It's good to be in a relationship with a
partner who challenges you. When it's done in a healthy way, your partner can help you keep growing as an individual. But as with anything, there is a fine line between what's OK and what's not. So when does a partner who challenges you become unhealthy?
As Jenna Birch, CEO of
Plum dating app and author of tells Bustle, many people say they want a partner who "makes them better." In fact, "there’s a lot of psychological science that shows it’s healthy to have that type of dynamic," she says. "I particularly love The Love Gap Arthur Aron’s self-expansion model of relationships, saying we get close to others in order to become more (or expand) ourselves." We're naturally drawn to people who challenge us because it pushes us to keep growing and it keeps things interesting.
But keep in mind, a partner who challenges you or "makes you better" is someone who inspires
you to make changes, Birch says. These are changes that you want to make on your own, and not something your partner can force you to do. If you feel like your partner is imposing these changes on you, without your best interest in mind, that's when things can go too far. So here are a few signs that your partner is challenging you too much, according to an expert.
Your Partner Defines Your Goals For You
If you're not interested in "improving" your cooking skills or finally running a half marathon, a partner who is challenging you in an unhealthy way might make small comments to make you
think you need to improve. Even if they do it in a seemingly innocent way, Birch says consistently pointing things out, especially if it makes you feel insecure, is controlling. "The best partner is someone who is waiting in the wings if you ask for help on a project at work, your marathon training, or even your budgeting," she says. "Look for someone who’s ready to be a cheerleader after you ask, but not before."
Their "Advice" Is Starting To Sound Like Criticism
"Watch out for the tone of the challenging you get from your partner," Birch says. Does it sound helpful or does it sound critical? According to her, it’s one thing for a partner to suggest things you can do to improve if they have genuine concerns. "It's another thing entirely
if they seem critical of you as a person, especially for things related to appearance, religion, family or other things that should only depend on your personal desire to change," she says. If something your partner says doesn't sit right with you, there's a good chance they're being critical.
They're Starting To Sound Like A Parent
When you're in a relationship with someone who challenges you too much, you may notice a
shift in the power dynamic. You may get the feeling that your partner thinks they're better than you in some way, or feel the need to seek their approval. "A healthy modern relationship is one between two equal partners," Birch says. "There should never be a lopsided dynamic, in which one person strives toward the other who’s perched on some kind of pedestal." You should be learning things from your partner and they should be learning things from you. When you're in a healthy relationship, you're partners, and you won't act like each other's parents.
You Feel Like You Have To Force Yourself To Make Changes
When your partner is challenging you in a healthy way, they're not trying to change you. Instead, they're looking to inspire or motivate you. "Just being around your partner will make you want to do something better, try new things, and be more expressive," Birch says. "Seeing traits they have and things they do well naturally makes you want to do those things better or learn from them." If you want their help, they'll be more than happy to guide you.
You've Suddenly Become More Conscious Of Your Weaknesses
"Verbal acknowledgements that you two are both awesome humans with strengths and weaknesses is important," Birch says. When you're in a good partnership, you'll keep
supporting each other and you'll do things that make each other feel loved. According to Birch, you'll know what your partner loves about you because they'll tell you, and they'll make you feel valued and special despite your weaknesses. When they challenge you too much, you may forget about all the things they love about you and because they are only focusing on the things that could be "improved."
"If you constantly feel like you need to improve or you’re exhausted trying to keep up with your partner’s demanding personality, that’s a big red flag," Birch says. In other words, a healthy, challenging partner should not deplete you. Instead, it should feel more effortless and exciting. You'll want to put in the work because it's fun. "You probably won’t even be aware that your partner is challenging you until someone points it out," she says.
They Get Defensive When You Tell Them They're Pushing You Too Hard
Communication can fix a lot of problems in relationships. So telling your partner that they're being too critical or too hard on you is important. But if your partner gets defensive or makes excuses like "it's for your own good," that's a major red flag. It may not be abuse right now, but it
does signal controlling behavior. A partner who's challenging you in a healthy way will back off and find ways to push you in a way that's more supportive. As Birch says, "A partner should be your soft space to fall, not someone who is actively hard on you."
Being with someone who challenges you to be the very best version of yourself can be a really great thing. But just remember, only you can decide if you want to change or "improve" something about yourself. At the end of the day, your partner should love you just the way you are.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org .