No other word in the dictionary seems to hold as much weight or feel as familiar to as us love. Love is an instinctive emotion all of us feel, but none of us can quite fully understand. Because in spite of how universal and significant love is to all of us, none of us are ever taught how to love or what love means. We simply navigate our friendships and romantic relationships with the hope that we’ll figure it out as we go along.
And sometimes, we do. Sometimes, it comes easy for us. But of course, as flawed as we human beings are, other times we may end up hurting the ones we love without meaning to, and letting them do the same to us in return. Love is a complicated emotion. At times, it may drive us to engage in unhealthy behaviors and fall into dysfunctional patterns with our partners, friends, and family members. Even the truest kind of love can turn toxic if we’re not careful.
With that in mind, here are 6 key differences that can help us distinguish healthy and unhealthy love:
1. Intensity vs. Stability
Being in a relationship can feel very intense and exhilarating when it first starts out. It’s not uncommon for many of us to want to spend so much time together with that new special someone in our lives, because every time we do, we feel an intensity of affection and a rush of emotions that accompany us when we’re with them. In a healthy relationship, these feelings will shift into fondness and deeper affection for our partners. We’ll feel calmer and more relaxed around them.
However, with unhealthy love, the relationship doesn’t evolve as it should. Everything seems to be moving too fast; your partner always wants you to be around; you rarely spend any time apart; they text and call you almost 24/7 and get upset when you don’t do the same. That same intensity is still there, but now, it’s making you uneasy instead of excited.
2. Isolation vs. Independence
When your partner always asks you to go out with them and make plans together with you, it can seem thoughtful and romantic at first. However, as time goes on, you may start to want a bit of space and spend some time apart – that’s perfectly normal. Healthy love involves a sense of independence; it means that you stay connected to the other people in your life who are important to you and keep doing other things that you enjoy.
Meanwhile, unhealthy love involves a sense of isolation; it means alienating you from your loved ones and making your partner your number one priority. They’ll ask you things like, “Why are you spending so much time with them?” or “Do you prefer them over me? Are they more important to you than I am?” because they want to be your only source of happiness. But that’s not love.
3. Concern vs. Jealousy
Although we might not want to admit it, jealousy is a normal part of any relationship. It’s okay to feel insecure and want assurance from your partner from time to time, but you should never let your jealousy get out of hand. Healthy love is all about voicing your concerns and listening to what the other person has to say. It means setting boundaries that the two of you feel comfortable with and having trust in one another.
Unhealthy love is all about wild and irrational jealousy, the kind that can never be reassured or reasoned with. Your partner may become possessive of you and start invading your privacy. They’ll read your messages and forbid you from seeing certain people. They need to know where you are and who you’re with all the time, and frequently accuse you of flirting with someone else or cheating on them when you’re not.
4. Teasing vs. Belittling
Once you and your partner become more comfortable with one another, you might start teasing and poking fun at each other in a light-hearted way. That’s a sign of healthy love: that you know someone well enough to make fun of them in a way that doesn’t hurt their feelings.
Unhealthy love, on the other hand, goes too far with this and turns playful fun into belittling and insulting. Your partner may share your embarrassing secrets for other people to laugh at your expense, or cross a line and make fun of you for something they know will hurt you. What’s worse is that they probably won’t apologize for it, and instead, make it seem like you’re the one in the wrong by being too sensitive and overreacting.
5. Generosity vs. Manipulation
Unhealthy love is selfish, while healthy love is selfless. Unhealthy love gives, not out of generosity, but with expectations of something in return. This means that your partner may try to take advantage of the love that you have for them and use it to get what they want. They seek to manipulate you in little ways, by exchanging favors and making bargains with you.
When you love someone in a healthy way, you love them unconditionally. You are generous with your time, your energy, your money, and whatever else it may be that they need from you, because you care about them and want to see them be happy. Healthy love means giving freely and not being caught up in matters of reward or return.
6. Honesty vs. Volatility
Finally, but perhaps more importantly, healthy love is honest but not manipulative. It means being open with your partner about the way the you feel, what you want, and what you think. If you’re fighting and they’ve hurt your feelings, you share it with them, not so they feel bad, but so they can better understand your point of view. There’s no ulterior motive or hidden agenda behind your honesty; just open communication.
In unhealthy love, the honesty you share is volatile. It means tearful fights of screaming horrible things at each other and then begging your partner to come back because you completely fall apart without them. Your relationship is an emotional rollercoaster with no sense of safety or security.
When you love someone, it can be hard to accept the harsh realities surrounding them and your relationship with them. We all struggle to be good sometimes, so we find it difficult to fault others for doing the same. We wrongly believe that in love our imperfections don’t matter, but this a dangerous idea to entertain, because it makes us more vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment.
Everyone deserves to be treated with decency, courtesy, kindness, and care. Knowing the differences between what’s healthy and unhealthy in love can help you better understand your relationships and assess whether or not they’re good for you. Healthy love is all about open communication, mutual respect, mutual trust, and compatible values. If your relationship doesn’t have any of these, then it’s fair to say that it’s a love that’s not meant to last.