Exploring relationships is a totally normal part of growing up. You might meet someone new and cool at school, at the bookstore, or even at the mall. As your friendship takes a romantic turn, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time together. All that time can lead you to wonder whether your relationship is on the right track, or if it’s time to hit the road.
The thing is, relationships are as different as the individuals within them. Every relationship has a different set of rules and norms, and each person in the couple will have a different idea of an ideal mate.
However, there are a few universal indicators of a healthy relationship—as well as some universal red flags. We’ll give you some tips and pointers for what to work on, as well as what to run away from.
Unhealthy Relationship Red Flags
Your partner should say and do things that make you feel happy, understood, and connected. If you find yourself spending a lot of time feeling down, anxious, or stressed out by your relationship, that could indicate that your needs aren’t being fulfilled.
Again, relationships differ from couple to couple. This list isn’t all-encompassing, but you may spot some issues to work on in the future.
Red flag #1: One of you tries to control or change the other.
Let’s say that you enjoy wearing your blue hoodie, but your partner tells you they don’t like it and asks you to stop wearing it so often.
Or, say that you want to spend your free time working on your woodworking hobby, but your partner lets you know that they think it’s a waste of time.
Those are red flags! They signal that your partner doesn’t respect your individual preferences and interests.
Within a close relationship, live and let live is a great rule of thumb. After all, we’ve all experienced when somebody wouldn’t let you be—and the resulting negative emotions like discomfort and annoyance.
If our partner is doing something that causes genuine concern, like skipping school or harming themselves, you should express your feelings and ask them to consider making changes.
However, it’s not healthy to control their behavior, through manipulation or otherwise.
If you and your partner aren't evolving into better people together, your relationship may not have long-term potential.
Red flag #2: Your partner doesn’t respect your boundaries.
Your personal boundaries dictate how you’re willing to be treated by others. One example of a boundary could be, “I need personal space before taking the SAT. I’m happy to hang out with you, but I need to focus during the days leading up to my exam date.”
But if you’ve voiced a boundary and your partner continually violates that boundary, that’s a red flag. Even if you brush it off as a sign of affection, their behavior shows a lack of respect for your needs.
Red flag #3: The relationship feels unequal.
Healthy relationships should strike a fair balance. You and your partner should find areas of compromise. For instance, if you both want to watch a movie, try to find one that you’d both enjoy. Or, each of you pick a movie and make a marathon out of it.
To take it one step further, a balanced relationship can also relate to abstract things like attention, communication, and relationship expectations.
There will be periods of imbalance. One of you might struggle to hold up your end of the relationship due to family issues, or offer less attention due to stress with schoolwork.
But if your relationship is routinely out of balance, this is a red flag.
Red flag #4: They say negative or hurtful things about you or others.
In a healthy relationship, partners should always express their feelings in a constructive way. So, it’s normal to show concern when your partner does something that worries you.
But things become problematic when you or your partner express feelings in a destructive way.
If you or your partner find yourselves lashing out or criticizing each other, especially about personal things like physical appearance, eating habits, and social habits, that’s a major problem. Criticism can generate a variety of negative feelings, like shame, guilt, sadness, anger, frustration, disappointment, and hopelessness.
You might also want to take note about how they treat others around them. You and your partner could get along well, but watch out if they use slurs, make discriminatory remarks, or are rude to customer service professionals—this speaks volumes about who they are as a person!
Red flag #5: You feel invisible.
Have you ever...
- Brought up your concerns in the conversation, only to be met with disinterest?
- Learned not to share your feelings or sweep problems under the rug because you’re afraid they’ll just brush you off?
- Not felt seen, heard, or appreciated?
That’s a huge problem.
Your partner should be making their best effort to understand and appreciate you, and vice versa.
Red flag #6: You’re afraid of expressing disagreement.
You should always feel safe to have and express your own opinions, and your partner should respect your opinion, even if they disagree. If your partner talks down on you because you don’t see eye-to-eye about an issue, this generally means they don’t respect you or your ideas.
If you notice that you’re withholding your two cents because you’re scared of their reaction, then maybe it’s time to stop walking on eggshells and start walking away.
Red flag #7: Disagreements or discussions don’t go anywhere.
Compromise is vital in any relationship, whether it’s with friends, family members, or your partner. When you and your partner have a disagreement or a discussion, the goal is always to reach a mutually satisfactory solution. Neither partner should push for their way or the highway. Both partners should walk away feeling like their desires were acknowledged.
It’s generally not a good sign when you continue to have the same arguments all the time. If you don’t see any improvement, it might be a sign that you or your partner are not willing to work as a team.
What does a healthy relationship look like?
A healthy relationship is characterized by a few different things:
- Open communication
- Time apart
When you’re in a healthy relationship, it’s normal to talk about everything going on in your lives: the amazing grade you got on your last math test, the funny joke your friend told in history class, and everything in between.
You should also feel comfortable airing things out when it comes to issues. If you’re stressed out about a friendship, feeling down, or having a hard time at home, you should be able to talk to your partner without feeling judged. Even if you have different viewpoints, it’s important to have civil, respectful conversations.
You can’t have a healthy relationship without trust. Trust involves a combination of elements. In essence, trust is built over time when each partner shows commitment, respectful and honest communication, thoughtfulness, integrity, and vulnerability.
And trust goes beyond believing they won’t cheat or lie to you. When you trust someone, it means you can rely on them and feel safe around them.
When you maintain your sense of independence, you’re holding onto your individual identity within the relationship. Your relationship is not your identity. In fact, healthy relationships are interdependent, which means you both maintain your unique identities while enjoying each other’s company.
Be careful of developing codependence, which is characterized by excessive emotional or psychological reliance on your partner. Your universe should not revolve around your partner, and you shouldn’t depend on them to get all of your needs met.
Maintain your independence by keeping your friendships and connections outside the relationships. Set boundaries for yourself. Spend some of your free time alone, pursuing your own interests and passion projects.
Caringness is a key characteristic of a healthy relationship.
When you care for another person, this means you’re interested and invested in their thoughts, feelings, dreams, and day-to-day life. You care about watching them develop into an amazing person. You aren’t fixated on what they did a long time ago, or who you think they should be.
It’s natural to want to spend every waking moment with your partner, especially when the relationship is new. However, it’s healthy for both partners to spend time apart every now and again. Try to carve out some personal time to reflect alone, work on an extracurricular activity, or hang out with friends or family.
A healthy relationship is like a team. Your end goal is to have a mutually satisfying relationship, which means you both need to work together and support each other. This can be challenging at times, especially during heated disagreements, so it’s important to learn how to get along.
All relationships, whether with friends, family, or your partner, involve conflict. You’ll never see eye-to-eye about everything. It’s okay to have the occasional fight, or to feel upset with each other from time to time.
What matters is how you address your disagreements. Keep the judgmental and snide comments out of the conversation, and be as patient and civil as possible. If you can talk about your differences in a kind, polite, and respectful way, you’re going in the right direction.
If you want to be in a relationship, make sure it’s a healthy one. Treat one another with care, respect, kindness, and patience. Accept and celebrate your differences. Listen to each other carefully. Every relationship we have can teach us something—and by building positive relationships with others, we will be happier and more fulfilled and feel more supported, supportive, and connected.