“But I Love Him”

June 18, 2008 at 11:18 am  •  Posted in Relationships by  •  0 Comments

By Carol Juergensen Sheets, MSW, ACSW

Healthy Love
Unhealthy Love
What Can You Do If You Are in This Type of Unhealthy Relationship?



Many couples come in for consultation because they are not getting their needs met by the other partner. Oftentimes the assessment reveals that one partner is willing to change but the other partner is not willing to alter his or her behavior for the betterment of the relationship.

Both spouses need to take responsibility of changing their own behavior. It is never just one person who needs to change. When one partner refuses to acknowledge the need for change, this results in a stalemate that creates “unhealthy love.

You have seen people who stayed in unhappy relationships under the guise of being in love. They explain that their undying love is the “glue that keeps them together.” Although they know they are being mistreated, they refuse to get out of the relationship. They are willing to put up with chronic abuse, neglect, and disrespect, citing love as the reason to stay together. Their unhealthy love continues to perpetuate the problem.

Healthy Love

Healthy love is where two people work together to create a life where each person can be individually fulfilled. Together they work on building a life that compliments their individuality. When healthy couples disagree, they use negotiation and compromise as tools to resolve the:r difficulties. There is mutual give and take, and both partners feel that they are able to get some of their needs met some of the time. Regardless of their difficulties, each spouse feels respected. Healthy love doesn’t mean that couples always agree with each other, but they do work together to resolve their differences.

Unhealthy Love

People will often ask me what constitutes a love that is in need of repair vs. a relationship that appears to be hopeless. Research shows that most relationships are workable if two partners are invested in the improvement. If however, a person is in an abusive relationship whereby the perpetrator is not willing to take active steps at developing appropriate anger management skills, then the relationship is not physically safe and the two partners need to separate regardless of love. Or if a couple has undergone years of infidelity, and there is no indication that the adultery is going to stop, it is usually recommended for health and safety reasons that the couple dissolve their relationship.

Lastly, if a spouse refuses to negotiate or compromise, he or she is too controlling to participate in healthy love. There is little chance for the couple to grow together.

What Can You Do If You Are in This Type of Unhealthy Relationship?

If you are in this type of relationship, you will need to need to determine what behaviors have been unacceptable. It is often helpful to work with a counselor who can help you to develop boundaries and consequences that you can enforce. It is likely that by being passive, you have trained your partner that you are willing to put up with the disrespectful behavior. You will need to prove that you will no longer participate in unhealthy love behaviors.

You will likely need to learn assertiveness skills, which will assist you in being clear and direct with your partner. This does not ensure that you get what you want, but it does reenforce that you are conveying your feelings and thoughts succinctly.

After you have asserted yourself and clarified boundaries, you will need to share with your partner how you will respond if your boundaries are violated. It may look like this:

  • If you call me names, I will walk away.
  • If you continue to cheat on me, I will ask for a formal separation.
  • If you insist on doing it your way, you will be doing it on your own.

Make sure to have some supports in place before you take on this endeavor of being assertive, creating boundaries, and developing consequences. I have seen people who have begun to assert themselves and have been physically abused because of their new behavior.

If your spouse does not respond to your new behaviors after a period of time, know that being alone is better than being in an unhealthy relationship. If you are having difficulty deciding what your options are, you may find seeking a social worker will help to sort out your feelings. Don’t stay in an abusive relationship under the guise of love.


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