Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships: A Therapeutic Approach

unhealthy vs. healthy relationships, relationship advice, relationship tips

We are finally answering the question: what is the difference between healthy vs. unhealthy relationships?

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: unhealthy relationships, generally, do not happen overnight. They are a slow burn— like a tiptoe into the water kind of thing. Some of us probably aren’t even aware of the dangerous direction our precious relationship is slipping into – and but a lot of us simply turn a blind eye. The real issue? Once the bleeding really starts, it is infinitely difficult to reverse the damage.

Obviously, we all would like to have a healthy vs. unhealthy relationship – but you have to be aware of the symptoms first. Here are some warning signs, tips and helpful tools to recognize, manage and maintain that healthy balance we all desperately wish to have. Some even start to have an unhealthy lifestyle, and forget about themselves.

1. Enmeshment

This is the start of it all – the smoking gun. The reality is, at some point in our lives we are all guilty of this.

Enmeshment is a concept introduced by Salvador Minuchin to describe relationships with loose boundaries, little separateness, and a hyper concern for others in the relationship that leads to diminished self autonomy.

Yes, being enmeshed feels comfortable. It mimics intimacy with the person you love. Closeness is great – but needing constant intense interactions? Not so great. Essentially, we use the other person for safety, self-worth, well-being and security.

Here is where it gets really tricky: When a change occurs in one person, it creates a reverberation across the entire “system” (aka, our relationship). We get lost in the relationship, and our identity is no longer our own. Essentially, our boundaries are so weak that functioning as an individual becomes difficult.

Here’s a common example: You had an amazing day—your boss complimented your hard work, you had a bomb ass lunch and you hit all green lights on the way home. Boom. However, your significant other had a shit day—their tire blew out, they bombed a presentation and they stained their favorite shirt. You both arrive home and start chatting about your days. All of a sudden, your mood starts to decrease. You become upset and sad. But wait a minute – these feelings are not representative of your day, but rather your partner’s day. Now your day has completely shifted in the opposite direction.

We often mistake the shift in our emotions and mood as empathy. THIS. IS. WRONG.  Instead, you are allowing another person’s reality to become your own. Instead of standing at the top of the ditch extending an arm to help them out, you have jumped into the ditch with them. Now you’re both stuck.

A healthy relationship comprises of being there for each other and problem solving with each other while recognizing that your emotions are yours alone. You can share your space, finances, or food all you want – but always keep your emotions separate.

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2. Co-dependency

Enmeshment, if fostered long enough, evolves into co-dependency. Essentially, you have morphed from a full individual into someone  who actively needs someone else to feel complete.

Let’s continue on with the first example stated above:

Let’s say you are the partner who had a totally shit day. You come home, and dang, your partner isn’t home because they’re working late on a big project. But that doesn’t just mean that you have a few hours to yourself, it means that you are physically incapable of self-soothing and recovering from your day by yourself. You have become so dependent on your partner that the idea of cheering up alone seems impossible.

Co-dependency can end up creating a power dynamic within the relationship that can become controlling or manipulative. Yes – we want to lean into our partners, but not rely on them. Think of them as a BONUS, not a necessity! We need to be meeting needs for ourselves, and allowing other people to tag along for the ride.

Ways to combat against co-dependency are leaning back into your own coping skills and creating some healthy space between you and your partner. The more you rely on yourself, the less susceptible you will be to having a co-dependent relationship.

3. Collusion

Ooops. We have officially fallen down the rabbit hole.

Once enmeshment creeps into co-dependency, co-dependency then turns into the ugly monster we tend to think we will never fall victim to—abuse.

Abuse, generally, starts with some kind of power shift. The ability to make all the decisions: financial choices, friendships we do or do not entertain, places we go, clothing we wear, etc. This abuse of power creates an unhealthy, boundary violating relationship. Remember abuse is not always physical. When we stop making decisions for ourselves that benefit our well-being, abuse can become mental, verbal, emotional or sexual.

There are four questions we can ask ourselves that often identify what we are and are not comfortable with inside relationships. This insight helps us create healthy and realistic boundaries, as well as, increased knowledge about what our deal breakers (things we absolutely will not tolerate in a relationship) are. Dissolving a relationship is never easy, but having insight as to why we are ending something often helps kick start the grieving process more quickly.
People may not…
I have the right to ask for…
To protect myself it is ok for me to…
To create an environment I feel supported and loved I need…

If you feel like you are slipping into an unhealthy relationship, start dealing with it NOW.

The deeper your unhealthy relationship progresses, the harder it is to reverse or dissolve it. Work with Blush to find your self autonomy, lean on yourself, and strengthen your self-confidence. With those three things in tact, you have a better shot at attracting a partner with the same level of self-differentiation, and you are well prepared for a healthy relationship. Work with us today!

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