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How to Spot and Break Free from an Unhealthy Relationship

By Joan Swart, Psy.D.

The first problem that many people have with an unhealthy relationship is not to free themselves from the stressful situation but to realize what is happening in the first place. It’s normal to hope that things will return to normal, make excuses for unreasonable behavior, or even blame oneself. However, this is not a helpful attitude because the nature of an unhealthy relationship is that it does not miraculously change and often traps people inside while slowly getting more distressing.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship

Ten signs that you may be in an unhealthy relationship that adversely impacts your well-being and quality of life are when:

You are not able to speak freely and discuss your concerns without the fear of reprisal.
You cannot flourish and grow in the relationship.
You often feel guilty and blamed when things go wrong.
You feel that you are not an equal in the relationship.
You feel that you need the relationship more for other reasons than simply sharing and being in love.
The negatives, arguments, and conflicts seem to happen more frequently and intensely.
You are changing to accommodate your partner.
Your partner controls your movements, decide who you are allowed to have contact with and monitors everything you do.
Your partner expects something different from you than what he or she is willing to commit to.
He or she often belittles and devalues you, sometimes in front of other people.

Some of these signs are not always easy to spot, but deep down you know something is wrong. It is natural to feel confused, anxious and fearful about change. The most important things are to acknowledge and accept that you are not responsible for someone else’s behavior and not alone to blame when things go wrong. However, you are responsible for your own happiness. The sooner you face the fact that you are unhappy and that your relationship is unhealthy, the quicker you can do something about it.

Communicate, be safe and honest with yourself

It is never easy when emotions are involved. Try to tell your partner about your concerns in a constructive way without accusations and threats. If he or she is unwilling to listen or becomes destructive, speak to a friend, colleague, family member or seek professional advice. Always try to ensure that you are physically safe before taking any action. Be honest with yourself. Step out of denial and make a list of your concerns and disappointments. To help you recognize issues, keep a daily journal of your thoughts and emotions in certain situations.

Don’t hesitate to weigh the positives and negatives of your relationship. Question whether you can do something to improve the negatives or find alternatives. Surround yourself with positive friends. Try exercise, meditation, yoga, or a new hobby. Don’t hesitate to reward yourself when you have accomplished something, even if it is small like saying “no” a couple of times. But what if you believe that you are worth more, still, things stay the same or deteriorate?

Don’t continue to hope in vain for improvement

You may continue to hope that things will one day improve, but all the signs suggest otherwise. Sometimes leaving the relationship is the best option. In that case, be as quick and decisive about it as possible. Expect more promises and assurances, but remember that it has not helped before. You may feel ashamed that your relationship hadn’t worked out, that you had invested a lot of yourself and failed. Accept that relationships are supposed to make you feel better, not worse, that happiness and love is still out there for you.

It is also natural to question your decisions, especially to break free from something that had probably been good at some point. Respect your choice to move on and commit to a plan of action. Avoid the temptation to fall back into old habits and the “safety” of doing nothing. Remember that it just means postponing the inevitable while you continue to feel unhappy and hopeless.

Set a doable plan

Break your plan into small, doable actions. Take one step at a time. Learn to have compassion for yourself and act with mindfulness. Being mindful means to accept and notice your experiences and sensations in each moment and without judgment. Fortunately, you can learn and train yourself to be mindful and self-compassionate. There are many books and easy online programs available to help you. Soon, your unhealthy relationship will only be a memory and you will be ready to grow and connect with others on an equal and healthy basis.

Joan Swart, Psy.D., is a forensic psychologist, lecturer, and author of “Treating Adolescents with Family-Based Mindfulness” published by Springer in 2015. She is a business developer at Open Forest LLC. Open Forest LLC provides online psychoeducation and self-help programs aimed at improving many conditions, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and mindfulness.

Originally Appeared in Open Forest

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