often with the help from programs such as AA and Celebrate Recovery. Relationships can work if the addict has been sober for some time, is committed to recovery, and their partners or mates accept and support them.

Concluding thoughts

When we are self-aware, we are much less likely to jump into potentially harmful relationships. We will pursue romantic relationships mainly because we want to share our love and lives with someone else rather than being driven by our desperate needs.

© 2014 Carola Finch

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  • mothersofnations profile image

    Mothers of Nations 2 years ago

    This article definitely hit home. I realized the last one was very immature in every way - a lot of unresolved issues seem to be cause of most of it. We do maintain a spiritual friendship as he needs the guidance.... If only I had read this back then lol :) but it wasn't written yet... I pray the article will help others. God bless you*

    Voted up and shared!

  • The Patriot Scoop profile image

    Art 2 years ago from California

    Great Advice.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

    "We cannot have a good relationship if we are emotionally unhealthy ourselves." Very good observation. Healthy relationships are formed by healthy people. You give sound advice in this article. Thank you.

  • Carola Finch profile image
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    Carola Finch 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Thanks for your comments, everyone.

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    Jennifer Sue 3 years ago

    This is excellent Carola! I'm not remarried to the man I dated soon after my divorce from my ex-spouse. God has completely changed us both over the past few years, but the first two years after we married were a mess. Most of the characteristics you mentioned were present in our dating the early marital relationship. Your article, if taken to heart by it's readers who may be contemplating dating or remarriage after divorce, could save people from a lot of mess and heartache.

  • quildon profile image

    Angela Joseph 3 years ago from Florida

    You are so right, Carola. Many people get into a relationship because they think they need to be in one. Their friends are all married so they need to be married too. Truth is, all we need is what God has in store for us. If He has a partner for you, then he/she will be the right one. I'm glad you approached this topic from a Christian perspective, because Christians make mistakes in relationships just like other people. Voted up and useful.

  • no body profile image

    Robert E Smith 3 years ago from Rochester, New York

    But if the "I" doesn't need then why marry? The call to celibacy is a gift from God, so I assume that the needs are there to be filled also by a person that God arranges. I realize it is about the other person and thus "other side" I mentioned is that need one has to serve another. That side too is a danger if God is not in the center of the marriage. My compunction to serve can get to be a slave mentality to which the other person grows accustom, until that person cannot function without the other. It can be very unhealthy from my perspective. I will always serve my wife, it is what I am supposed to do and yet I rely on God to work in me and in my spouse so that He's the reason that we do what we do.

    All of this is very scary to me. I am very happy now. It makes me uneasy to look at my home life in this scrutinizing way. I am like the old adage, The woman looking for the run in her stocking when she has no idea what she will do if she finds it: "She looks and looks so hard to find it only to be relieved that it is not there..."

    Or will I just deny seeing it because I am so happy in my life now?

  • Carola Finch profile image
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    Carola Finch 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    thanks for sharing, no body. I think that a key word on the reasons list is "I" need this or that. Relationships are about loving each other, enjoying the compatibility, and focusing on the needs of the other person in a healthy way.

  • no body profile image

    Robert E Smith 3 years ago from Rochester, New York

    You speak of many hard concepts here that cut to the heart of a person, things so intimate it causes people that never would lie to others to lie to themselves.

    I know a good marriage takes work to keep it healthy. It takes work but I'm not sure it should be viewed AS work. So many men and women (I guess) look at all the times spent in marriage as time invested (on a job). Looking realistically at a failing marriage would mean all that time and that effort was wasted. The body of work and the time spent on it, to them, is more important than the reason for the work.

    And then, a skewed reason for being married is at the heart of failed marriages. All valid items of a list of reasons that come to mind for keeping a marriage (without the Lord as the central figure in the marriage) are all reasons that could become invalid as time goes on. Reasons like:

    I need a sexual partner

    I need a person to make me laugh

    I need a person that supports me when I am weak.

    And on the other side:

    I need a person that I can please sexually

    I need a person that thinks I'm funny

    I need a person that turns to me for strength.

    All of those things are in a state of constant flux. If there are not constant and right choices to bring the two partners together, suddenly he is not so funny anymore. Suddenly there is no sexual thrill anymore. In my opinion, only the Lord can help make those adjustments so that the paths of two very different people can dovetail into one marriage path. Then if one person has some sort of thing that they must do for personal individual reasons, the marriage partnership is not destroyed because it is based on God who is the force tying them together into one.

  • Carola Finch profile image
    Author

    Carola Finch 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Thanks for your comments, SparrowMinistries. Relationships for Christians are especially tough to navigate.

  • profile image

    SparrowMinistries 3 years ago

    Carola,

    This hub is very well written and right on the money. I suffered ten years in a relationship with a toxic individual because I didn't recognize my own neediness and deceived myself into thinking my intense desire was "God's leading." I do hope some who read this will take heed and will be spared the pain and setbacks I experienced. Thank you for this enlightening hub. May His blessings be multiplied to you!

    Sondra