Five Ways to Differentiate Between Healthy and Toxic Love and Relationships

Five Ways to Differentiate Between Healthy and Toxic Love and Relationships


Love is a construct that has been the subject of (and muse for) many artistic, poetic and philosophical gestures since humanity existed, almost like a preoccupation. Yet, what is it about love that elicits such a universal outpouring of sentiment? What IS this love that permeates our heart, minds, and souls-our dreams, our fantasies, our imaginations? Many psychologists and even neuroscientists have posited many different models of what love is and isn’t, which often include our neurochemistry.

Here’s what we know in a nutshell: There is no single definition or way to explain what love is. It’s a visceral emotion that is often unpredictable, overwhelming, and indescribable.

As a psychologist in clinical practice, many of my clients struggle with all different kinds of questions for cupid, but most focus on how to build healthy romantic relationships.  A relationship is a coming together to express and engage in love that is shared.

Love, as we know, is mostly intangible, but a relationship is a tangible reflection of the love experienced by two people. If we understand our relationships, we are equipped to notice the nature of our love, and to ascertain whether or not it is serving us. Some relationships are healthy. Others are toxic.

How can we differentiate between a healthy vs. toxic relationship?

There are many differences, but here are some standout clues to better understand the nature of your current relationship or even a future one.


1. Share Dreams or Lose Dreams?

In a healthy relationship, there is support for one’s own dreams, and a union or coming together of shared ones. In a toxic relationship, individual dreams are surrendered and sacrificed for the other. A relationship like this takes and takes, instead of nurturing and cultivating. The toxicity becomes paramount when we can no longer find our own voice.

2. Give to Give or Give to Get?

In a healthy relationship, both people desire to give to one another without any expectation of something in return. Giving is an act of love and an act of trust, as in “I am unconditionally here for you”. In a toxic relationship, giving is usually a way to get something back; there always needs to be a return investment. A price must be made to be cared for, as needs are only met with expectation of reciprocal benefit.

3. Seek To Know or Seek To Change?

In a healthy relationship, there is a desire to truly know one another each day on a more intimate level. Yet, knowing someone deeply, means knowing their vulnerabilities, and in a healthy context, the knowing is paired with wholehearted nonjudgmental acceptance. In a toxic relationship, the goal is not on knowing someone, but on changing someone to conform to a certain projection or a non-existent ideal.

4. Fight to Repair or Fight for Revenge?

Every relationship has some conflict. In fact, conflict if often a sign of passion and commitment as opposed to indifference. In a healthy relationship, conflict is a chance to grow toward one another, and to genuinely create a more effective and loving dyad. In a toxic relationship, conflict is not genuine, nor is it growth oriented. Every conflict becomes an opportunity for payback, revenge, blame, manipulation, control and rejection.

5. Create Privacy or Betray Privacy?

In a healthy relationship, there is a sense of sacredness. There is a “space” that is off limits to anyone else but you two. It is the unspoken nuances of your relationship’s inner life. This includes going that extra mile to protect your partner’s vulnerabilities. In a toxic relationship, nothing feels sacred. Private intimate moments and shared experiences are unprotected and visible to anyone. Weaknesses and vulnerabilities are mockingly exposed to the outside world.

Make Valentine’s Day an opportunity to strengthen your healthy relationship, or become more aware of a toxic one. If you aren’t clear, ask a more objective party or even a therapist. Although love can’t truly be defined, keep in mind that relationships are tangible expressions of the quality of love you are experiencing.

What are your thoughts about other ways to differentiate between healthy and toxic relationships? What are your thoughts about love and relationships in general? Look forward to YOUR comments…Let’s start an important conversation!!!

Let’s Thrive,

Dr. Jen