Our desire for companionship is natural, one that started with Adam at the very creation of the world. Yet unlike the garden of Eden, which was without sin, we live in a world of brokenness. Therefore our relationships are also impacted by brokenness. Sometimes our relationships start out well, and then, as the relationship develops, unhealthy personal habits or unresolved trauma start to form cracks in its foundation. Oftentimes we may even be unaware the relationship has become unhealthy until someone on the outside points it out to us. It’s easy to have our own blind spots, and helpful to seek out the wisdom and guidance of those we trust on the outside to help make us aware of them.
One sign the relationship has become unhealthy, is if someone starts to become controlling of the other person. When you enter into a relationship as two mature adults, there should be a foundation of trust and mutuality that allows each of you to be your own individual person within the relationship. Yes, you will disagree on things and have differences of opinions regarding how you each take care of yourself, what you do in your free time, and how you see the world. If you are in an unhealthy relationship, the other person will impose their opinions on you in a controlling way. This could look like them telling you not to eat dessert because they are worried about your weight, or telling you not to hang out with your friends because they want to spend time with you. Attempts to isolate and dominate are key warning signs. It’s important to communicate your concerns about each other's health, or feelings if your partner is putting their friendships above the relationship. Yet communication is far different than control. Communication is having an open dialogue of your opinions and feelings, but also still accepting that you both are your own individual people. It’s also important to remember that just because someone has a different opinion on something, doesn’t mean they are wrong and that it should be your mission to coerce them into believing otherwise.
Jealousy is another sign that your relationship has become unhealthy. Often a struggle with jealousy comes from the trauma of infidelity in past relationships. When there is a history of unfaithfulness in either of your past relationships, there may be more insecurities in your relationship and a need for more reassurance. Reassurance isn’t a red flag. It’s important to communicate with each other the insecurities you are bringing into the relationship and carry each other's burdens. “Share each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). It’s also important to have healthy boundaries with the opposite sex when you are in a relationship. These boundaries should be communicated within your relationship. Yet when there is jealousy, there is a deeper issue of distrust and control. It is not healthy for your partner to become angry or irritated anytime you talk to someone of the opposite sex. When your partner isolates you from others and takes offense if you want to spend your time with other people, this is a red flag of unhealthiness in the relationship.
When you start off in a relationship, you want to spend time together; yet too much time together can be a sign your relationship is becoming unhealthy. When my husband and I started to fall in love, we had a loss of desire to spend time with our friends and slowly started to say no to more group outings. One day, we realized the pattern we had fallen into and realized we missed our friends! We communicated with each other about our need to spend time with other people. We agreed that we both needed to make community with others a priority even though our relationship was heading towards marriage. As a Christian, we need fellowship with other believers. “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25). It’s important not to get caught up in the unhealthy habit of isolating ourselves in our romantic relationship. “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). The Bible is clear in our need for other believers in our life outside of our relationship, we were meant to be the body of Christ and come together instead of retreating to our own island.
You may know couples who seem to bicker all the time, and, as a counselor, I have often worked with them in the counseling room. In any relationship, there are seasons where you may argue more, and this isn’t something to be concerned about. Yet if you find your partner and you are constantly at odds this is a sign your relationship has become unhealthy. In a healthy relationship our focus should both be self-sacrifice, with our example as Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us of dying on the cross for our sins. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). If you are constantly arguing in your relationship, there is a deeper heart issue that needs to be resolved. This could be deeper issues such as pride, resentment, or coveting, issues that we need to allow the Holy Spirit to bring to light so we can repair unity in our relationship. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24).
This might sound odd, but I also believe that your relationship has become unhealthy if you don’t argue at all. When I say you should argue, I don’t mean screaming at each other and slamming doors, but instead I mean there should be times of disagreement, conflict, and resolution. If you never have any conflict in your relationship, it is a red flag of a serious lack of communication. If one party is always passive about their feelings and opinions and makes every effort to appease, they aren’t being themselves in the relationship. We are all different, and our differences mean we can expect conflict at times, and conflict means there will be an opportunity to really understand who your partner is and the perspective they carry. Conflict means that you have to work together to make compromises or even admit when you're wrong. Challenging each other in a relationship and encouraging each other to grow in love and respect is a very healthy thing. “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).
It’s often easier to notice unhealthy aspects in the relationships of those around you, but if we are honest with ourselves, we are all prone to falling into any of these unhealthy habits. It takes a lot of self-reflection and good communication in a relationship to make sure we are keeping our relationship’s foundation on the truth of God’s word, and not allowing the enemy to come in and steal, kill, and destroy. “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). We all have blind spots, and often see our relationships in the best possible light. Yet we are all sinners, and need to allow the Holy Spirit to continually guide us to be honest about areas of relationships that we are falling short. God is a God of reconciliation, and if we allow him to work in our unhealthy habits he can make all things new.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster