No relationship is perfect. Disagreements, fights and rough patches can occur with anyone, be it family members, friends, partners, neighbours or colleagues. However, these concerns may also lead to greater grievances and leave us feeling drained, insecure or unhappy.
Before you decide whether to work on making amends or cut off contacts, it can be helpful to learn more about what makes for a difficult relationship.
What are the signs of difficult relationships?
According to Lyn Worsley, clinical psychologist and director of the Resilience Centre, power imbalance and the resulting dysfunctional communication pattern are some of the major indicators of a difficult relationship.
“There are times when a relationship allows control over the other,” Worsley told Over60. “Often both people are unaware of this pattern, which may have evolved over time.”
Some of the signs people can spot in this kind of relationship include passive aggressive and manipulative behaviours, said Mary Bonich, principal psychologist at The Feel Good Clinic. These behaviours can manifest in many different ways – for example, constantly bringing up past grievances, making threats to end the relationship during disagreements, or controlling where the other person goes or who they see.
“Relationships rely on open and honest communication to grow and evolve,” said Bonich.
“A [person] who is uncomfortable or unwilling to be open and honest … often uses passive aggressive behaviour to shut down communication or opportunities to resolve disputes.
“It fosters a relationship of mistrust and blame, and often leaves one feeling nervous and anxious about every decision they make.”
What you can do to improve the relationship
Worsley and Bonich agree that building on healthy communication is key.
“Avoid communication pitfalls such as being critical, judgemental, condescending, defensive or stonewalling as these are toxic communication styles. Instead we want to practice sharing our feelings and taking responsibility, even if it means we are uncomfortable doing so.”
It is important to remember the common ground we have with the other person. “If we keep in mind that the goal is to care and connect with others, we can find ourselves more willing to adjust, adapt and even let things go,” Worsley said.
However, self-work should not be forgotten, Bonich said. “Both need to work on themselves in order to grow the relationship. We can’t ‘fix’ the other person, nor can we blame everything on the other person,” she said.
How to know when you should leave the relationship
Bonich said while we cannot expect every single interaction to be positive or nurturing, it can be helpful to reflect on the big picture.
“If after every interaction with your partner you are left feeling smaller, less confident or more insecure than you were prior to that encounter, then this is a bad sign,” Bonich said.
“We need to look at all interactions on balance to see whether this relationship is building you up, or slowly destroying you.”
Worsley said anyone in a relationship with “clearly abusive pattern” should exit immediately.
In many cases, the less powerful party could feel discouraged to leave the relationship. “The person with the power, has the power and often the other doesn’t feel they can leave the relationship or that they are not good enough,” Worsley said.
Worsley noted that many people in this situation may feel guilt over leaving the relationship. “If the goal is to care and connect [with the other person], then leaving is often a way of caring for your partner and [helping] stop an unhealthy pattern of behaviour,” she said.
Prolonged toxic relationship may undermine a person’s mental health and wellbeing and undermine their sense of self-worth and independence, ReachOut reported.
She urged anyone experiencing verbal, sexual, emotional or physical abuse to seek professional help as they leave the relationship. “Leaving to get help is important because many people leave and find another partner to repeat the behaviour with,” she said. “Seeing a counsellor who can help you understand the abusive and controlling behaviour can help you to find new ways of relating.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing violence or abuse, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
This article originally appeared on Over60.