When relationships are good, they're great. But when they're bad, they have the potential to damage much more than your feels. In fact, when a relationship does more harm than good, it can wreck your self-esteem, alter the course of your life, and even lead you down a life path you end up regretting.
When I worked with individuals and couples as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, I saw how how quickly a bad relationship had the ability to completely destroy a life. The women I worked with were on the extreme side of the fence — the ones who lost their homes, jobs, kids, and sanity at the hands of a violent abuser.
But just because a partner doesn't hit you, or a relationship isn't abusive, doesn't mean it's healthy. When you spend too much time in an unhealthy relationship, it starts to change you. There are signs everywhere that things are headed in a bad direction, but they're hard to see from the inside. Friends and family might notice them before you.
If you don't like the way a relationship has changed your life, you have every right to end it. If you feel unsafe or need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, whether for anonymous advice or for escape resources.
1. You're Unhappy More Than Happy
No relationship is a marathon of joy. There are hard times and boring times and irritated times. But those times pass, and the relationship as a whole should bring you more happiness than pain. That constant undercurrent of unhappiness bleeds into all the other areas of your life. If you take a hard look at your relationship and realize you are unhappy a majority of the time, it's time for some changes.
2. Your Friends Keep Complaining
Your friends know you. If they're complaining that you're not yourself, you're never around, or that they're worried about you, they're probably at least a little bit correct. Abusers have a sly way of isolating their victims from their friends and family in ways that might not even become clear until everyone's already gone. If your partner always has something negative to say, or always finds a way to keep you home when you want to go out, it's a huge red flag.
3. You're Completely Sidetracked
New love is totally blissful, and very distracting. When people get into new relationships, it's not uncommon for work, school hobbies, and friends to take a back seat to this honeymoon period. But in a healthy relationship, eventually both partners get their lives back on track. If your relationship is still keeping you distracted to the point where your goals are in jeopardy, it might be a case of poor timing. If you can't get your priorities in order, you may have to question your relationship.
4. You're Not Yourself Anymore
Some people have the unhealthy habit of getting lost in their relationships. They stop doing the things they love and they lose interest in their own interests. They may take on their new partner's interests, or the relationship might become their only interest. This type of behavior is co-dependent, and seriously problematic. It's fine to give a big part of yourself to your partner, but you can't give your whole self. Take stock of the things you used to love and make sure you're still loving them, too.
5. You're Being Abused
A lot of the people I worked with knew they were abused, but felt like love was worth everything, like love was all that mattered. People in abusive relationships have good times, feel deep love, and even miss each other. That makes it seem like there's something worth saving. I'm here to tell you that it's not true. Love is nothing without respect, safety, and trust. It's hard to lose someone you love, and to accept the reality that your relationship isn't good for you, but if you stay, there's a chance your abuser could kill you. This is not hyperbole. It's the truth.
6. You Don't Have Boundaries
A relationship without boundaries is a ticking time bomb. Boundaries are kind of like lines in the sand. They let your partner know how you want to be treated, what you're comfortable with, how you best argue, and so much more. If you have no boundaries, it's likely you spend most of your time arguing, feeling upset or resentful, or worrying about the state of your relationship. This goes back to being happy more than being unhappy.
7. Your Partner Takes Advantage Of You
Are you dating an adult child? Do you do all the housework, take care of all the responsibilities, and make all the money while they do seemingly nothing? It's difficult for you to focus on the things that make you happy when all of your physical and emotional energy goes into doing the work of living two people's lives. I'm not talking about a loving couple where one partner has specific needs, and the other partner helps care for them. I'm talking about the toxic environment created when one adult enables another adult to avoid responsibility. It will ultimately take a toll on you until you reach a breaking point.
8. You Walk On Eggshells
Abuse isn't just physical violence. If your partner uses anger and intimidation, even indirectly, to make you feel like you have to act a certain way, or be home at a certain time or you'll get in trouble (whatever trouble may mean in your situation) then you're in an abusive situation. No person should feel like a prisoner to the desires of another person, or a constant victim of their anger.
9. You're Waiting For Them To Change
If you're hanging out, waiting for your partner to change, you could be waiting forever. This waiting could be holding you back from something or someone really wonderful. Settling is never OK. It takes courage to leave an situation that's totally fine, but just not satisfying for you, for whatever reason. We all change each other in relationships, but that's only healthy when we love our partners whether they change or not. If you're waiting for that magic day when your partner becomes who you wish they were, you'll almost always be disappointed.
Remember, you never have to stay in a relationship, even a good one, if it's not in your best interest, or if it's getting in the way of your goals and happiness. Relationships aren't the only thing in life.
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