Relationships have many forms and are an important part of our lives. Relationships can have significant impact on our quality of life. Healthy relationships can enrich our lives and create endless enjoyment. However, unhealthy relationships can cause us discomfort, and sometimes even cause harm. It is important for us to learn to manage our relationships and recognise the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. When we talk about relationships, we are also talking about our friendships, what they bring or do not bring to our lives.

Healthy relationships require work and need to be maintained. There are a number of characteristics essential to a healthy relationship:

  • Mutual respect
  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Support
  • Fairness/equality
  • Separate identities
  • Good communication
  • A sense of playfulness/fondness

This applies to all relationships; work relationships, friendships, family, and romantic relationships. While in a healthy relationship you:

  • Feel you can communicate openly together
  • Maintain and respect each other’s individuality
  • Maintain relationships with friends and family
  • Enjoy shared activities
  • Also have activities apart from one another
  • Are able to express yourselves to one another without fear of consequences
  • Are able to feel secure and comfortable
  • Have the option of privacy and personal space
  • Trust each other and be honest with each other
  • Respect boundaries; sexual and otherwise
  • Resolve conflict fairly

Every relationship will have stressors but it is important to prevent prolonged stress on either member of the relationship. Unhealthy relationships will experience these stressors more frequently and they will become difficult to avoid. This tension is unhealthy for both members of the relationship and may lead to problems in other areas of your life.

While in an unhealthy relationship you mimght:

  • Put one person before the other by neglecting yourself or your partner
  • Feel pressure to change who you are for the other person
  • Feel pressure to quit activities you usually/used to enjoy
  • Pressure the other person into agreeing with you or changing to suit you better
  • Notice one of you has to justify your actions (e.g., where you go, who you see)
  • Notice one partner feels obligated to/has been forced to have sex or refuses to use safer sex methods
  • Notice arguments are not settled fairly
  • Experience yelling or physical violence during an argument
  • Attempt to control or manipulate each other
  • Do not make time to spend with one another
  • Experience a lack of fairness and equality

Emotional dependency is the state or fact of being dependent on someone for emotional support and validation. When we consistently count on others for happiness, reassurance or comfort we can forget to appreciate our own capabilities and take responsibility for our feelings. It is important to maintain your individuality when you are in a relationship. Having interests which are not shared by your partner gives you a space to be yourself, have your own group of friends, and allow you to be true to yourself. Being able to spend time without your partner is a healthy part of a stable relationship and maintaining your sense of self.

Even if you knew your relationship was in trouble, an actual break-up can be a shock. Feeling rejected, hurt and angry are common elements in a break-up. There is no quick fix solution, however there are things you can do to ease these feelings.

  • Talk to someone about how you’re feeling - This can be a friend, family member or a professional. Acknowledging your feelings will help you come to terms with the end of a relationship.
  • Try to get some space away from your ex. Removing their number from your phone or unfollowing them on social media can make a difference in how you handle the change in your relationship.
  • Try something new - Make new memories, try that course you always wanted to do, visit that place you dreamed about, explore.
  • Remind yourself you’re ok - Think about your achievements, your friends, things make you laugh, and the positive things people have said about you.

Not all relationships are romantic. We have relationships with lots of people in our lives- some positive, some potentially toxic. Toxic friendships look different to everyone but at the core is a feeling of unhappiness or dissatisfaction. Often toxic friendships are accompanied by peer pressure. Peer pressure can be direct (when someone tells you what you should/should not be doing), indirect (what one sees and hears others doing), and individual (feeling of being different/wanting to fit in). This pressure can turn a relationship toxic before we know it.

Recognising a toxic friendship

  • Your friend criticises you regularly.
  • Communication is a one way street- they do all the talking and never ask about you, your life, or your opinion.
  • You feel stressed when you are with him/her.
  • They are inconsistent in their interactions with you.
  • They lack empathy towards you.
  • They are ignorant to events in your life.
  • They break your trust.
  • They do not appreciate things you do for them.

Ending a toxic friendship

Being an individual means making decisions based on what’s best for us. However you do it, it isn’t easy getting rid of toxic friends. Because each friendship is different, ending a friendship will be different for everyone.

  • Some friendships will fade away when communication wanes. This can involve not answering texts, not returning phonecalls. Making fewer plans to meet-up or spending less time together can also lead to a fading of a friendship. This is particularly effective if you are the one who calls first or the one who arranges plans.
  • Sometimes you will need to sit down with the person and let them know that the friendship is over. This is a pretty tough option and requires a lot of courage from you. There a few things to remember if you feel this option is best for you.
  • Think about (or write down) what you are going to say.
  • Try to use ‘I’ statements to avoid the potential conflict that can come with ‘You’ statements.
  • Time it right- avoid special occasions or important events.
  • Try to choose a neutral venue rather than one of your houses.
  • If your friend is bullying you or pressuring you, you don’t owe them anything. Their behaviour is not okay, and you have the right to remove yourself from their company.

Remember that ending friendships, even toxic ones, can be tough. Set up a plan for things you can do when you’re feeling low, or other friends you can hang out with when you need some company.

Fading out a friendship can change the dynamics of a whole friendship group. Your friend could become aggressive or cruel towards you, and you might lose some of your mutual friends. Keep your other friends in the loop by saying something like: ‘This person and I aren’t friends anymore, but we don’t expect you to take sides.’

Information with thanks to, ReachOut Australia & Hall Health Centre, University of Washington

If you are at risk / suicidal please immediately contact either the crisis liaison mental health team at the University Hospital Limerick (061 301111) or your local hospital, or your GP immediately. 

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