Healthy vs. Happy Relationships: How to Spot the Difference

Alright, let’s be honest: We all have that friend (or more than one friend) who constantly gushes about their significant other, even though we think their partner treats them horribly. As much as we want to say, “What are you thinking,” we also know that our friend is happy. That counts for something, right? Except happy relationships do not always symbolize healthy relationships. Our friend might be oblivious to questionable behavior because they are happy and in love, while we see everything with clarity. Sometimes our friends need our help to see through the veil and recognize any red flags.

*Photo Courtesy of Dineslav Roydev on Unsplash


Now imagine this: Our friend finds someone new. As their friend, you are thrilled—you think they deserve a happy ending after so-and-so broke their heart. Then, something happens: You meet Romeo and he strikes you as a bad influence, your friend’s relationship seems to progress much faster than normal (“We’re going on vacation! We’re getting an apartment! We’re engaged!”), your friend does not act like themselves when their partner is around, etc. Whatever the case, you are now uncertain about this love story. As time passes, our friend and Romeo get into a relationship. Suddenly, our friend distances themselves and exhibits unusual behavior. They seem to be changing themselves to better suit their significant other's wants and needs. When you mention the abrupt change, our friend becomes very defensive. Romeo now feels threatened by your friend group and manipulates our friend into cutting us off. She feels that she is making this decision (despite the influence) and thus continues to feel happy with her partner. This is an unhealthy relationship. While every situation is not as obvious, we can always look for the telltale signs.


Traits of an unhealthy relationship can often be disguised as reasonable requests. Your partner might ask you to cut contact with a friend who once crushed on you (After all, who knows their intentions?) or create distance between you and your partner’s frenemies. While such requests can be rational in the proper context, the line between request and demand can easily blur when you trust someone. Even if your partner is influencing your decisions, you may feel like you are ultimately the one deciding. Because you are—just with your partner’s input. This mindset often leads to imbalanced control, where one member in the relationship controls who the other can hang out with, what social events they can attend, how they maintain their physical appearance, and so on. While asking your partner not to text an old flame is valid, telling your partner they cannot attend a party because [insert name here] will be there is control. We can often help as loved ones by pointing out this behavior. Our friend may be so blinded by their happiness that their partner's red flags are invisible.

*Photo Courtesy of Andy Art on Unsplash


We tend to notice when our friends become more tense. If your partner is pressuring you to change yourself fundamentally, neglecting you or causing you to neglect yourself, and/or forcing you to justify your actions, your stress level will naturally increase. Manipulation can still occur even if your significant other is regularly taking you on dates, complimenting you, showing you off on social media, etc. Sometimes the people we love and trust are the most guilty. They want what they think is best for you so much that they (accidentally or purposefully) go too far. Happiness can often cover up much deeper issues. If you feel manipulated, frequently criticized, or uncomfortable, please communicate these feelings to your partner. 


While all relationships can exhibit unhealthy characteristics once in a while (after all, we are human and sometimes make mistakes), if your partner habitually shows any of the telltale signs listed above or others—Not respecting your privacy, settling arguments unfairly, spending too much time together or none at all, disregarding your loved ones—you need to take action. Recognizing the unhealthy aspects of your relationship and addressing them with your partner can either make you both stronger (Changing the bad things will benefit both of you!) or help you to accept that your partner simply isn’t the one. Healthy relationships involve loads of communication, mutual respect, compromise, and support. Never settle for less because you are afraid of being alone or losing someone. And when you see your friends settle, speak up. We all know somebody who needs a wakeup call. Whether your friend is the one perpetuating toxic behavior or the one being negatively influenced by their partner, vocalize what you notice.

*Photo Courtesy of Austin Chan on Unsplash


Oh, and don’t forget: Not only romantic relationships can be unhealthy. If your platonic friendship is exhibiting unhealthy characteristics, address the issue. As stated by Kemi Sogunle, “Staying in an unhealthy relationship that robs you of peace of mind, is not being loyal. It is choosing to hurt yourself mentally, emotionally and sometimes, physically.” It’s time to leave damaging relationships in our rearview mirror.