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Healthy vs. Unhealthy Characteristics

During interviews I’m usually asked to talk about the warning signs I saw early in the relationship with my high school boyfriend. 

Looking back, the first warning sign occurred a few weeks after Brock and I started dating. One night he called and told me something. The next day I learned it was a lie. I was hurt and confused, but when I asked him about it, he told me, “It was just a joke”. He even laughed at me for being gullible. It didn’t feel like a joke, and I was embarrassed for believing his “joke”. But it didn’t seem serious enough to break up over. So, I stayed in the relationship.

Soon Brock started making fun of my family, my friends, and then me. For example, he told me I wasn’t very smart. When I pointed out I was taking harder classes in school, he told me that was book smart, that I didn’t have any common sense, and wouldn’t make it in the real world. When I spoke up other times, he’d tell me he was joking or couldn’t I take a joke. Although I spoke back, it damaged my self esteem and confidence.

While lying and put-downs aren’t signs of an abusive relationship it’s important to note that they are signs of an unhealthy relationship. When Brock lied or put me down, he wasn’t being respectful, kind, or considerate. Instead, he was being mean, insensitive, and hurtful.

Wow. I had never looked at it that way. It was such a stark comparison and one I wish I had seen as a teen. Instead, I debated if the lie was something worth breaking up over (it was) and to no longer have a boyfriend (it was). When Brock said derogatory things, I tried to stand up for myself, family, and friends but I didn’t think about leaving the relationship.

Why does anyone stay in a relationship with harmful traits?

Most unhealthy relationships aren’t usually all bad. Often, the person can be nice, kind, or fun. When a hurtful remark is made it can be confusing.

We’re also de-sensitized to some of these behaviors.

  • Walk down any junior or high school hallway and you’re likely to hear someone putting down another person. 

  • Turn on a TV show or a movie and you’re likely to see and hear sarcasm disguised as humor.

I’m sure you can think of other examples where you’ve witnessed sarcasm or unkind comments. For teens, just beginning to date, it can be hard to discern that these are signs of an unhealthy relationship.

How to help

We can help them by talking about healthy and unhealthy traits, helping them think through what’s important to them in a relationship, and if one isn’t right, deciding to leave the relationship and how to do so.


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