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Red Flags of an Unhealthy Romantic Relationship
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.
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.
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.
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.
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