April 27, 2023 By Leah Malone

How Do I Know if My Relationship Is Unhealthy?


In addiction recovery, you will be tasked with evaluating your interpersonal relationships. This includes romantic relationships as well as the relationships you have with family, friends, and other loved ones. The quality of your interpersonal relationships likely played a role in the development of your substance abuse or mental health disorder. Likewise, the relationships you decide to continue in recovery will play a critical role in your ability to achieve and sustain long-term sobriety.

Evaluating your relationships is not always as simple as cutting ties with loved ones who are continuing to use alcohol and other drugs. Oftentimes, the relationships that are most likely to jeopardize our recovery are the ones that appear healthy on the surface. On a deeper level, however, these relationships impair our sense of self, leading to self-destructive behaviors.

For these reasons and more, it is imperative to become familiar with the qualities of both healthy and unhealthy relationships. To achieve long-lasting healing, you must address all of the relationships in your life to ensure that they are healthy and supportive of your sobriety.

Defining Unhealthy Relationships

Before evaluating your relationships, you must understand what makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy. If you grew up without learning how to identify an unhealthy or toxic relationship, unfortunately, you are not alone. Furthermore, you may have been raised by an inadequate or toxic parent or caregiver, tainting your understanding of what a healthy and nurturing relationship should look like. Fortunately, there are a plethora of online resources that shed light on the characteristics and qualities of unhealthy relationships.

Characteristics of an Unhealthy Relationship

For example, Youth.gov explains that “Unhealthy relationships are marked by characteristics such as disrespect and control.” Some of the characteristics of unhealthy relationships that this website lists include:

  • Hostility
  • Dishonesty
  • Disrespect
  • Dependence
  • Intimidation
  • Physical violence
  • Sexual violence

Additionally, a publication by the Office of Population Affairs highlights how unhealthy relationships are often marked by a power imbalance. Important examples of this include a lack of mutual consent as well as a lack of mutual trust, compromise, and honesty. Further, the publication explains that individuals in unhealthy relationships often experience communication difficulties as well as issues with anger management.

In summary, a relationship may be unhealthy if you feel unsupported, invalidated, or inferior. It is essential to recognize that all relationships contain conflict and disagreements from time to time. The frequency of conflict does not determine whether a relationship is unhealthy. Rather, the healthiness of a relationship is determined by each partner’s willingness to understand each other amidst conflict and to grow together in response to it.

Defining a Healthy Relationship

Respect is the foundation of all healthy relationships. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion explains, “In healthy relationships, both partners take responsibility for their actions and work together to sort out problems.”

Characteristics of Healthy Relationships

Youth.gov also sheds light on various characteristics of healthy relationships, which include the following:

  • Mutual respect
  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Compromise
  • Individuality
  • Good communication
  • Anger control
  • Fighting fair
  • Problem-solving
  • Understanding
  • Self-confidence
  • Being a good role model
  • Healthy sexual relating

Knowing these characteristics, you may feel more confident in your ability to identify healthy relationships in your life. Oftentimes, these are easier to identify than unhealthy relationships. Further, you may start to recognize your healthy relationships and feel compelled to practice gratitude. Fortunately, you can utilize this opportunity to reach out and thank the people who have helped you become the person you are today.

Evaluating Your Relationships

There is a fine line that separates healthy relationships from unhealthy relationships. However, when it comes to evaluating your interpersonal relationships, you may find that several of your relationships are stationed right on that line.

If you are in a friendship or romantic relationship and are wondering if it is healthy or supportive for your sobriety, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this person willing to see my perspective on topics we don’t agree about?
  • Does this relationship bring deeper meaning and purpose to my life?
  • Is this person actively working to better themselves in their own life?
  • Does this relationship encourage me to become my best self?
  • Is this person supportive of my decision to pursue lifelong sobriety?
  • Does this relationship promote balanced efforts of give-and-take?

These are some vital questions to consider when evaluating your relationships. To sustain your sobriety, you must surround yourself with people who are actively seeking growth and healing (even if that looks different from your journey). They must also honor your values and support your sobriety. If you are on the fence about a particular relationship in your life, you may want to consider having an open conversation with the person about whether or not the relationship will be mutually beneficial moving forward.

Repairing Relationships

In recovery, you will likely need to revisit past relationships that may have been affected or damaged by your substance abuse. It is essential to understand that treatment will help you best navigate feelings of shame, guilt, and other feelings you may have in response to a broken relationship. Additionally, your therapist or recovery coach can help you develop interpersonal skills that can assist you as you attempt to repair relationships.

According to Head Start: Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (ECLKC), some suggestions for repairing relationships include:

  • Apologizing
  • Making amends when you make mistakes
  • Returning to a sensitive topic (after some time) with compassion, empathy, and understanding

Additionally, you can also repair relationships by:

  • Educating yourself on sensitive topics
  • Improving your conflict-resolution skills
  • Acknowledging the differences between you
  • Improving your communication skills
  • Learning how to better compromise

In recovery, you must evaluate the quality of your interpersonal relationships as these relationships will provide the support and empowerment you need to sustain lasting sobriety. Unhealthy relationships are characterized by power imbalances. Healthy relationships are characterized by respect. As you evaluate your relationships, you may also find areas that require amends and apologies. Use this as an opportunity to repair relationships that will benefit your recovery. At Grace Recovery, we understand the value that healthy relationships can have on lasting sobriety and recovery. We offer a number of resources – including transitional living and recovery coaching – to assist you as you establish abstinence and healing. To learn more, call us at (737) 237-9663.

About Author

Leah Malone

Learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings can be painful and disturbing at times. When Leah was able to see her behavior patterns and decided there was enough pain to be disturbed, she became motivated to make changes and accept the work that needed to be done to heal. She needed direction and had no clue how to heal on her own. Through a connection with God, authentic connection with others, honesty, willingness, and humility, Leah is now in recovery from addiction and trauma.

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