5 Differences Between Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships

As I have mentioned to many, I love the idea of moving forward into health. I want, so badly, to believe that Jesus’ sacrifice can heal all of our twisted and corrupt relationships. I do believe that. But, I also believe that it simply does not always work out that way. We are a broken people moving through a broken world. Sometimes, the Enemy (or our own hurting self) has (have) ruined things so completely, there just will not be repair. It is a brutal truth. So, now and then, I read something that reminds me of what my former life was like, when infested with un-health — in myself and in others, and I’m shocked that I even used to live that way. In fact, I do not know that I could even recognize what health was, back then! And, so many of our hurting mamas do not know what a healthy relationship looks like, either. We receive countless emails from women, asking us if their situation is “normal”. A lot of the time, we have to say no, that is not normal for a Christian marriage or a Christian friendship. I am convinced that so many Christians no longer have a compass for the beautiful and life-giving relationships that we can have in Christ. So . . . here is a short-list for what is healthy and what is not. I hope that this helps:

  1. The Idealization-Devaluation-Discard cycle is NOT HEALTHY. Many are familiar with this common pattern of abuse. You are on a pedestal one minute (which is not healthy), then you find your most vulnerable traits being devalued. You start to be criticized and put down and then you are discarded — often publicly — in some of the most hurtful ways imaginable. In a healthy relationship, your secrets are considered precious, your story considered beautiful and your very self is considered valuable. This is normal. There is no silent treatment, no stone-walling and no withdrawing when you have failed to meet someone’s extreme “standards”.
  2. Gaslighting is NOT HEALTHY. This is a technique that character-disordered individuals use to convince you that your perception of a disturbing incident is inaccurate. This causes a person to feel confusion and a new mistrust of their own vision, hearing and the very sound minds that God has given. In a healthy relationship, misunderstandings are explained, there is healthy forgiveness and a lot (A LOT) of validation. And listening. This is normal.
  3. Smear campaigning is NOT HEALTHY. This usually comes during the “discard” stage. If you have reached this point, the relationship is over and finding a semblance of health with this person(s) may never happen. Let me be clear: finally speaking out about the abuse in your marriage is not a smear campaign. Friend, I know how long you kept this a secret. Sharing with safe people is empowering. And, if he didn’t want others to know about what he did to you, he shouldn’t have done it to you. Uplifting and empowering friends and spouses are normal. Loving each other into being the best “Megan” and the best “David” that we can be for God’s glory is the name of the game.
  4. Triangulation is NOT HEALTHY. This is the act of bringing in a third party to cause feelings of strife and a whole lotta’ drama. This doesn’t always mean that that person is even present. Maybe your husband raves about another woman’s beauty or talent. Or he speaks about his ex wife or girlfriend as though he doesn’t know if he should have left that relationship. Over and over, insecurity is bred as you never measure up. In a normal relationship, there is security. Exes are no longer a part of our lives (if you can help it!). There is no comparison. In fact, in Christian relationships, you know you are loved to your core. And you are free.
  5. “False selves” and “True selves” are an UNHEALTHY BINARY. “Charming guy” in public and “mean guy” at home is one of the most confusing and hurtful dynamics out there. It can cause distress, cognitive dissonance and PTSD (and the accompanying forms). A person who loves you will not ruin your special days, milestones and holidays. If you cannot understand why a person would or could be so kind to others but so unkind to you . . . if you truly believe that there is something inherently wrong, in you, and that you deserve this treatment, something is VERY wrong. In beautiful, life-giving relationships, people and milestones are celebrated! This is a biblical principal! Birthday parties are given! New life is a miracle! Even stepping stones need to be recognized! In normal relationships, we are the same in our homes as we are “out there”. There simply is no difference. We are the same “on the outside” as we are on the inside. 

As always, Jesus is our perfect example of relational health. He empowered, He forgave, He was kind, He blessed people a lot . . . in fact, I believe that His love was so deep that it almost hurt the objects of His affection. Do you know what I’m talking about? Where your heart strains, as you cling to his robe after His resurrection? Your hands shake because your heart is beating so hard because of Jesus’ love for you? The tears don’t stop because no one ever loved you like this God-Man? He knows everything about me . . . and He loves me. He does not use my secrets and pain against me. He does not exploit my weakness.  And He adores me. He smiles when I create; He delights in me and sings over me; He likes me, even. 

Oh, if we could only love like that. Oh, how I want to love like that.



“Water of Life” by Megan Cox


6 Replies to “5 Differences Between Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships”

  1. Wow, this has to be the clearest and most concise piece that i have read yet as to what happened to me, my marriage and my relationship with my sons and the damage that my ex husband has done. I still believe that for my sons to side with his evil that there must have been somerhing truly wrong with me for them to forsake their bond with me and have no compassion or empathy for their mother. Thank you for this comparison.

  2. After seeing many marriage counselors both from church and secular, no one ever used the words: “This is abuse. This behavior is not normal.” Instead, they wanted to give reasoning to this evil behavior.
    “Oh! He had a tough up bringing as a child. He lives with chronic pain. Hurt people, hurt people.”

    It wasn’t until I confided with a friend who had known me since childhood who said,
    “Let me be clear. His behavior is NOT NORMAL. I don’t care what ailment or trial he goes through, you just don’t behave that way – especially to your own wife. People who do these things are called criminals. Society has a place for them, it’s called JAIL.”

    I talked very little to my assailant after that. I took Mary’s position (Mary, mother of Jesus). Mary spoke very little and did not scream the truth. The Truth needs no defense. Eventually, he found another woman to leach onto. These type of characters can’t survive without being able to control another’s environment and sanity. I only spoke to her once to warn her. She laughed and didn’t believe me.
    He still beats her now to this very day. The only reason I know this, is because a state highway patrol from another state called me asking me where he was. He had just beaten her and fled when he crashed his vehicle. (His vehicle was still listed as my address – that’s how the officer called me through 911). They are still together.

  3. Thankyou so much for understanding Megan. I lived with the “ghost” of his former girlfriend for a good decade into our marriage.. I called her The ghost of ..(name)..past”. She was a real force to be reckoned with in our marriage! He reluctantly let her go but then started to ‘admire’ the looks or qualities of many others.
    I felt bad for needing to ‘request/plead/bargain/explain why’ I should get a birthday present for him.. it was so disappointing, and confusing..
    celebrations, positive emotions were all dampened down by him- I was made to feel unusual for being happy or content..
    this was a depressing read but validating, it helps to name what has happened and to hear that it truly was NOT normal
    bless you dear Megan x

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