An Unhealthy Relationship Isn’t Necessarily Abusive

Relationships - Sanity & Self | 0 comments

A relationship doesn't have to be abusive, to be unhealthy

Is Your Relationship Healthy or Unhealthy?

We don’t talk enough about unhealthy relationships. While we are acknowledging and addressing domestic violence more and more and seeing a larger scale effort to provide more education and resources to women about abuse, there is still space for more conversation about unhealthy relationships. 

The thing is, a relationship does not have to be abusive to be unhealthy. And something that I continue to see over and over again in my work as a therapist is women trying to understand, navigate and (oftentimes) justify their unhealthy relationships.  “Why does this happen?” you may ask. I ask myself this all the time. Why do so many strong, independent, educated, successful and beautiful women tolerate unhealthy behaviors from their partner?  This is a loaded question but here are some things to consider and reflect on.

Society socializes women to be understanding and forgiving which then leads to women making excuses for their partner’s bad/poor behavior.

The “unhealthy” behaviors in partners are normalized and justified by the messages that we receive  (via pop culture, school, politics) including “boys will be boys,” “all men are afraid of commitment,” “men don’t express affection,” “men need sex more than women,” and “jealousy is normal.”

Social norms and pressures make it difficult to end a relationship. Even if a woman is unhappy in her relationship, there is often the fear of being single and how her relationship status will be a reflection on her. A lot of women would rather stay in a relationship that is unhealthy because of the fear of being alone.

Many women find themselves in relationships that reflect/mirror the relationships they witnessed and were around growing up. Not necessarily because they seek similar relationships and dynamics, but because the unhealthy patterns were in a sense “normal” to them.

Self-esteem plays a HUGE role in how we view ourselves in the context of relationships.  When women struggle with their self-esteem, they are less likely to challenge the unhealthy behavior of a partner or believe that they could do “better.”

So, it actually makes COMPLETE sense when we take into account these different factors why women find themselves in unhealthy relationships.

Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Relationships: The Signs

But what makes a relationship unhealthy? That seems pretty subjective, right? Here are a few things to consider when you are evaluating a relationship:

Respect: Both partners should have mutual respect for one another—each other’s thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. Disagreement is healthy. But it is so important for you to feel respected by your partner and comfortable with disagreement or conflicting perspectives. No one should be “in it to win it.”

Autonomy: Both partners are able to have their own identity and sense of self outside of the relationship. You are whole with or without your partner. In a healthy relationship, your wellbeing and happiness is not dependent on your partner. You can have a life and goal and ideas outside of your relationship. You shouldn’t feel like you have to pick your partner over friends/work/family/personal interests.

Honesty: Both partners should be able to speak and act honestly with one another. If for some reason it seems or feels difficult to be honest with your partner, ask yourself why. Honesty is so important in order to build and establish trust.

Communication: Both partners should be able to communicate with one another in a healthy and nonaggressive way.  Put-downs are never okay. Being passive-aggressive or making threats is never okay. You should be able to speak openly and feel heard.  You should be able to express how you feel without fearing any backlash.

Equality: Both partners’ feelings and needs are equal. Both partners should participate in the decision-making process when it comes to the relationship and clarifying the terms and expectations of the relationship. Both partners need to consent to all aspects of the relationship (i.e. open versus closed, intimacy, roles and responsibilities)

At the end of the day, what it comes down to is whether or not you feel happy, fulfilled and like yourself in the relationship. Here are some questions to ask yourself and reflect on:

  • “Does the relationship fill me up or does it drain me?”
  • “Do I feel happy in this relationship?
  • “Do I feel like myself in the relationship?”
  • “Does my partner accept all aspects of me?”
  • “Do my friends and/or family like my partner?” (Why or why not?)
  • “Can I have friends and/or make time for my friends while in this relationship?”
  • “Do I trust my partner?”
  • “Can I pursue my own goals and plans while in this relationship?”
  • “Can I be open about how I am feeling and bring up concerns?”
  • “Are my needs being met?”

Remember! You deserve to be in a healthy relationship –a relationship that is positive and enriching. You deserve to be happy AND flourish in your relationship. Nothing less.  And if your relationship is not these things or you have feelings of doubt, know that you don’t have to stay in the relationship or “wait it out.”  You have the RIGHT to be “picky” or selective, to assert your needs and wants and to be in a relationship that feels good.

Leah is answering questions from our community! Do you have a relationship question you’d like an answer to?
Download the Sanity & Self App and post your question for a chance at getting an answer from Leah.

About the Author

Leah Aguirre is a licensed clinical social worker & psychotherapist in San Diego, CA. Leah prioritizes mental health issues because she’s experienced issues with anxiety herself and believes every woman will face their own struggles with mental health at some point in their life. She specializes in helping individuals who experience challenges with relationships, dating and self-esteem through both individual and group sessions. Visit Leah online at


Why Do We as Women Deserve Self-Care?

Why Do We as Women Deserve Self-Care?

The Self-Care Women Deserve… What Does That Mean? Why do we, as women, deserve self-care? Why do we deserve to make ourselves feel better, to be better, stronger? We’ve got a track record that shows us how many mistakes we’ve made, how many times we’ve said we’re not...

Stop Being a People Pleaser

Stop Being a People Pleaser

Be an Empowered Woman What if instead of focusing on being a people pleaser, you pleased yourself first? If you stopped pouring all of your energy into other people and started to show up in your own life for yourself each and every day? What would happen? How would...



  1. Why Do We Resist Change and Remain Stuck? | Sanity & Self Blog - […] room which turns into a bitch session at lunch time. We see it in our friends who won’t leave…
  2. Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater? | Sanity & Self Blog - […] the event that the cheating was more or less a reflection of a lack of respect and carelessness by…
  3. Relationship Q&A: Working Through Relationship Doubts | Sanity & Self Blog - […] has been trying to change what should I do? Is it normal to always have doubts in a relationship?…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!