6 mins

A healthy vs an unhealthy relationship – how to tell the difference

As human beings, we have an inherent desire for closeness. The ability to form stable, healthy relationships is vital to our mental and emotional wellbeing. In fact, research has shown it can even help us live longer.

For some people, healthy relationships come naturally. Perhaps they grew up in an environment where it was modelled to them by their parents. But for others, it’s something they have to learn – perhaps later in life. They may have to go through a number of less-than-healthy relationships to be able to find (and form) one that is.

It’s important to say that not all unhealthy relationships start off toxic. Sometimes the unhealthy behaviours creep in gradually. Relationships are a bit like bodies. We need to tend to them to keep them healthy. Sometimes a relationship starts to turn sour and both partner’s catch it in time to make amends. Other times, it’s too late, and it’s time to walk away.

If you’re wondering whether your relationship is healthy/unhealthy, we’ve compiled a list of signs below:

Signs of a healthy relationship

You both support each other – we all need someone in life who has our back, and knowing that our partner is there for us through the hard times is really important. We all go through ups and downs, and they inevitably happen at different times. In a healthy relationship, both partners will be able to take on the supportive role when needed (rather than just one).

You grow and develop together – no one’s saying that growing as an individual in a relationship is easy. We all grow at different rates so it can take some adjustment. But a healthy relationship allows for this flexibility, because both people love each other for who they are, and want to see their partner flourish.

You resolve conflict successfully – “couples that fight together stay together”. It might sound counterintuitive, but research shows that couples who argue together are ten times more likely to have a happy relationship than those who avoid their issues.

You trust each other – trust is the foundation to any relationship. Trust involves trusting yourself, your own judgements, and also your partner’s.

You communicate about the hard stuff – being able to communicate effectively is perhaps one of the most important life skills across every aspect of life – but especially so for a healthy relationship. Open communication allows for both partner’s to be seen and heard. 

You have your own lives outside of the relationship – togetherness should be balanced with individuality. Healthy relationships have a bond which allows the couple to grow together – but also independently too. Keeping a well-rounded life outside of your relationship doesn’t just benefit you, it benefits the relationship as a whole as well. 

You can be silly with each other – playfulness facilitates connection, and who doesn’t need more laughter in their life? Studies have shown that couples who are more playful in their relationship tend to have happier, more fulfilling relationships. 

You’re tactile and physically affectionate – physical intimacy is vital – even where sex isn’t involved. Kissing, cuddling, hand-holding are all bonding experiences that facilitate connection and build emotional intimacy.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship 

You feel guilty (often for no reason) – you feel like it’s always you taking the blame, and your partner never assumes responsibility when things go wrong. Feeling guilty for no reason can sometimes be a sign of emotional manipulation.

There’s a sense of not being able to exist without each other – this is a warning sign for codependency. A healthy relationship requires both partner’s to have a life outside of the relationship.

Your partner doesn’t respect your boundaries – boundaries in a relationship are important because they act as basic guidelines for how you want to be treated. Setting and maintaining boundaries ensures that your relationship is respectful and caring – and that you both get your needs met. 

You feel like you’ve “lost yourself” – a draining relationship does just that – drains you of your energy. If you’re feeling less and less like yourself with your partner, that’s a sign that the relationship is zapping you of your energy.

You’re losing contact with your friends and family – perhaps they always complain about how much time you spend talking to your sister on the phone or they point blank refuse to hangout with your friends. A controlling partner will seek to strip you of your support system in order to make you more reliant on them.

Lack of trustsome jealousy might be endearing to start off with but it can soon turn sour. Trust is essential to every healthy relationship, and when it’s absent it can lead to paranoia and possessiveness – a major danger signal. 

Your partner is possessive and/or controlling – they may show this in a very explicit way (by literally telling you what you can and cannot do) or in a more subtle, manipulative way (“if you really loved me, you’d never question me”). 

You can’t talk about the personal stuff – for a healthy relationship, both people need to feel safe to open up and be vulnerable.

You don’t feel like they’re “there” for you when it really matters – if you feel like you’re always there for your partner but they don’t – or can’t – return the same level of care back that’s a clear sign the balance is off.

Your self-worth has deteriorated – your partner should be rooting for you. If you feel like they belittle, demean or devalue you (or your achievements), this is a surefire sign of an unhealthy relationship. 

The relationship is physically or emotionally abusive – if there has been any physical violence whatsoever, leave as soon as possible. Physical violence is rarely a one-off, and usually signals the beginning of a dangerous pattern. Likewise when it comes to emotional abuse (shouting, sweating, spiteful language, manipulation etc.) which can leave invisible scars that are equally harmful.

Dr Elena Touroni

Dr Elena Touroni

31 July 2020

"Dr. Elena Touroni is a skilled and experienced Consultant Psychologist with a track record of delivering high-quality services for individuals with all common emotional difficulties and those with a diagnosis of personality disorder. She is experienced in service design and delivery, the management of multi-disciplinary teams, organisational consultancy, and development and delivery of both national and bespoke training to providers in the statutory and non-statutory sector."

You may like these...

2 mins

What are the treatment options for people with eating disorders?

1 min

What is post natal depression?

1 min

When should I seek treatment for bipolar disorder?

1 min

When’s the best time to start couples therapy?

Start your journey


Dr Stacie Tay

Dr Stacie Tay attained her BSc (Hons) Psychology at the University of Nottingham and worked as a psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health, Singapore, before returning to the UK to complete her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University College London.   

Dr Tay has worked in a variety of settings within the NHS for more than eight years, including primary and secondary care, specialist psychological services and forensic inpatient settings. She currently works as a Clinical Psychologist at the North East London Foundation Trust.  

She has extensive experience working with individuals and groups, providing evidence-based psychological therapies including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and Mindfulness-based approaches as well as Schema-informed therapy.   

Dr Tay’s clinical experience involves working with people who present with a range of mild to severe mental health difficulties. This includes depression, anxiety (OCD, social anxiety, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, health anxiety, phobia-related disorders, PTSD), stress related issues, low self-esteem, complex trauma, interpersonal difficulties, grief and bereavement, and long-term health conditions.