Love seems to flourish in the spring, just as the green peeks out beneath months of snow, and flowers begin to burst forth. And as the spring bleeds into summer, the importance of tending to and reflecting on that love, much like a garden, blooms in full view. Tu B’Av, the Jewish holiday of love, occurs in the peak of summer. This day of joy is focused on relationships, which, while wonderful, can take a toll on one’s mental health. Toxic relationships, whether in the past or the present, can lead to struggles with paranoia, narcissism, depression, anxiety, self-esteem issues, fear, trauma and more. Therefore, the ability to discern whether a relationship is healthy or toxic for one’s mental state remains critical. In the paragraphs below, I will outline three key features of a relationship and how to determine if they are healthy or unhealthy.
Trust is one of the most telling signs of whether one’s partner is a stable, healthy person to be around. Within a relationship, trust should be ever present and steady. It is a sign of respect and commitment that shows a partner values the relationship. Signs of healthy trust in a relationship include the partner sharing details about their day, being open about different parts of their life like emotions and finances, and providing the partner with autonomy. In terms of mental well-being, this trait should give security to a relationship and stability to the lives of the people involved.
Conversely, distrust in a relationship can be toxic to the mental health of either partner in the relationship, leaving them feeling unstable and disrespected. This can play out in the early stages of a relationship. Often when a relationship is still young, one partner will test the other to see if they are compatible. For example, a partner may reschedule a date at the last minute to evaluate one’s flexibility and independence. But these little tests can be used to manipulate the other’s emotions and take control of the relationship, like when a partner is constantly canceling the dates. This can lead to distrust. Other classic signs of a lack of trust include constantly fact checking one’s partner, jealous behaviors or having an inability to open up or be vulnerable around the partner.
“Communication is key” is a commonly used expression in response to relationship troubles, but there are healthy and unhealthy ways to communicate with one’s partner. In a healthy relationship, sharing one’s emotions and anxieties should rarely feel arduous or like a chore. A person should be open and ready to actively listen while conversing with their partner, meaning they should be there to help their partner and not simply reply to them. Conflict is normal in any relationship, but there are ways to make it productive. When arguing, do not veer off course; instead, focus on the problem at hand. This kind of communication and conflict resolution validates both partners’ emotions and effectively boosts their self-esteem. Talking about each other’s struggles with mental health is the best way for those in the relationship to work through them together.
Communication falls apart when one or both partners fail to express their emotions in a healthy manner. Hesitancy to communicate, or miscommunication in general, could be a sign of a toxic relationship. Conflicts are normal, and when they happen, both partners should work to resolve them in a calm manner, with neither partner being explosive or expressing their emotions in an intolerable or unkind way. Expressing emotions in a verbal or physical manner that harms one partner or the other points to a toxic relationship. Unhealthy communication may lead not only to distrust in a relationship but an invalidation of the partners’ emotions; heightened depression and anxiety; and trauma. The preservation of good mental health should always be a priority in a relationship, and communication is a key way to obtain that.
Independence, and being one’s true self in a relationship, should be a constant in a healthy relationship. Giving one’s partner space to be themself is not only healthy for their self-esteem; it shows one respects the other’s interests outside of the relationship. Partners should support the family, friends and hobbies in each other’s life. This is also a message of self-care, which retains its importance within relationships as well. Partners should not be involved with every single thing in their significant other’s life
However, some partners do try to control their partner’s lives by withholding them from friends, families, hobbies or jobs. Signs of a toxic relationship under this category include being forceful in telling one’s partner what is right for their careers or who they should spend time with, and threatening partners with revealing trusted secrets if they are disobeyed. Additionally, toxic partners can exhibit control over the others by needing to know everything their partner is doing at every moment, trying to manage their partner’s money without permission, demanding access to one’s personal devices and acting as though a partner doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
Pirkei Avot 5:19 tells us, “Any love that depends on a specific cause, when that cause is gone, the love is gone; but if it does not depend on a specific cause, it will never cease.” There are a number of factors that go into making a relationship work, and Tu B’av serves as a reminder to reflect on those pieces of a relationship — communication, trust, and independence — and ensure they are present and healthy. While relationships are often very beautiful, partners should always be working toward bettering them.
Esti Klein is an incoming sophomore at the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and is spending her summer interning with the Blue Dove Foundation. Esti enjoys reading and writing fiction and spending time with her adorable puppy, Zuko.