Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 19, 2021

Warning signs of an unhealthy relationship

By GABI SWISTARA | February 13, 2020

PUBLIC DOMAIN Swistara gives 12 tips to recognize a toxic dynamic with your partner.

Content warning: the following article includes topics some readers may find triggering, including sexual assault.

1. How your partner reacts to good news. This is super critical to healthy relationships. 

Say you get a promotion at work and, instead of saying, “Congratulations, you deserve this. Let’s celebrate you tonight,” your partner says, “I work just as hard as you do, why haven’t I been promoted?” Not only does this show that your partner does not support you and believe in you, but it also means that, over time, you can internalize these insecurities. 

2. If they’re unsupportive. Going off of support with good news, in a healthy relationship your partner also supports you when you’re going through rough patches. If you feel as though you can’t talk to your friends or partners about rough patches, that is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. 

Your partner needs to accept the whole thing in you and cannot choose to only “handle” you when you’re at your best. 

3. How you feel when they’re happy. The tried and true way I’ve found to determine whether a friendship or relationship is healthy or not is asking myself whether I’m truly happy when they’re happy. If a friend gets into a graduate school and you’re not excited for them, that’s a pretty big sign that the friendship isn’t going well (and may need to end). 

This is something we overlook all the time and excuse ourselves for (“Oh, I’m just a little jealous”) but no; you can and, in healthy relationships, should be feeling true joy when they’re happy. 

4. You get anxious texting them. If you feel as though you can’t talk, call or text your partner whenever (or feel anxious when doing so), that’s usually a sign of a much deeper issue like judgment on their part or a lack of trust. 

5. Your friends or family don’t like your partner. Having objective bystanders that know you well thinking that your partner is an asshole or just isn’t right for you is a really good way to find out if your relationship is actually healthy or not. 

Of course, no one can please everyone so there may be outliers but if your friends and family generally disapprove of your partner, it’s a strong sign that you need to reassess that relationship.

6. Rapid changes. If you are changing drastically and quickly for your partner, that’s usually a bad sign. Of course, healthy relationships demand compromise and communication, but swift and drastic changes to the fundamental person you were is not healthy. 

For example, if you stop doing things that usually give you pleasure (like a sport or hobby) that can be extremely unhealthy. This is actually synonymous to anhedonia, a symptom of depression.

7. Alienation or suffocation. Going off of the last step, if your partner is alienating you from your friends or family, that’s not healthy. The right person for you should integrate into the life you’ve lived and loved before you met them (and you will integrate into their life, too). 

Spending all of your time with your partner, without breaks, and losing your friends over that shift in priorities is really dangerous. Not only would it lead to rapid changes — also unhealthy in a relationship — but you can lose integral support systems if you’re neglecting your friends for your partner. 

8. Narcissism or delusions. If your partner is narcissistic, it’s impossible to find mutual support, balance or compromise — all of which are fundamental to a healthy relationship. 

Narcissism (the concept that your partner only cares about their own stake in the relationship, or think that they’re more important than you are) can be reflected in how they react to your good news, if they guilt or manipulate you to bend to their will, or even if they believe that you are jealous of their achievements. In a good relationship, both partners are equals. 

9. Jealousy. If you are jealous, possessive, or obsessive about your partner, that’s not healthy. It is not something that can be written off as a part of passionate, young love. You can have — and deserve — passionate, young love with trust.

10. Apologizing when they’ve wronged you. This may sound stupid, but in a lot of emotionally manipulative relationships, the abused partner will take the blame for their partner’s mistakes. For example, I once dated someone who cheated on me. I got so upset that they said they were scared to talk to me about it, so I ended up apologizing to them for my reaction to their infidelity. This is not healthy and is very manipulative. 

11. Lack of autonomy. In a healthy relationship, you can safely say “no.” This can be reflected in small, everyday things or can escalate to what some may classify as extreme. If this escalates to a point of assault or intimate partner violence, prioritize your own safety (pack a go-bag so you can leave quickly, ask a friend if you can crash on their couch at the last minute and make a plan). 

12. Infidelity or other disloyalties. If your partner cheats on you, that is irreversible. If your partner loves and is passionate about you, they will not cheat. And you deserve to be wanted. 

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you can seek help from the following Hopkins-specific, local or national confidential resources: JHU Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU) 24/7 Peer Crisis Support Hotline — (410) 516-7887; JHU 24/7 Sexual Assault Helpline — (410) 516-7333; TurnAround Inc 24/7 Helpline — (443) 279-0379; Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) 24/7 Sexual Assault Hotline — (800) 656-4673

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