Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships – 10 Characteristics

Dating experience | | , Copywriter & Writer
Updated On: December 20, 2023
healthy vs unhealthy relationships

Most things in life are better understood with context. We often don’t know where we are going wrong, simply because we don’t know what ‘right’ is.  If your mind keeps circling back to your relationship and a few doubts you may have about it, you’re in the right place. I’m here to give you some context by elaborating on healthy vs. unhealthy relationships and the 10 differences between them.

You’re in for a ride, and here’s a fair warning – it might get a teensy bit uncomfortable. For today’s reality check (because that’s what it is!) I have Nandita Rambhia (MSc, Applied Psychology) with me. With an experience of over a decade in psychotherapy, Nandita has a few sparkling observations to make and some priceless guidance to give.

Let’s dive deep into the world of relationships and navigate the two ends of the spectrum on which they exist. It’s time to discover where you stand. Do you exhibit the signs of a healthy relationship when dating?

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships – 10 Differences

It’s important to not confuse ‘healthy’ with ‘perfect.’ The difference between these two is that healthy relationships actually exist, while perfect ones don’t. If you’re chasing the dream of a rom-com relationship, allow me to gently pop your bubble.

You should be striving for a bond where you and your partner love, nurture, and support each other. Where you have your share of ugly fights and disagreements, and even lose your temper with each other. Because you see, it’s humanly impossible for two people to be in complete agreement at all times.

A healthy relationship progression feels a lot like home. On the other hand…a toxic one feels a lot like a being in a full body cast. Something is always broken, you’re in constant pain, and no matter how badly YOU want to heal, the doctor just refuses to do his job.

Here are 10 differences that explain healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. Are you ready? Let’s go!

Related Reading: Relationship Advice For Couples- 25 Ways To Strengthen Your Bond

1. Open vs. Hostile communication

Nandita laughs as she begins talking about the importance of communication, “I’m sure people are tired of hearing this and I’m tired of repeating it too. Communication (good or bad) is one of the determiners of a relationship.”

A healthy relationship is built on solid and honest communication. The partners share the highlights of their day, express any resentment they may hold, and discuss their feelings with maturity and understanding. They voice their concerns and problem-solve actively.

But partners in an unhealthy relationship resort to passive aggressiveness, shoving things under the carpet, or outright yelling. They are incapable of grasping where the other comes from, and are driven by a need to be right. They place blame, and take no accountability.

Explaining, Nandita says that partners use a tone that is concerned with clearing themselves of any mistakes. “They want to shift the responsibility on the shoulders of their partner. The focus moves from solving an argument objectively, to flinging allegations on each other.”

2. Trust vs. Mistrust

A strong relationship is built on the foundation of mutual trust and faith. Both individuals are very secure in their connection and seldom get insecure. Relationships based on trust don’t see instances of infidelity very often.

If a relationship is characterized by constant insecurity and jealousy then we peg it as an unhealthy one. Nandita says, “Trust issues usually come in later between couples. They might stem from one partner’s infidelity – emotional or sexual. It gets difficult for the one who’s been cheated on to trust again.”

Checking your partner’s phone, their credit card receipts, following them around or interrogating them when they’re going out, are all signs of mistrust. It means you can’t take what they’re saying at face value. Conflicts of trust can lead to emotional and physical distance between partners.

Relationships which lack trust are not sustainable in the future. Trust issues need to be addressed with a professional. We at Bonobology have several relationship experts that are a click away to help you!

infographic for healthy vs unhealthy relationships

3. Individuality vs. Controlling behavior – Healthy vs. unhealthy relationships scenarios

A relationship is an essential part of our lives, but it cannot be the only thing we devote our energies to. It is crucial for both people to maintain their individuality through their careers, friends, families, hobbies, and so on. Retaining a space that’s just your own is vital.

An unhealthy relationship is evident when both partners are cut off from the rest of the world and involved only with each other. When one of the partners tries to break away from this cycle, the other gets possessive. This is why we talk about healthy vs. unhealthy relationships.

Controlling what your partner wants to do, how they want to dress, or who they want to meet, are all big no-nos. “There has to be more to your life. Your partner is someone you go home to at the end of the day, so don’t forget to leave the house…”

Nandita further explains, “You have to maintain a sense of self that is distinct from your boyfriend or girlfriend. A good relationship rests on the coming together of two healthy, happy souls. Don’t try and fuse yourselves into one being.”

4. Respect vs. Disrespect

There are diverse ways of expressing respect for your partner in public as well as private. Treating them like an equal, never using a condescending tone, and being critical when you are both by yourself are signs of a healthy relationship when dating.

Even the disagreements do not sink to personal attacks or screaming. Shaming your partner for their age or weight, being sexist, or being dismissive are all warning signs of toxicity. Ditto for making crass jokes or undermining their accomplishments.

Even when you don’t understand what your partner is all about, you can’t be dismissive or disregard them. Always be cognizant of the tone you use when you’re talking to your better half and maintain healthy relationship boundaries.

Under the same umbrella of respect comes the quality of standing up for your partner, and having their back. This is one of the most essential healthy relationship tips for couples. Being in their corner is a sign that your relationship is a priority in your life.

Related Reading: Top 9 Tips To Build Trust In Relationships

5. Compromise vs. Selfishness

You walk five steps, your partner walks five too. There’s nothing merrier than the middle path! A healthy relationship strikes the balance between what two people want. On some days you pick a movie, on others he chooses the restaurant. Think of it like a seesaw going up and down.

But an unhealthy relationship bears the trademark of selfishness. When one (or both) of you insist on getting your way all the time, you fail to understand what makes a relationship work. Nandita agrees, “Compromise is like fuel, it keeps the engine running.”

This selfishness may also stem from the narcissism of one partner. If they are centered around their needs and desires, it is very difficult to get your point across. Selfishness manifests itself in the emotional, sexual, and practical spheres of life. Make sure you aren’t the selfish one in the relationship.

It’s what Nassim Taleb wrote, “Love without sacrifice is like theft.” This is indeed one of the greatest differences between a healthy vs. unhealthy relationship.

Am I in a healthy relationship quiz

6. Healthy sexual patterns vs. Sexual violence 

Physical intimacy is a major aspect of any relationship and healthy patterns are of the utmost importance here. Taking your partner’s consent, indulging in fetishes or activities you’re both comfortable with, having a safe word, and using proper contraception and safety measures are indicators of a good relationship.

Being sexually abusive, assuming consent when your partner is inebriated, or making them participate in sexual fantasies they aren’t exactly okay with is not just a sign of an unhealthy relationship, but that of a toxic one.

Along similar lines, impregnating your girlfriend/wife without her explicit consent, or forcing her to use birth control rather than wearing a condom is also unacceptable. There should be complete agreement from both ends before a sexual act is carried out. This is one of the much-needed healthy relationship tips for couples.

Please don’t use 50 Shades of Grey (or anything remotely similar) as a template for your sex life. Here’s your periodic reminder to practice safe sex with your loved one. Watch out for those healthy relationship boundaries!

Related Reading: Sexual Compatibility – Meaning, Importance And Signs

7. Honesty vs. Dishonesty

“There are levels of honesty when you’re dating someone. It does not just mean literally speaking the truth, but being honest in the relationship. Are you your most authentic self with your partner? Have you been faithful to them? Were you honest in conveying your intentions about the relationship?” Nandita says.

A strong relationship is one where both people can maintain their integrity by staying true to themselves. Consequently, they are dedicated to their partner and the future of the relationship. These are all signs of a healthy relationship when dating.

If you are dating someone who consistently lies, it implies a lack of trust. Needless to say, an unhealthy bond based on fabrications can’t last. Your partner will eventually have to see a different side of you, because keeping up pretenses gets exhausting.

Cheating on your girlfriend or boyfriend is also being dishonest and betraying their trust. When you think about what makes healthy vs. unhealthy relationships your observations can be quite striking. They make you rethink a lot of things and help you identify the weak spots in your own self.

unhealthy relationship

8. Fighting fair vs. Fighting dirty

Everyone fights, it’s inevitable. And sometimes, it’s even healthy. Voicing our anger and venting our feelings can relieve us of our emotional turmoil considerably. But even during its fighting phases, a strong relationship doesn’t crumble. This is because both partners fight fair and maintain healthy relationship boundaries.

Petty insults, personal attacks, using insecurities as a weapon, or physical and mental abuse are kept at bay when two mature adults argue. They focus on the problem at hand without trailing off to topics that bear no consequence. Here lies the key difference between healthy vs. unhealthy relationships.

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Nandita says, “Differences aren’t new. Who doesn’t have them? The trick lies in handling them sanely. Gaslighting, manipulation, throwing things around or banging doors are so unnecessary and detrimental.”

It’s also imperative to note that a healthy relationship’s progression after a fight is different. The partners truly forgive and don’t hold any grudges. “It’s not healthy to dig up the skeletons of the past each time you argue,” reminds Nandita.

9. Involvement vs. Passivity

It’s not always easy to remember that a relationship is a work in progress. The characteristics of a healthy relationship are both partners working to keep the spark alive. They exercise gratitude and make thoughtful gestures towards each other. They are invested in the relationship equally.

But if the relationship is being sustained by one-sided efforts (or no efforts at all), then it’s an unhealthy one. It’s unfair to expect one person to do the heavy-lifting because they will burn out eventually. Efforts here mean emotional and physical!

Nandita gives one of the best healthy relationship tips, “Take some time out of your routine with your partner. No work, no daily hassles, just the both of you. Maybe go on a vacation or a fancy date. The reason behind this is that we’re very distracted on a usual day. Our partners don’t get our undivided attention.”

As an afterthought she adds, “And get off your phones please. Nothing more annoying than some app hogging your time while an actual person waits for you to finish.” Hashtag not cool!

Related Reading: 6 Signs You Are In A One-Sided Relationship

10. Healthy vs. unhealthy relationships scenarios – Acceptance vs. Criticism

This is perhaps the most misunderstood quality by couples. ‘Acceptance’ does not mean being okay with ALL your partner’s qualities, including the negative ones. It just means not trying to change who they intrinsically are as a person. Don’t try and fashion them into your idea of what he/she should be.

An unhealthy relationship often sees partners criticizing each other relentlessly, trying to one-up the borderline insulting comments. Nandita sighs, “It’s exhausting to watch two people just rip into each other. And what for? Which medal is the winner getting?”

One of the most prominent characteristics of a healthy relationship is embracing your partner’s uniqueness and being tolerant of their flaws. Even the criticism which you levy should be done in a non-hostile manner. The aim of criticism is improvement, not insult.

A criticism driven relationship is something that takes work to heal. Both people involved have to be willing to shift their mindsets and break away from the hostility they’re holding on to.

Here we come to the end of our comparative analysis of healthy vs. unhealthy relationships scenarios. I hope you now have plenty of context and even more food for thought. How did you get along on these parameters? And where does your relationship fall? Write to us and let us know. May you only see a healthy relationship progression in your life!

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