I’ve been wanting to put together a list of less obvious signs of bad relationships, based on my own experience and observations and the experiences of others. These do not necessarily comprise abuse, but they do suggest a dynamic that is fundamentally negative and unlikely to improve. I’ve written about some of these before, but am compiling them here. This will probably be a multi-part post, and I welcome suggestions.
1. The thought of your partner interacting with your friends and family causes you to become anxious and fearful of the outcome.
There are sometimes legitimate reasons for this - your grandma is racist and your boyfriend’s not white, you’re in your first same-sex relationship and you don’t know how your friends will respond - but those should be fairly describable and not indict your partner themselves. If your reasons are more along the lines of knowing your friends will take an instant dislike to your partner’s boorish behavior or the way he talks to you, or fearing that they will get into a fight because your partner is volatile and incapable of civil disagreement, it’s time to pause and assess the situation. In a healthy relationship, you should look forward to introducing your partner to your loved ones. You should be excited about uniting your social circles and feel confident that your closest friends will understand immediately why you’re with that person. If your reaction to such scrutiny is to hide, there is a problem.
2. You have become unusually high-strung, anxious, and unable to handle mundane stress.
This is not easy to link to a relationship, especially if you have other major stress factors in your life. However, it must be discussed since it often becomes painfully clear in retrospect. Are you getting sick more often? Do you have meltdowns when you accidentally break a plate? Are you feeling exhausted and even experience physical soreness or pain despite a lack of physical exertion? Are you suddenly terrified of making minor mistakes, like taking the wrong exit or forgetting something at the store? If something bad happens to you, is your first thought about how this will upset your partner? Do you find yourself constantly preparing for a fight? Do you lash out at “safe” targets (people or animals, or even inanimate objects)? Do friends indicate that you are being inappropriately paranoid or aggressive? Are you drinking/smoking/taking drugs more than usual? Are you reluctant or even afraid of socializing for fear that it will end in aggression or humiliation? Can you link these fears and behaviors to what you experience in interactions with your partner?
3. You edit accounts of negative interactions with your partner and go out of your way to assure others of how wonderful they are.
Negative interactions occur in healthy relationships, but they are never so negative that relating them honestly will cause others to wonder why the hell you’re with that person. You will also have no fear of what your partner will do if they should happen to learn that you are seeking relationship advice from others, nor will you anticipate being told that your partner/relationship is bad for you. If you DO anticipate the worst reactions to describing your relationship truthfully, there’s probably a good reason for that.
4. You cannot imagine a long-term relationship with this person without a lot of changes and wishful thinking.
If in 6, 8, 12 months, your relationship with this person was exactly the same as it is now, would you be content, or does the idea fill you with dread? When imagining a future with this person, do you spend a lot of time thinking about what needs to change? When I was in an abusive relationship, I could not imagine a long-term scenario that did not involve him being physically compromised and unable to act out in his usual way. It should be obvious that’s a highly fucked-up thought process. If you do not feel happy and safe with your partner as they are now, all quirks and flaws considered, there is a problem. This matters even if you do not intend to be involved with them long-term, because it points to issues in the relationship you have now.
5. You are perpetually unsure of your partner’s boundaries.
There is always an awkward period at the beginning of a relationship where you learn what your partner is okay with. However, this is about persistent uncertainty. One day, he may encourage you go through his bookshelf, and the next day, demand to know what you’re doing in there. Usually, it’s much more subtle. Minor behaviors on your part result in coldness and nonverbal displays of anger (slamming doors, glaring, refusing to speak to you). Your partner makes no attempt to speak to you about it and resists discussing it, so the issue cannot be resolved. As a result, you may be several months into a relationship and still feel very reluctant to move around their home, ask them personal questions, or spontaneously joke around. If you meet people they want to feel important around, like their coworkers, you feel an excessive need to stay quiet and not draw attention to yourself. If your partner comes home visibly angry or upset, you are afraid to ask them what’s wrong, and fear you may be responsible for no reason you can explain to others. Your partner may only seem approachable under conditions they and they alone set, and they will complain you’re being selfish and needy if you try to assert yourself. They may also state that you simply don’t understand, and emphasize your relative inexperience with relationships if they are older than you. As a result, you spend an inordinate amount of time wondering if you’re a burden upon them and coming up with ways to appease them.
It should be noted that these signs are not obvious while you’re in a relationship. If you do recognize some of the thoughts and experiences discussed here, I suggest writing down those feelings as you experience them and noting their context (e.g., did you get in a fight with your partner today, or the day before?) Take time to note periods when you are feeling content and happy as well, especially if they’re short-lived and entirely dependent on external events. Please exercise caution if you are concerned your partner may find such a record, but writing them down is often one of the best ways to track changes in your moods and find patterns in them. Most of all, listen to your gut; do not ignore feelings of unease simply because you can find some way to justify them.
Part 2 should be up later this week.
ETA: Link to Part Two.