When Is a Relationship Unhealthy?

I’ve been asked to define an unhealthy relationship. There are many reasons one can become uncomfortable in a relationship, often because of their own projections. So how do you know when it is time to insist on change or to leave?

An unhealthy relationship is one where the overriding reason you maintain its form is fear. Relationships are complex and you may stay in a situation for many reasons, but the fear is “overriding” when if you took away the fear you would insist on change or leave. I said maintain its “form” because sometimes we don’t want the relationship to completely end, but to change. For example, you don’t want to stop being a parent to your adult child, but you do want him to get a job and move into his own place. It’s unhealthy if he is using emotional blackmail to make you support him and you give in to this. Fear in the form of guilt is the overriding reason you maintain the form of this relationship.

The other reason I said “form” is because all relationships are really one. They are all relationships with your self. In them you either see yourself as separate from God (fear) or One with God (love).

There are many fears that can make you stay in an unhealthy relationship:

Fear of physical retaliation
Fear of consequences to the other (you are being emotionally blackmailed)
Fear of emotional consequences to others (children in a divorce)
Fear of economic consequences
Fear of the disapproval of others
Fear of the disapproval of God
Fear that you cannot live without the other or without the role you play in the relationship
Fear that there is no better life to go to
Fear of change

When students present me with their fear of leaving an unhealthy relationship it usually falls into one of two situations: They feel they cannot live without a certain person or they are caving in to emotional blackmail. Both of these situations come from the belief that separation from God is real. In the first case, you may feel you need the person or you may feel you need the role you play with them (victim; parent; protector; care-taker; etc.) to be whole. You do not remember you are Part of God, eternally whole and complete. In the latter case you do not remember others are a projection of your mind and that to know you are Part of God you must see that they are, too.

Perhaps you cannot accept yet that what you see in others is a projection of your own mind. You may argue that you stay not because you don’t know they are Part of God but that they don’t know it and that they believe abandonment is possible. But to maintain the unhealthy relationship, then, reinforces in both your minds that separation from God is possible. Is this what you want to teach and learn? Take comfort in knowing that both of you will learn that abandonment is an illusion when you leave or insist on change and neither one of you is destroyed except by your own choice.

Your relationship to others is your relationship to God. You see in your relationships what you believe about yourself. If you have a fear-based (separate from God) idea of yourself your relationships will be unhealthy. If you remember that you – and everyone else – are always safe in God, your relationships will be loving and whole.

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Anonymous said…
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Leslie Lim said…

This is really an interesting topic. Congratulations to the writer. I'm sure a lot of readers having fun reading your post. Hoping to read more post from you in the future. Thank you and God bless!

Anonymous said…
Ok, so I've established that I'm in a special relationship because I'm afraid I can't support myself financially. At this point I can see no way out and feel extremely angry with myself and my partner who has no idea that I am repulsed by them. I do not want any physical intimacy and our conversations are repetitive, boring and quite meaningless. I do not want to change anything, I simply want to pack my bags and leave. When I think of being elsewhere on my own I am at Peace. As soon as I look at my partner I feel furious with rage to the point where I a bundle of tears in my private moments. I don't know what to do. I'm stuck. And it makes me feel imprisoned. I feel my wings have been clipped and I can no longer fly. It's deeply depressing. What would you suggest I do in this case? I truly need some guidance from you because I'm having a real hard time hearing The Holy Spirit right now because I'm feeling so angry, hurt and scared.
ACIM Mentor said…
Anonymous, first recognize that you are not powerless. You have chosen to stay in this relationship for financial reasons. So whenever you feel helpless or powerless bring yourself back to, "I am at choice here. This is why I make this choice." This will help you to feel empowered.

People leave painful situations when the pain of staying outweighs the pain of leaving. You have not yet found the pain of staying more painful than the pain of leaving. It may be a close thing, but so far you find it less painful to stay. If it ever becomes more painful to stay you will leave. Until then, accept your choice as your choice.
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