7 Lessons Learned From Unhealthy Relationships

How do you get good at love? By learning from unhealthy relationships, of course! Here are the most important lessons learned from the biggest relationship mistakes made by me and my readers.

unhealthy relationships lessons learnedDo you struggle with jealousy and insecurity? Read Insecure in Love: How Anxious Attachment Can Make You Feel Jealous, Needy, and Worried and What You Can Do About It by Leslie Becker-Phelps. You’ll learn how to overcome attachment anxiety using compassionate self-awareness, which is a technique that can help you recognize your negative thoughts or unhealthy behavior patterns. You’ll also learn how insecurity can negatively affect healthy dialog between you and your partner (or potential partners) and develop the skills needed to stop you from reverting back to old patterns of neediness and possessiveness.

In this article – which contains seven lessons I learned from unhealthy relationships – is Day 2 of my four-article series on finding happiness and peace even when you’re in an unhealthy, unhappy relationship. Yesterday’s article (Day 1) was How to Be Happy Even in an Unhealthy Relationship; at the end of this article you’ll find all the links to this week’s posts.

7 Lessons Learned From Unhealthy Relationships

Dare is the focus of today’s post. Before you can focus on finding happiness and love, you need to be aware if the potential pitfalls and problem areas. At best, that means learning from the experiences and mistakes of others. At worst, it means daring to actually learn and grow from your own mistakes and experiences.

What are your biggest “lessons learned” in unhealthy relationships? Whether you made your own mistakes or watched your parents or others make theirs, I’m curious what you know is true. Take a moment to think about what you’d do differently, or what you think others should have done differently. Tell me what you know in the comments section below.

By the way, this is one of the best ways to avoid unhealthy relationships: learn from your own experience. The second best way is to apply the lessons learned from other people’s mistakes to your own life…but this can be easier said than done.

1. We don’t change unless we really, really want to

In How to Leave Your Husband, Amy says she and her husband are only married because “if one of us dies the other can call 911.”

She adds that they’ve been married for 49 years and haven’t talked in decade. “We have no intimacy, no communication, no nothing. Shortly after we married he moved to the basement, and then out to a building in back of our property that he restored. He always worked mid nights and all holidays, weekends and all his vacation time. Other people were nothing to him, he had no friends, he always wanted to be alone. I should have left. He told me to leave if I wasn’t happy and to take what ever I wanted from the house, money, car. Well I messed up big time and thought things would get better. It never happened. Now I’m almost 70 and can’t say I want to move on now. My own fault for staying, maybe it will be over shortly.”

2. We tend to ignore problems in unhealthy relationships

We hope our problems go away. We pray for a miracle, or even just a slight shift in attitude or change in behavior. We think things will get better, like Amy said about her marriage. We wait.

For me, one of the biggest lessons learned is that we think we’re powerless when in fact we’re powerful. We think we’re helpless when in fact we are strong and capable. We believe we’re stuck because of our external circumstances, but really we’re stuck because of our own beliefs about ourselves.

3. We focus on the wrong things

Another of my powerful “lessons learned” is that we tend to focus on our partners’ mistakes, weaknesses, bad choices, etc. Instead, we should be getting ourselves emotionally, spiritually, and physically strong and healthy! If we’re healthy – if we Blossom into who God created us to be – then our relationships will take care of themselves. They won’t magically become healthy. Rather, we will see ourselves and our unhealthy relationships differently…and we will take care of business.

We can’t change our partners, and often we can’t even change our relationships. But, we can change ourselves. We can be happy even in unhealthy relationships by finding a consistent source of joy and peace.

4. We know leaving is never easy

One of the most surprising lessons I’ve learned as a love and relationships blogger is that many men and women would rather stay in unhealthy relationships than leave. But, this seems to contradict the high divorce rate, doesn’t it?

So maybe this means that my readers are stuck in their relationships. The people who decide to leave aren’t spending their time commenting on articles about feeling trapped in loveless marriages or unhealthy relationships. They’re packing their things, reading articles on subjects such as How to Emotionally Detach From Someone You Care About.

Nevertheless, even people who don’t seem to have a problem breaking up are still sad when a relationship ends. We’re created for connection, and breakups hurt to our core.

5. We crave love and connection

If you yearn to love and be loved, you’re normal! We are built for partnership. We were made to walk through life together, to bond and attach and stay committed to our families. Relationships are our oxygen, our safety, our protection from the outside world.

Has your natural instinct for love blinded you to the realities of your relationship? There is nothing wrong with wanting to be loved…but it becomes a problem when your natural yearning becomes so powerful that you can’t see your partner or future realistically.

6. We ignore the warning signs of unhealthy relationships

This is one of those “lessons learned” that we don’t really learn too well! When I was 32 years old I was still ignoring those huge red flags that kept telling me to get out of a relationship that was really bad for me. Alan was his name; he would criticize and berate me under his breath. When I asked him if he said something – I could barely hear him, but I was hearing stuff like “dumb”, “taking forever to explain this”, etc – he’d wave me away and say, “nothing.”

I ignored my gut instincts, and I stayed with Alan for longer than I should have. That’s one of the reasons I wrote How to Find Strength to Get Out of a Bad Relationship.

7. We don’t have a consistent source of power, joy, or peace

In my third lesson learned above, I said we can be happy in unhealthy relationships if we have a consistent source of joy and peace. Imagine what it would be like if you had access to a flowing river of love, strength, power, forgiveness, grace, and hope! Imagine the security and comfort you’d feel, the weightlessness and freedom.

Unhealthy Relationships Lessons Learned

7 Lessons Learned From Unhealthy Relationships

The cool thing is that you can stop imagining this river and actually experience it! Every morning, I spend 30 minutes with God. I write a letter to Him in my journal. I start out by thinking Him for the never-ending flow of joy, peace, and love I feel when I’m in His presence. I am eternally, deeply grateful that He is always here, always looking out for me, always loving and protecting me.

If you can tap into the power, strength, joy and peace that is always there waiting for you, you don’t have to worry about unhealthy relationships or learning lessons…you can trust God to guide and protect you.

Questions for you

What are the biggest lessons learned in the unhealthy relationships you’ve been part of? If you’re unhappy in a relationship right now, what is one thing you can do to start healing and finding joy?

I can’t give advice, but I welcome your thoughts. Writing often brings clarity and insight, and can help you figure out what you think, feel, and want.

On Blossom this week

Every week I write a Four-Day Series on specific topics for women who want to Blossom and flourish in all seasons of life. This week’s theme is happiness in unhealthy relationships.

Here’s this week’s lineup:

Do you feel like you can’t be happy in the relationship you’re in? Remember that giving up doesn’t always means you are weak. Sometimes it means you are strong enough to let go.


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