How to Recognize Unhealthy Love
From the day you’re born you create bonds. The most important one is probably the bond of love. However, who teaches you how to love? What learning tools and resources do you have to help? Furthermore, if it’s really so important, why aren’t there any lessons available on the differences between a healthy and unhealthy love.
There’s a simple answer. It’s because you don’t tend to realize that you actually have to learn to love. Indeed, it’s a process you’ve long assimilated into your behavioral repertoire. You don’t think about it because you’ve no memory of a time when you didn’t love anyone.
Your first hug comes before your first word. Way before you start school you learn how to miss others in your life. In fact, from the moment you’re born you you’re totally dependent upon the love of others to survive.
Just as you don’t take into account that you need to learn how to love in a healthy way, you don’t usually question your own way of showing love. In addition, while you’re probably quite good at spotting signs of unhealthy love in others, you don’t tend to notice these signs in your own patterns of behavior.
To a certain extent, this is because, in your brain, loving means to protect, to care for, to look after. All positive verbs, and significant, in principle, of healthy love. Verbs that are the complete opposite of to harm, or to hurt, or to mistreat.
Therefore, when you see someone abusing or manipulating another, you automatically tend to assume they don’t love them. However, in reality, the opposite may be true.
As a matter of fact, statistics suggest that we all behave badly towards those we love. Sometimes, we try to overpower or dominate them. We might use extremely unethical methods and we don’t treat them as our equals. In fact, we often love in an extremely unhealthy way. Furthermore, there are some people who’ve learned extremely damaging relationship patterns from childhood.
In this article, we talk about the main signs of an unhealthy kind of love. We’ll talk about it in relation to couples. However, it’s worth remembering that the same principles can apply to any emotional relationship between two people.
In the early stages of a relationship, intensity levels are usually high. You wonder what your partner’s doing. You wonder if things will work out. You make plans to spend as much time together as you possibly can. Katie Hood, CEO of the One Love Foundation states that it’s not so important how a relationship starts, but how it continues.
Anyway, even if your relationship is intense in the early days, you should still take a moment to consider how you’re feeling. Ask yourself if your new partner, who wants to be with you all the time, also allows you time to breathe? Work out whether their desire to know everything about you is simply to get to know you better or could there be a controlling element to their behavior?
Shared intensity at the beginning of a relationship can sometimes disguise a negative kind of love. On the other hand, a healthy kind of love right from the start tends to ultimately lead to a more stable relationship.
Unhealthy love often means a partner will try, from the onset of the relationship, to move their partner away from their environment instead of trying to integrate into it themselves. Furthermore, they tend to criticize their partner’s friends and family. In fact, their aim is to cause a split or a break-up.
These people will make a list of complaints and recite it to their partners. Their aim is confrontation and, ultimately to separate their partner from their friends and family. For example, they might say “I told you your brother was selfish” or “I told you your friend was taking advantage of you”.
This type of behavior is extremely common in people who want to take control of their partner. However, you’ll probably find that these are ways of talking that you’ve used yourself at some point.
For this reason, you should remember that we can all improve and we’re all guilty sometimes of behaving selfishly with our partners. In fact, this kind of behavior is often instinctive. You simply do it without really thinking.
The need for control
As a rule, the more control you feel you have over your environment, the better you feel. When you carry out a certain behavior and see that it has some kind of influence on the other person, this acts as a positive reinforcement for you.
When you love unhealthily, this need transcends the boundaries between what’s healthy and what isn’t.
The problem usually starts with a mix-up. You view your partner as an extension of yourself. You also tend to place yourself in a superior position to them. It’s like being the army general in the control tower giving orders “You have to do what I say”, “You’re always wrong, just listen to me”.
Jealousy is born out of the misconception that your partner belongs to you. However, they’re not a possession. You don’t own them. Nevertheless, you might not take this into account and you treat them like they were a car or a house. Then, when you think you’re in danger of losing them you might say “You just don’t love me anymore”.
Extreme jealousy is far removed from a healthy kind of love. It manifests itself with mistrust. A conversation might take place along these lines:
“Why have you been so long?”
“The meeting dragged on for ages”.
That “yeah…sure” is another way of saying “I don’t believe you”. In fact, it’s a cowardly way of saying “I didn’t like it that you were late”. It means, in effect, “If you’re late again you’d better have a good reason”.
Loving in an unhealthy way often involves a process of misjudgment. For instance, you might see your partner as a liar, someone why pays you no attention and doesn’t care about how you feel.
You’ve probably had the feeling at some time or another, that your partner could be reaching for the impossible. Consequently, you want to spare them any unnecessary suffering. However, you must avoid the temptation to act impulsively and say something like “What are you trying so hard for? You and I both know you’ll never do it”.
As a matter of fact, your partner may well have certain abilities you don’t even know about. Or, perhaps, they possess abilities you’ve chosen to ignore. That’s because, if you did acknowledge them, you’d then have to help them in achieving their goal, and you just can’t be bothered.
Loving healthily means allowing your partner to learn and appreciate their abilities. Indeed, perhaps they can achieve their goal, they just need to change their way of going about it.
You could reduce your working hours to help them. Give up your free time after dinner a few nights a week and help them prepare for their interview. Help them revise their cv. Loving in a healthy way involves building, not destroying. Loving well combines sincerity with a shared vision of reality in order to help each other.
There’s also another more subtle form of contempt. Treating your partner as if they’re crazy. Making a hurtful comment and accusing them of being oversensitive when they take it badly. Criticizing them in front of others with comments that should be kept private. Playing on their mistakes, ignoring the fact that mistakes happen and are completely natural.
Healthy love: putting yourself in your partner’s shoes
Healthy love starts with putting yourself in the place of your partner. Making an effort to know them rather than judge them.
It means understanding you’re able to love in a better way if you keep learning. Ensure you combine honesty with discretion and keep to yourself those opinions that, though sincere, contribute little to your relationship.
Loving healthily means allowing your partner to help you, valuing their efforts, thus improving their self-esteem. Avoid the temptation to place them in a vulnerable position making them insecure in order to gain control yourself.
On the other hand, you’ll sometimes have to deal with people who love you in an unhealthy way. In these instances, you can tell them “I know you love me really, but you’re just not doing it right”. In fact, an unhealthy love will often completely transform after one simple remark along these lines. Because it gives the other party a chance to reflect on their behavior.
Finally, there’ll be times when you find you have to move away from people who love you, but not in a healthy way. Unfortunately, there are no lessons available on having to distance yourself from the kind of people who love you but hurt you at the same time.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
Cyrulnik, B. (2020). El amor que nos cura. Editorial Gedisa.
Lucariello, E. (2012). Los tipos de amor y las dimensiones de apego en las mujeres víctimas del maltrato.