If you ask me, isolation is one of the most frequently missed and misunderstood signs of unhealthy love.
Because every new relationship starts out with this intense desire to spend time together, it’s easy to miss when something shifts. Isolation creeps in when your new boyfriend or girlfriend starts pulling you away from your friends and family, your support system, and tethering you more tightly to them.
They might say things like, “Why do you hang out with them? They’re such losers” about your best friends, or, “They want us to break up. They’re totally against us” about your family.
Isolation is about sowing seeds of doubt about everyone from your prerelationship life. Healthy love includes independence, two people who love spending time together but who stay connected to the people and activities they cared about before.
While at first you might spend every waking minute together, over time maintaining independence is key. You do this by making plans with friends and sticking to them and encouraging your partner to do the same.
A third marker of unhealthy love is extreme jealousy.
Blue 2: What are you so happy about?
Blue 1: She just started following me on Instagram!
Blue 2: What are you so nervous about?
Blue 1: She, she just started following me, like, everywhere.
As the honeymoon period begins to fade, extreme jealousy can creep in. Your partner might become more demanding, needing to know where you are and who you’re with all the time, or they might start following you everywhere, online and off.
Extreme jealousy also brings with it possessiveness and mistrust, frequent accusations of flirting with other people or cheating, and refusal to listen to you when you tell them they have nothing to worry about and that you only love them.
Jealousy is a part of any human relationship, but extreme jealousy is different. There’s a threatening, desperate and angry edge to it. Love shouldn’t feel like this.
A fourth marker is belittling.
Blue: Wanna hang out?
Orange: I gotta study.
Blue: You’ll get an A anyway, A for amazing. (#thatslove)
Blue: Wanna hang out?
Orange: I gotta study.
Blue: You’ll get an F anyway,
F for, F for… stupid. (#thatsnotlove)
Yeah, hmm. In unhealthy love, words are used as weapons. Conversations that used to be fun and lighthearted turn mean and embarrassing. Maybe your partner makes fun of you in a way that hurts, or maybe they tell stories and jokes for laughs at your expense.
When you try to explain that your feelings have been hurt, they shut you down and accuse you of overreacting. “Why are you so sensitive? What’s your problem? Give me a break.” You are silenced by these words.
It seems pretty obvious, but your partner should have your back. Their words should build you up, not break you down. They should keep your secrets and be loyal. They should make you feel more confident, not less.
Finally, a fifth marker: volatility.
Orange 1: I’d be sad if we broke up.
Orange 2: I’d be sad too. (#thatslove)
Orange 1: I’d so depressed if we ever broke up. I’d throw myself off this step. I would! Don’t try to stop me!
Frequent breakups and makeups, high highs and low lows: as tension rises, so does volatility. Tearful, frustrated fights followed by emotional makeups, hateful and hurtful comments like, “You’re worthless, I’m not even sure why I’m with you!” followed quickly by apologies and promises it will never happen again.
By this point, you’ve been so conditioned to this relationship roller coaster that you may not realize how unhealthy and maybe even dangerous your relationship has become. It can be really hard to see when unhealthy love turns towards abuse, but it’s fair to say that the more of these markers your relationship might have, the more unhealthy and maybe dangerous your relationship could be.
And if your instinct is to break up and leave, which is advice so many of us give our friends when they’re in unhealthy relationships, that’s not always the best advice.
Time of breakup can be a real trigger for violence. If you fear you might be headed towards abuse or in abuse, you need to consult with experts to get the advice on how to leave safely.
But it’s not just about romantic relationships and it’s not just about violence. Understanding the signs of unhealthy love can help you audit and understand nearly every relationship in your life.
For the first time, you might understand why you’re disappointed in a friendship or why every interaction with a certain family member leaves you discouraged and anxious. You might even begin to see how your own intensity and jealousy is causing problems with colleagues at work.
Understanding is the first step to improving, and while you can’t make every unhealthy relationship healthy — some you’re going to have to leave behind — you can do your part every day to do relationships better.
And here’s the exciting news: it’s actually not rocket science. Open communication, mutual respect, kindness, patience — we can practice these things every day.