In the interests of seeing you find safe harbor in a fulfilling, trusting, nurturing partnership based on love and mutual respect, it seems only fair to lay out the key warning signs … in case you are not in that relationship quite yet. As Mike Murdock said, “Each relationship nurtures a strength or weakness within you.” If yours is not nurturing your strengths, it is not doing you any good.
There are countless portals to attraction and desire. A genius psychotherapist might be able to analyze every last one, but for our purposes, they are simply mysterious and even seem entirely inexplicable. We feel what we feel. That pull towards this person, when someone else seems to have more qualities on our “checklist” of desirable traits—why does that happen? When you feel that magnetic pull—go for it, of course, and see where it takes you. If it takes you to a beautiful place where you feel valued and safe, loved and nourished—YAY! If not, the sooner you know it, the better.
There are some easily identifiable red flags that, believe it or not, people do not always recognize when they are in the middle of a relationship, their heads and hearts muddled with strong feelings. My client Molly is a perfect example. She loved Kevin’s intensity and how lovingly he encouraged her to follow her life-long dream to be a musician. Her passion for him was all-encompassing. As a result, she did not see his irrational rages and on-again-off-again intimacy as warning signs. In fact, this strong, smart woman was more likely to doubt herself than to see the relationship as troubled, or even to admit that Kevin was far from perfect.
“If only I could figure out what I was doing wrong, he would not get so enraged at me,” she confided. “And when he would go cold, and withdraw his affections, I figured I was the one doing something to push him away. I did not realize he was using his love as a weapon to control me.” Later, Molly figured out that what made Keven the angriest were her relationships with other people—her friends and college-aged children. The catch-22 finally made her see the truth. She either had to cut herself off from everyone else in order to avoid his jealous anger, or she had to lose this relationship she had invested so much in. In the end, she was not okay with Kevin’s controlling her so completely, and she walked away.
Below are what I consider to be the biggest, baddest warning signs that your relationship is not healthy for you.
- Anger: Anger is a normal emotion to feel—in normal ways, now and then. When I lock my keys in my car, I get pretty mad. At myself, really. I swear a little and stamp my foot. It is also perfectly okay to feel angry at your girlfriend for being an hour late to the awards dinner, or your boyfriend for literally never remembering to put the toilet seat down. But if your partner reacts often or irrationally to frustration with anger, rage, or blame, or abuse of any kind (verbal or physical), it is not okay. If arguments invariably end with your partner threatening the relationship—“I should just leave you!”—how can you feel secure? You can’t. Or if your partner is critical or judgmental, belittles you, or if random outbursts, accusations, or threats leave you walking on eggshells, you will not feel safe in the relationship.
- Narcissistic behavior: Does this sound familiar? Your partner fell madly in love with you almost immediately, moving the relationship quickly along with promises of forever commitment. You were firmly on a pedestal for the beginning of the relationship, but eventually you began to fall off it now and then as your partner inexplicably devalues you, only to reel you back in with love-talk. You realize that what, at first, seemed like a relationship from heaven because your partner would agree to every word out of your mouth, an underlying lack of empathy eventually reveals itself. Now, somehow, everything has to be on his or her terms. The narcissist may not bully or command, but merely make you feel like an idiot for wanting what you want, so that you (shamefacedly) capitulate to his or her agenda. If your partner’s sense of entitlement means that he or she does not recognize rules (who, me?), and if any of the above is true to any degree, you may be in a relationship with a narcissist. If so, please read more on the subject in my blog, Too Good to be True: Some Facts about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Bottom line: a narcissist will never be a safe haven, an equal partner, or a good bet.
- History of infidelity: You know what they say: never marry a cheater. How do you know if someone is a cheater? The only real way to know is if he or she cheated with you before you got serious. Or maybe your partner is open about his or her unfaithful past in other relationships, but you both “know it won’t happen” to the two of you because, after all, you are perfect for each other. Well, not really. People with a history of cheating, while it is not guaranteed by any means, will likely cheat again. Especially if they got away with it in the past. Extreme jealousy is the flip side. Serial cheaters tend to judge everyone by their own behavior, so if your partner is over-the-top jealous of everyone you glance at when you’re at the mall, pay attention.
- Rebound relationship: I’ve known people to find their one true love within months of ending another relationship. It happens (rarely). But—in general—that rebound relationship is one giant pitfall waiting to swallow you up. Why do people plunge into another relationship too soon? Usually it’s to distract from the pain of a broken heart or a perceived “failure.” They could be saying, “See, I am loveable!” or “I’m going to get it right this time.” These are not good reasons to become attached to another person. For one thing, if your partner (or you) never did the necessary processing, there are bound to be many unresolved issues. Your job in life is not to fill up someone’s empty places or make other people feel good about themselves. You want to connect with people who are whole. If you are someone’s rebound, when you have served that person’s purpose, he or she will move on, leaving you to pick up the pieces. The rebounder is not going to become emotionally available while in a relationship with you, or anyone. The time you spend involved with one is time you could be spending with someone who is available in every sense of the word.
- Emotionally and physically unavailable: Any of the above scenarios could dovetail with this very basic relationship red flag. If your partner is “not there for you,” that is not likely to change, and it is not your fault. Emotionally and physically unavailable people are that way because of them, not you. Remember that. Below is a list of common truths about emotionally and physically unavailable people.
♦ They are “too busy. Too busy for you? Forget it and move on to someone who values you enough to spend time with you.
♦ They have an addiction or crutch. Goes without saying: addicts can’t be there for you. Their first love was there before you and, in most cases, will outlast you.
♦ They are separated…but not divorced. ‘Nuff said.
Their actions are incongruent with their words. My dad always said, “Actions speak louder than words” and I have found that to be true, always. “I love you” does not go as far as actually showing up.
♦ They are inflexible and unable to compromise. “My way or the highway” means there is no place for you. The arrogance of a narcissist is often behind this kind of rigidity.
♦ They have no past long-term relationships. Someone who has not been able to make it through more than the “first blush” stage of relationships can’t cut the long haul. Not available for that job.
♦ They are demanding or controlling. If you feel manipulated or controlled, you are being required to be available, but your partner is off the hook.
♦ They are overly critical of their past partners, or other people in general. Someone who is not in touch with the realities of relationships typically blames everyone else when they fail. The victim mentality of this person makes him or her totally unavailable to you, because true partnership would demand equal responsibility for the good and the bad, and this person can’t go there.
If any of the above five red flags resonate with you, it’s time to get you out of harm’s way and onto a healthier, more self-caring path—one that leads you into the arms of the partner you were meant to have. Feel free to call me for a session if you want to talk about your current relationship, one from your past that you are worried you’ll repeat, or the one you want so much to have!