Relationships are defined as the state of being connected. They also make up a considerable part of our daily lives. For those who grew up in families with a lot of conflict or dysfunction, experiencing a healthy relationship for the first time can feel strange. If you are a survivor of trauma, this area of your life might be particularly stressful. You might find yourself managing difficult relationships, perhaps feeling you often give without receiving much in return. You may also struggle to communicate your needs or feel as if your partner is not receptive to your communication style. Research suggests that individuals in unbalanced relationships have lower levels of relationship satisfaction and experience conflict and physical aggression at higher rates as compared to more balanced relationships (Stanley et al., 2017).
Some signs you might be in an unbalanced relationship:
- You feel like you put more into the relationship than what you get back
- You often make sacrifices for your partner that they would not make for you
- Your partner frequently lets you down or breaks promises
- You feel reluctant to ask for anything
- You prioritize your partner’s needs and preferences over your own
- You feel like you have to take care of or fix your partner
- You frequently feel frustrated, resentful, and unappreciated
How to establish a more balanced relationship:
- Identify your needs, whether that be emotional or physical needs within the relationship. By recognizing your needs it allows you to understand what is lacking in the relationship to be able to communicate this to your partner. For example, if you notice yourself often feeling alone, perhaps you require more quality time with your partner.
- Prioritize meeting your own needs and treating yourself with the same love and compassion you give to others. You might be the type of person who is quick to help others fix their problems. In turn, you may be neglecting your own responsibilities or needs, leaving you feeling overwhelmed or stressed. It may feel uncomfortable at first having to put your needs first but over time, you will have more energy and motivation to give to others when your own bucket is being filled consistently.
- Set clear boundaries so that you and your partner know what to expect. Boundaries reflect the respect you have for yourselves and others. An example of this can sound like “If the topic of politics comes up, I am going to have to remove myself from the conversation.”
- Make your needs known by speaking up and asking your partner for what you need or want. Oftentimes it is assumed your partner should know what you need, however that may not always be the case. It is important to focus on positive action, being direct about what you are requesting and avoiding comments such as, “Don’t do this.” Instead, phrase your request in concrete actions so your partner knows exactly what you are requesting. For example, “I need us to spend more quality time together” or “I need you to ask me about my day more often.”
- Explore other options if you feel you have been consistently let down. If you notice yourself repeatedly asking for support, help, or attention and they are unwilling to offer that, you may want to think about alternative options. Consider accepting your partner as they are, recognizing you will likely be left feeling unsupported or perhaps deciding to leave the relationship altogether. Options should be reviewed to guide you towards a more fulfilling, meaningful life.
Now that you have assessed whether you might be in an unbalanced relationship, you might wonder what are some other considerations to look out for that comprise a healthy relationship. In a study that looked at participants’ responses to the question “How would you define a healthy relationship?” The most common descriptors that were given include; effective communication, respect, trust, honesty, openness, and support. Another frequent characteristic noted was a sense of give and take or mutuality (Murray et al., 2021). The authors also theorize that safety is considered a precursor to establishing healthy relationships.
You may find that you have done all the steps to improve balance within the relationship however, when attempting to communicate these concerns to your partner, you feel stuck in a dysfunctional communication cycle. Communication styles are the way in which we share information through language. At times, you may feel you are communicating clearly with someone, but if they have a different communication style our message may not be received as intended.
The four main styles of communication include passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive communication. Learning how to identify and understand communication styles will help with improving relationship satisfaction while also empowering yourself to receive the respect you deserve within a relationship.
- Passive communication styles consist of a lack of expressing your feelings or needs, perhaps ignoring them and allowing others to do so as well. You may notice you struggle making decisions to avoid tension or conflict. This tends to feel like a safer communication style when trying to avoid escalation or even violence during conflict. However, this style of communication often results in misunderstandings, built-up tension, anger or even resentment. Someone with passive communication may make statements such as, “I’m fine with whatever you want to do.”
- Aggressive communication styles occur when you express your feelings, needs, and thoughts at the expense of others. During conflict or confrontation, you may find someone becoming hostile or defensive using this style of communication. In turn, those who communicate with someone using aggressive communication will likely feel alienated or hurt as it can come across as not being considerate of others to prioritize your own needs. While the short term gain may feel empowering, over time this style of communication may lead to further isolation and conflict. Someone with aggressive communication may make statements such as, “this is what we’re doing” or “get over it.”
- Passive-aggressive communication can appear passive on the surface however, tends to subtly elicit feelings and actions out of anger. This can look like attempting to exert control over others through sarcasm, indirect communication, or avoiding conversations altogether. The message received by others is a lack of consideration for the needs and feelings of others. An example of this communication style would be giving someone the “silent treatment,” spreading rumors or even sabotaging another person’s efforts for your own gain.
- Assertive communication consists of the direct, honest communication of thoughts and feelings and is a helpful communication style when establishing mutual respect within a relationship. Considering the thoughts, feelings, and needs of another person while also asserting your own needs can facilitate a safe space to engage in meaningful conversation. There are situations where this may not be effective, especially when communicating with someone who threatens your personal safety or is unwilling to acknowledge their role within the dynamic. Nonetheless, assertive communication is the most likely style to lead to respectful, meaningful, and lasting relationships. Assertive communication incorporates “I feel” statements such as, “I feel ____ when you____ and I need you to do ____”. To learn more about “I feel” statements and how to use them click here.
Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., Scott, S. B., Kelmer, G., Markman, H. J., & Fincham, F. D. (2017). Asymmetrically committed relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 34(8), 1241-1259.
Murray, C. E., Ross, R., & Cannon, J. (2021). The Happy, Healthy, Safe Relationships Continuum: Conceptualizing a Spectrum of Relationship Quality to Guide Community-Based Healthy Relationship Promotion Programming. The Family Journal, 29(1), 50–59. https://doi.org/10.1177/1066480720960416