Sometime before or after my first husband and I married, he broke our dining room table.
It was a square wood table big enough for four chairs that he, during one of our many fights, lifted and then slammed back down. Two of the legs snapped. He later fixed it, but it never sat right again. That wasn’t the first or the last thing he broke and then repaired.
That also wasn’t the first or the last time I pretended things weren’t that bad because “he isn’t hitting me.”
It took me six years after we’d said “I do” before I finally accepted that our relationship was unhealthy and couldn’t become healthy on my effort alone. Today, I can’t imagine the level of willful blindness that must have accompanied me every time I ate a meal at that wobbly dining room table, in that home of repaired things.
After a lot of therapy, I know now that for any relationship to be healthy, it must have three important traits. If it’s lacking in any of these, it’s unhealthy.
After I found drugs in my ex-husband’s vehicle, he shared his location with me on his phone and then gave me unfettered access to his text messages, social media accounts, and e-mails.
I didn’t suddenly regain my trust through complete access to my partner’s life. I’d still find myself obsessively refreshing his GPS location or combing his e-mails and social media inboxes for messages from drug dealers. I once spent an angry night tearing through every single item of clothing in his closet and upturning everything in his nightstand.
You either trust your partner, or you don’t. If you do, you respect their privacy. If you don’t, you either need to decide to do so or leave.
I didn’t understand what respect could look like in a relationship until I started dating the man who is my current husband.
He continually speaks kindly to me and about me. Even when he’s furious with me, he’s never called me names or insulted me. He always asks for and values my input while honoring my boundaries and making our relationship a space safe to discuss things openly and honestly.
Respect is fighting fairly and treating each other with the same level of common courtesy you’d offer a clerk in a gas station. If you treat strangers better than your own partner, there’s something wrong with your priorities.
My ex-husband said things to me that registered more in my body than in my mind. It could be a certain tone or a muttered curse, and my body would crumple in on itself like I’d been punched. If we truly love someone, we don’t say or do things like that to them.
Love doesn’t regularly resort to name-calling or insults during arguments.Love isn’t continuously neglectful, condescending, vengeful, or abusive (mentally, physically, emotionally, etc.). Every relationship goes through its tough times, but your times with your partner shouldn’t be bad overall. Without love, what do you have anyway?
It’s easy to get confused as to what a healthy or unhealthy relationship can look like. Abuse, gaslighting, addiction, denial, dysfunction in previous relationships etc. can blind us to reality.
But think of it this way: a three-legged stool cannot stand without each of its legs. A healthy relationship cannot be healthy if it’s missing one of those three core traits.
If you find yourself recognizing that your own relationship is missing one or more of these traits, it might be time to assess your part in the situation. Are you trusting, respecting, and loving your partner? Are there ways you could do better?
You might also need certain things from your partner that may involve you expressing yourself more honestly or setting and keeping boundaries.Couples therapy is also a great place to get help and structure on moving forward.
Don’t forget that everyone — including you and me — deserves happy and healthy relationships.