Experiencing “Healthy” vs “Unhealthy” Love

Published on: 12 Feb 2020
Clinically Reviewed by Cynthia V. Catchings LCSW-S
unhealthy toxic love vs healthy love

When you think of love, what comes to mind? A person? Your family? A classic rom-com?

There are many types of love — platonic, romantic, familial — and we all experience them differently. When holidays like Valentine’s Day approach, it’s easy to get swept up in the “rom-com” version of love — the perfect depiction of star-crossed lovers, whose connection is thwarted until the climax when they are united, that we often see in movies. Unfortunately, not all “loving” relationships are healthy nor are they positive. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that “nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

During this season so focused on love, it’s also important to recognize when love is no longer healthy and when it’s time to walk away from a relationship.

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We discussed this topic with Talkspace’s Director of Clinical Content, Amy Cirbus, PhD, LMHC, LPC. Below, she shares warning signs of love that is lifting you up as well as signs of more harmful love.

Signs of Healthy Love

If you understand what healthy love looks like, it’s easier to recognize the signs that you’re experiencing unhealthy love. Reminder: just because you might be experiencing some feelings of healthy love doesn’t negate signs of unhealthy love — they’re not mutually exclusive.

Healthy love is supportive, empathic, encouraging, and authentic. You know you’re experiencing healthy love when you can be completely yourself. Healthy love allows you to feel listened to and understood. You want to dedicate time to your loved one and the feeling is reciprocated — you get the attention you need and feel valued and accepted for who you are.

Signs of Unhealthy Love

While there’s no agreed upon list encompassing all behaviors that are unhealthy, anything that makes you feel unhappy, unsafe, out of control, or on edge isn’t healthy. However, there are common situations and feelings that come up in unhealthy relationships that Cirbus elaborates below.

A few indicators of unhealthy love include:

  • The majority of your time together is dedicated to arguments
  • Much of your time together involves making up after arguments
  • You don’t have time for yourself
  • You feel possessive about your partner’s time
  • You can’t remember when you last spent time with friends
  • You are made to feel guiltyabout normal things
  • You’re feeling belittled
  • There’s a feeling you have to stalk social media to find information about your partner

What are the signs of a toxic marriage?

Toxic relationships exist when two partners regularly engage in behaviors that are emotionally or physically harmful to one another. In a marriage, sometimes things that seem normal and excusable could be signs of toxicity. If you’re noticing a pattern of contempt (sarcastic comments, eye rolling), extreme fighting, secrets, or silence and a lack of communication, it could be a sign of a toxic marriage. The best way to move forward in a marriage that’s toxic is to identify the situation and seek help in in-person or online marriage counseling early on.

Tips for When You’re in an Unhealthy Relationship

You might be wondering, how can I walk away from a relationship that’s unhealthy? You can start by seeking support. Reach out to someone you trust, who understands what you’re going through and what your intentions might be moving forward. Whether it be a friend, family member, co-worker, or neighbor, identify your support system. If you are in immediate danger, please use emergency services like 911 or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

If you’re not in immediate danger, create a plan, with input from your support system, about how to leave this relationship. Whether it’s new living arrangements, or removing this person from your life via social media, create a plan of action. Next, follow through with the plan you’ve identified, utilizing the support system you’ve identified. After you’ve severed the relationship, maintain a clean break. It’s normal to want to go back or question your decision, but, you can’t gain proper perspective until you’ve had sufficient time away to judge the situation and relationship.

“Should I stay in this relationship?”

“Relationships have ups and downs, and determining whether to stick it out or make the cut is tough,” Cirbus notes. If you’re left questioning whether you want to stay in a relationship, she assures us that it’s common, and completely normal, to question whether a relationship is viable. As she explains, “Everyone wishes they had a crystal ball to see into the future. What should I do? The best place to start is with yourself. Are you mostly feeling fulfilled, cared for, understood, lifted up, encouraged? Or are you mostly upset, angry, hurt, disappointed?”

Talking to a therapist can be a great first step in sorting out confusing feelings of love. Online therapy provides an affordable and confidential way to seek help from the palm of your hand. If you’re ready to seek help, you can get matched with a Talkspace therapist today.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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