Is Your Online Relationship Healthy? 12 Signs to Consider

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Without a doubt, the dating scene has changed tremendously within the past decade; long gone are the days of chance meetings and traditional courtships. Modern coupling is more likely to stem from less organic methods of meeting such as speed dating and online matching sites than from random meetings in the grocery store. In fact, according to the book Sex in America: A Definitive Survey, 40 million Americans use online dating services, which is approximately 40 percent of all US singles.

Although there are many reported successes with these modern modes of dating, there is of course an unfortunate downside, which can include “catfishing” (i.e., luring someone into a relationship with a fictional online persona), “ghosting” (i.e., the act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date) and, of course, good old-fashioned lying about pertinent details such as marital status, relationship involvement, financial status, etc.

The pitfalls mentioned above are common and considered par for the course in the world of online dating. However, a few of the less apparent downfalls include those that pertain to ferreting out potential manipulators and those who have personality and/or mental health issues. Of course, these issues can arise during the course of dating organically, but they can become more of a challenge to recognize when meeting and communicating extensively through virtual mediums (e.g., phone, Skype, texting, etc.). This can be especially true when it comes to potential long-distance partnerships. Without the ability to observe people in natural settings and through their interactions with others, you only have a unidimensional presentation from which to determine whether words and actions are indeed congruent.

Once you have established that your potential new mate is actually a real person, how can you know whether they are healthy relationship material?

An easy rule of thumb is to rely on the power of time. Although it is quite easy for a person to recite flowery words and carry on as if feelings are mutual, it is quite difficult to continue a façade beyond a period of 3 months or so. At some point, a disagreement or stressful event will apply enough pressure to the façade that it will naturally crack and give way to the true person underneath. Secondarily, it is important to be mindful of reactions and behaviors that intuitively don’t “feel right.” For example, when something occurs that is extremely positive or exciting for you as a couple (e.g., planning to finally meet in person), does your partner show mutual excitement, or do they seem oddly “cool” about it? Are they reluctant to meet in person? Do they evade questions pertaining to important details?

Utilizing a mindful approach to navigate the world of online dating is not about judging and avoiding bad people, per se. It is more about taking in and observing the signs of healthy and unhealthy situations in a nonjudgmental way and ultimately deciding whether you wish to proceed. Although there are many signs that could indicate an unhealthy situation, I have compiled a few that can help to trigger your own thinking about situations you may wish to avoid.

  1. Your partner is overly sensitive or tends to interpret neutral statements in a negative manner. Even when you painstakingly over-explain your intentions and meaning, they insist on maintaining their negative filter of what was actually said.
  2. Interactions with your partner seem to be positive and things appear to be going great, only to learn later that they have been keeping a running list of (perceived or real) slights and wrongs.
  3. Your partner is highly critical of a habit or specific aspect of your personality. Although others may possibly see it as a quirk, your partner magnifies it to such a level that you feel the need to change in order to make things work.
  4. Your partner assesses your character in ways that no one else would. For example, if you are naturally a giving and compassionate person, a partner who is trying to manipulate you may attempt to make you believe that you are selfish with ulterior motives (also known as a form of gaslighting).
  5. Your partner does not appear to be self-aware, and is unable to self-assess, accept blame, or admit mistakes. Suggestions that they may have handled a situation wrong may prompt anger, a passive-aggressive “silence treatment,” or blatant refusal to discuss the topic.
  6. Your partner demonstrates unreasonable reactions to reasonable statements and requests. Instead of simply stating that they disagree or are unable to comply, they attempt to make you feel guilty for asking in the first place.
  7. They minimize the importance of your needs within the relationship. If it seems that only their needs matter while yours are trivial (or are signs of character flaws), it is probable that they are not willing/able to meet the needs of a healthy, reciprocating relationship.
  8. They compartmentalize or are unwilling to provide full disclosure about other areas of their life. For example, you have no idea how they financially support themselves or what their family life is like. It is nearly impossible to truly know someone who is not willing to allow you to know them fully. If they suggest that it is not important for you to know the “what,” “when,” “how,” and “why”of the things they do, it is likely a red flag.
  9. During disagreements, they become angry and demeaning and lose focus of the original issue. Healthy, mature relationships are able to withstand disagreements without the partners becoming polarized into opposite defensive corners and launching counterattacks.
  10. Your partner has immature, unrealistic expectations of the way relationships should work. For example if they believe things should “magically” work out as they do in movies and books, or are “just meant to be” (clinically, this is considered magical or wishful thinking), they may not have a realistic understanding of the true give and take that is required to make relationships work for the long-term. (For more insight, review this study.)
  11. They attempt to control you by convincing you to set aside your needs and values for the sake of the relationship. They make unilateral decisions about when the timing is “right” and what is “best for us,” and disregard your right to contribute to those decisions.
  12. Your partner advises you to abandon your intuitive analysis of what is happening and, instead, encourages you to just “go with the flow.” There is something to be said for enjoying great moments and feeling them intuitively, but it is also important to take notice of things that rationally don’t add up.

Again, these issues can occur in any type of relationship, regardless of how they begin – online or traditionally. However, becoming more aware of these and other signs of unhealthy relationships can help you to navigate the extra-cautionary world of virtual courtship.

Finally, be sure to never lose touch with your sense of inner power. True love and respect will never require you to diminish your essence nor completely turn your power over to another person.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
~Marianne Williamson~

*Image: Scott Betts

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