By Cady Drell
In the beginning of a relationship, most of us tend to wear rose-colored glasses and see only the best in the situation. As things progress, though, inevitable roadblocks might emerge. It can be tricky to know whether these snags are small issues between otherwise compatible people, or a sign there’s a deeper problem that’s not part of healthy relationships. So Bumble asked experts for tips on how to make sure you’re engaging in healthy behavior, and what to look out for when you sense something isn’t quite right.
Check: Do You Respect Each Other’s Boundaries?
First, it’s important to recognize that there’s no one-size-fits-all relationship model. Knowing what you specifically want and need from a partner is critical in making sure your boundaries are respected when it comes to things like trust, communication, and sex.
Angela Lee, director of love is respect, a program of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, points out that “it’s about making sure that you can have healthy communication when something doesn’t feel right, and not being made to feel as if you’re crazy or it didn’t happen.” Lee says feeling comfortable speaking up about your boundaries is critical to a healthy relationship. “It’s being able to say, ‘Hey, I’m not sure if this was something you meant to do, but it made me feel like this,’” Lee says. Being able to have those conversations and set boundaries is a good sign that there’s equality in your relationship, which is necessary for it to be healthy.
Check: Is Your Communication Healthy?
Like all things in relationships, there’s no “correct” way to communicate with your significant other. But there are some things you can do to gauge whether your communication styles are compatible and healthy. “Healthy communication is simple,” explains Lee. “A person is listening—really listening—and not judging. They’re respecting your boundaries. You feel comfortable talking not just about the good things, but the bad things as well, whatever those might be.”
Essence Cohen Fields, counselor and owner of First Love Yourself Counseling, adds that someone shows they care about what you’re saying when they engage with you about it. “If the other person is willing to remain curious, that’s a great sign [as] it facilitates a good, healthy dialogue.” However, “if they’re quick to accuse you of making them feel a certain way, that’s definitely a red flag,” she says. Another red flag: Any communication that happens in a hurtful or threatening manner, which signals that you may be in an unhealthy relationship.
Check: Does Sex Feel Pressured?
Maybe you read that people in your age group tend to have sex a certain number of times per week, or maybe there’s a sexual position that keeps getting namechecked in popular songs. Being in sync with these things doesn’t determine whether your sex life is healthy or not. But if you feel pressured by your partner to do things that you’re not comfortable with, then something unhealthy might be going on.
“There’s no such thing as ‘normal’ sexuality,” says Sari Cooper, sex therapist and founder of Center for Love and Sex. “It’s important for partners to find a compromise based on their interest and libidos.” She also notes that if your partner is making you feel like they’ll lose break up with you if you don’t cater to their needs, that’s a sign of unhealthy behavior. Also, remember that consent is key, including in committed relationships. Being healthy is about feeling respected and comfortable on your own timeline, and any sexual pressure or coercion isn’t acceptable.
Check: Are You Rushing into Things?
Lee draws a distinction between the fluttery feelings of the beginning of a relationship and what it takes to make something last in the long term. While it might seem great to have a partner spend a lot of time and energy on you early on, pay attention to that progression. “In the beginning, it’s so much love and attention,” says Lee. “If you meet someone and the next month you’re moving in together, it’s still the honeymoon phase. You might set aside things you notice in your gut that caused you to say, ‘Hmm, that didn’t feel good but I’m going to let it go.’”
Ultimately, you have to trust your gut reaction. The attention might feel good, but it should be because the other person really wants to get to know you—not because they’re so eager to take the next step that you ignore red flags.
Check: Is Any Abusive Behavior Going on?
According to love is respect, warning signs of an abusive relationship include if your partner isolates you from others, shows extreme jealousy or insecurity, puts you down in front of others, is controlling, has explosive outbursts or mood swings, or is physically harmful in any way.
If any of this is happening in your relationship, know that it’s not your fault, and that you deserve a healthy and respectful relationship. If you have questions or concerns about your relationship or safety, the love is respect hotline has trained experts available 24/7. Call 1-866-331-9474 or text “LOVEIS” to 22522.