In the early days of coal mining, the canary served as a low-tech gas detection device. The miners carried a cage into the mine with a bright yellow canary perched in it. The canary has a high sensitivity to methane and carbon monoxide gases. If the canary began to pitch and weave on his perch (and inevitably drop dead), it signalled that the poisonous gases in the mine were too high and the miners needed to get out. In some ways, I wish relationships came with such a device – a dating canary! Not that it would have to die but that the bird would give noticeable signs of danger in the face of an unhealthy or unsafe relationship.
What does an unhealthy relationship look like? The best way to determine what is healthy verses unhealthy is to compare the two. In a healthy relationship, each partner has room to grow, each person being supported and encouraged to reach their full potential. In an unhealthy relationship, one partner restricts and limits the other partner from developing, even isolating them from family and friends. This is a danger sign! The canary is starting to twitch!
A healthy relationship is based on trust and mutual openness. Each party is independent and able to function on his/her own but is linked in a complimenting fashion through inter-dependence. If one person is fiercely independent it keeps the other from bonding with them. If one party is entirely dependent they are unable to carve out their own sense of identity and worth. The only healthy scenario is interdependence. Unhealthy relationships are forged out of control and a need to hold power over the other person. Dynamics of such a relationship include insecurity, mistrust, intimidation and forced dependency. The canary is swaying on its perch.
In regard to communication, a healthy couple can discuss, negotiate and agree to disagree. They will encounter conflicts but work to resolve them, always returning to a place of mutual respect. Communication is a strong suit for them. They can talk through issues and maintain respect and love for one another. Unhealthy couples have a power struggle in this regard where one partner feels the need to control and win. He/she tends to give orders and directs the other person on how they should feel, think and behave. The other partner submits to this because of fear – fear of losing the relationship or fear of reprisal. Watch out for falling canaries!
Healthy relationships are like a mutual admiration society, where both partners encourage one another to excel and accomplish all that they can. In an unhealthy relationship, the partners are jealous, insecure and tend to be possessive and intolerant. The bottom line is they believe someone has to “win” at all times and will pursue that regardless of the cost. Where there needs to be lots of sharing, “give and take” and shared decision making, there are selfish acts, blaming, humiliation and threats. This leads to “crazy making” and head games, where manipulation is common and motives are not based on love. The canary is going into cardiac arrest!
In a healthy relationship, partners are open, upfront and genuine. They enjoy being with each other and are not insecure when apart from one another. There is mutual trust, respect and sharing. They both invest in the relationship and receive the benefits of doing so. Unhealthy partners keep secrets and have an agenda. They view the relationship as a game to win or lose. They hate to lose so the other partner must always pacify and give in. If one person tends to do all the giving and the other does most of the taking, the canary may be dead!
Consider investing in your relationship to make it as healthy as possible. This can begin with an honest assessment of yourself, and the relationship. Are you living in denial? Are you excusing the behaviour of your partner? Do you constantly find yourself doubting your reality – questioning whether something actually happened or not? Perhaps you are in an unhealthy relationship. Perhaps your relationship is abusive and violent. If so, you are not helpless!
Contact Fresh Hope Counselling and one of our staff would be pleased to help you with your relationship issues. Book your relationship in for a tune-up! Why wait for counselling until you have huge struggles? A wise couple will be proactive and work to enrich and protect their relationship and invest in it now.