As essential as recognizing healthy signs of a relationship is recognizing UNhealthy signs. An unhealthy relationship doesn’t need to have multiple signs; just one red flag can indicate that it’s not healthy.
It’s important to remember that these signs may show up early in a relationship, and they shouldn’t be disregarded or waved off as one-time occurrences. Listen to your gut – and your head! It’s much easier to disengage safely from an unhealthy relationship in the beginning.
When a relationship first starts, these characteristics may feel “romantic.” For instance, your new partner is super attentive to you and would do anything for you. Remember, there should be limits and boundaries in a relationship. If boundaries are crossed, it’s no longer romantic – it’s unhealthy and a warning sign.
It might also be that in the beginning, the relationship primarily shows signs of being healthy, but then things turn a corner. Again, pay attention to those warning signs and don’t assume that your partner will return to how they were. Many times, a person will say they are sorry, and that it won’t happen again, but this can be a warning sign as well.
Make sure they take responsibility for their behavior and don’t blame you or someone else. Reach out to one of the domestic violence support lines listed at the bottom of this post to talk about your situation and any questions you might have.
Relationships exist on a spectrum and can range from healthy to abusive, with unhealthy falling somewhere in the middle. All relationships look different. This Relationship Spectrum image was created by Love is Respect and is a useful tool to help identify the differences.
10 signs of an unhealthy relationship
These 10 signs of an unhealthy relationship from One Love are strong indicators that the person you’re dating may cause a lot of harm in your life. You’ll see these behaviors at various levels as your relationship cycles. These warning signs may become more intense and progress to include physical violence, pressure to use drugs, financial control, sexual assault, use of children to manipulate you – as well as other tactics of abuse, power, and control. See our October 2020 post, Unveiling the many forms of domestic, intimate-partner, and gender-based violence, for more information.
1) Intensity: When someone expresses very extreme feelings and over-the-top behavior that feels overwhelming. This might look like someone: ⇒Telling you that they love you after just a few dates. ⇒Calling and texting you repeatedly, then panicking if you don’t text back. ⇒Insisting on spending every evening and weekend with you. ⇒Waiting for you after every class or at your house all the time.
2) Possessiveness: When someone is jealous to a point where they try to control who you spend time with and what you do. ⇒They may want your Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and phone passwords. ⇒They make it clear to whoever is near that you are “theirs” with over-the-top displays of affection. ⇒They are jealous and react if you talk to other people and often see others as a threat. ⇒They may insist that you wear something that you gave them all the time to show that you are together.
3) Manipulation: When someone tries to control your decisions, actions, or emotions. A manipulative person will look for your weaknesses and try to use them against you. They may try to convince you to give up something of yourself in order to serve their interests. It is typical for someone who is successful in manipulating others to continue to do so (Psychology Today). Manipulators force their own insecurities on you to control how you react toward them, saying things like, “I’ve been cheated on before, that’s why I don’t want you to be friends with anyone I don’t know.”
4) Isolation: When someone keeps you away from friends, family, or other people. ⇒They insist that you not spend time or talk with your friends or family so that you can spend it all with them. ⇒They slowly erode your support system.
5) Sabotage: When someone purposely ruins your reputation, achievements, or success. ⇒They are consistently critical of everything you do. ⇒They might make comments that criticize you in front of friends, family, or in public places. An example of this would be your partner trying to humiliate you while out to dinner with friends by saying, “We both knew you weren’t good enough to get that promotion.”
6) Belittling: When someone does and says things that make you feel bad about yourself. One Love writes, “The definition of ‘belittle’ can be easily surmised from the two words that it is made up of, ‘be’ and ‘little.’ Belittling is language or behavior that makes someone feel small, unimportant, inferior, or minimized. Belittling is a form of verbal abuse and can show up as criticism, for example saying, ‘I don’t think you have what it takes.’ It can be a trivializing remark such as ‘That’s not such an impressive achievement.’ It can also be in the form of a put-down, for example, ‘After everything I’ve done for you, you are so unappreciative.’”
7) Guilting: When someone makes you feel responsible for their actions or makes you feel like it’s your job to keep them happy. ⇒They blame their negative behavior on you. ⇒ They use guilt to pressure you into doing something: “If you loved me you would…”
8) Volatility: When someone has a really strong, unpredictable reaction that makes you feel scared, confused, or intimidated. Examples might be: You arrive to dinner a few minutes late and they make a scene; or you smile at someone passing in the street, and your partner grabs your arm and starts yelling.
9) Deflecting responsibility: When someone repeatedly makes excuses for their unhealthy behavior. ⇒They exhibit bad or unsafe behavior and blame you or someone else. ⇒They never take responsibility for their behavior; it is never their fault.
10) Betrayal: When someone is disloyal or acts in an intentionally dishonest way. ⇒They might break your trust, sharing private information or pictures. ⇒They might cheat on you or talk about you behind your back. ⇒They may violate an agreement you made together and not discuss it with you.
One Love short videos
These videos show how abusive people might use some of the tactics listed above.
Movies, TV, and videos are full of examples of unhealthy relationships portrayed as romantic. It helps to make shows more interesting; remember, it’s not real life! Watch shows thinking and talking about what you see. Watch for a future post with lots of examples.
Thinking about leaving the relationship? That’s okay! Trust yourself and listen to your instincts. Leaving any relationship can be very difficult and cause emotional stress. It’s not always as simple as saying, “I want to break up.” If you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship, you should get help to change it or leave the relationship. Depending on the level of seriousness, you can seek advice from close friends, family members, a therapist, or a domestic violence advocate.
Part of deciding to leave and thinking about leaving is understanding what you need. It can be helpful to ask yourself, “Does my partner make me feel good about myself?” Healthy relationships should feel secure and supportive. Watch for future posts on breaking up safely and bystander intervention.
Unhealthy relationship scenarios
Go through these scenarios and identify which of the above unhealthy signs they reflect (then see the answer key below)!
1) You‘ve been dating your partner for a while. They see you in the hallway talking to your study partner, the cute kid from chemistry class. Later your partner demands to know why you were talking to them and tells you that you need to switch partners.
2) You’ve been dating your partner for a few weeks. They tell you that they want to be exclusive. When you say that you’re not sure if you’re ready for that, they say that they love you and ask, “Don’t you love me?”
3) Your best friend is having a party this weekend. You tell your partner that you would like to go. They say you spend too much time with your friend and not enough time with them. They tell you they love you so much and want to spend all their time with you. They say you can’t go to the party – in fact they don’t want you to hang out with your friends at all so they can have more time with you.
4) You and your partner are having a picnic in the park. Your ex-partner walks by and stops to chat for a minute. When they leave, your current partner throws his plate of food at you and yells that you were flirting with your ex-partner. They later say they are sorry, but that they love you so much they can’t stand to see you talk with your ex-partner. They say that if you hadn’t been so flirty with the ex, they wouldn’t have gotten so mad and thrown the food.
5) You’ve been applying to colleges and are looking forward to going to a university out of state. Your partner will be staying at the local university. Your SATs are tomorrow, and you need to do well on them. You want to stay home and study, but your partner says they had a bad day and you need to go out with them to cheer them up. You agree but say you need to be home early to study. After dinner, whenever you say you’re going home, your partner says they really need you to stay a little longer. You end up getting home only a few hours before you need to go to take the SATs and have to take them with no sleep.
6) You and your partner are talking, and you disclose the fact that you had sex with a classmate when you were younger. You say that you regret it, that you were too young, and that you felt pressured. You ask that they not share it with anyone else. You later discover that your partner posted that you had sex with the other classmate, laughing about it and calling you “loose.”
7) You are super excited about the new outfit that you bought. You show it to your partner, and they say loudly that it makes you look ugly, and it highlights your big hips.
8) Your partner tells you that they want to share all your passwords (phone, e-mail etc.) and read your texts. They say they love you and want the two of you to be like one. They want to make sure that no one is hurting you or dissing you.
These are just some of the unhealthy signs in the above scenarios; you may see others as well.
4) Volatility, deflecting responsibility, guilting
5) Guilting, sabotage
6) Betrayal, Belittling
8) Intensity, possessiveness
Solid Ground’s Broadview Emergency Shelter and Transitional Housing provides confidential temporary housing for parents and their children experiencing homelessness due to domestic violence. We provide 24-hour trauma-informed support services to help families meet their immediate needs and move forward with their goals. Our team of housing counselors, child advocates, domestic violence/legal advocates and specialized service providers partner with residents as they work to secure permanent housing, heal from trauma, and increase self-sufficiency and stability.
Domestic Violence Help in Seattle/King County
Call 206.299.2500 for Solid Ground’s confidential Domestic Violence shelter services and/or 2.1.1 toll-free at 1.800.621.4636, M-F, 8am-6pm for info about all King County resources.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1.800.799.7233 or TTY 1.800.787.3224
English – Online chat is available 24/7/365.
Español – Póngase en contacto con nuestros asesores altamente capacitados las 24 horas, 7 días de la semana y reciba el apoyo que merece. Chat en Español esta disponible cada cuando el botón de chat está en rojo.
Resources for Youth
Get relationship help | love is respect advocates are available 24/7/365. We offer confidential support for teens, young adults, and their loved ones seeking help, resources, or information related to healthy relationships and dating abuse in the US.
OUTSpoken Speakers Bureau & Youth Programs | The NW Network offers a wide range of supports to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and questioning youth and young adults (13-24) around issues of violence and crime such as dating violence, bullying, hate violence, physical and sexual assault, exploitation, theft, police harassment, and experiences in the sex trades.