22 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

signs of an unhealthy relationship


Abraham Lincoln was a great president but not a very happy man.

Aside from dealing with the Civil War, coping with the death of two of his sons, and suffering bouts of depression, he and Mary Lincoln had a very unhealthy marriage.


Mary was known to be self-centered, eccentric, prone to outbursts of temper, jealous, and often depressed. Abe would grow silent and distant, take extended trips (up to six months), and withdraw from Mary.

According to historians, it wasn't until the end of the war that they talked of rekindling their relationship and trying to find happiness. Sadly, Lincoln was killed before that could happen. Mary never recovered and descended into mental illness.

Whether you are a president or a plumber, when your love relationship is unhealthy and unhappy, it infects your entire life. Lincoln recognized this about his own marriage, but unfortunately he lived in a time when marriage counseling wasn't available and divorce was unthinkable.

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Today there are plenty of resources and options for couples who are in an unhealthy relationship. However, we sometimes don't recognize the signs of real trouble, even though we feel deeply unhappy, lonely, or frightened. It can be hard to admit to ourselves and others that our relationship is anything less than perfect.

Acknowledging the problems forthrightly, and seeking help to learn better relationship skills (or make the decision to end the relationship) is the only way to find peace of mind and regain happiness.

Here are 22 signs of an unhealthy relationship:

1. Criticism and ridicule

One or both people constantly criticize and put the other person down. Or they ridicule their partner in front of other people, trying to shame or embarrass them.

2. Lack of communication

There is a lack of open, honest, and loving communication between the couple. Conflict communication often devolves into anger and blaming. One partner or the other doesn’t feel secure in expressing feelings or self-doubts.

 3. Loss of emotional intimacy

Emotional intimacy is the connection a couple has when the trust and communication between them fosters open sharing, vulnerability, and self-disclosure. Each partner feels completely loved, accepted, and worthy. When this is lacking, the relationship deteriorates into an empty, lonely existence for one or both partners.

4. Disengagement

Disengagement happens when one or both partners lose the willingness to invest time, energy, and emotion into the relationship. In these situations, there are generally few arguments, or the arguments are one-sided and met with passiveness from the disengaged person. Disengagement is often a sign the one person is ready to end the relationship.

5. Passive aggressive behavior

Passive aggressive behavior can manifest as non-verbal negativity, resistance, and confusion. It shows up as procrastination, helplessness, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or purposeful failure to handle requested tasks. This is childish behavior used in an attempt to manipulate and control.

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6. Inability to forgive

Forgiveness is essential for the health and longevity of a love partnership. If one partner holds a grudge and can’t let go of past hurt or anger, neither partner will feel safe and intimate together. Of course forgiveness requires a sincere apology and consistent behavior change from the other person.

 7. Codependent behavior

Codependency is a dysfunctional issue in which one partner enables and supports the negative behaviors or personality of the other. This could be a passive or active support of addiction, mental illness, immaturity, or irresponsibility. The focus is only on one person’s needs, ultimately leaving the other person resentful, angry, and wounded.

8. Substance abuse

Abuse of alcohol or drugs by one or both partners makes it impossible to have an authentic, healthy intimacy. The substance alters one’s behavior and personality, impairing judgement and self-control. As the abuse continues, it pushes the couple farther and farther apart.

9. Verbal abuse

When one partner uses verbal abuse, he or she is trying to shame, control, and manipulate the other. This emotional abuse takes the form of yelling, swearing, using threats, blaming, demeaning, and using biting sarcasm. This abuse damages self-esteem and makes intimacy impossible in the relationship.

10. Physical abuse

Physical abuse is the use of force and violent behavior in a way that injures or endangers someone. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship when one partner is the victim of abuse. This abuse can include hitting, biting, scratching, slapping, kicking, punching, shoving, use of a weapon, or forced sex. Physical abuse often builds gradually, beginning with emotional abuse. A one-time incident could be a warning sign of future abuse. The only solution in these situations is to let go and leave as soon as possible.

11. Disagreement on major values

You want children, but she doesn’t. He wants to buy a new car, but you want to save the money for a house. One of you has deep religious convictions, but the other doesn’t. Disagreeing on important life values can put a wedge between couples and become the source of ongoing discord.

12. Loss of respect

Respect shows that each partner understands the other, and they respect one another’s boundaries. When one partner stops respecting the other, it reveals he or she no longer supports the other’s values and needs. Love alone can’t hold you together without mutual respect.

13. Little physical affection

Studies show physical affection is a sign of relationship satisfaction and a good predictor of love in the relationship. Relationships that suffer from a deficit of affection will grow lifeless over time. Non-sexual physical touch feeds emotional intimacy and is necessary for the health of your relationship.

14. Dishonesty and secrecy

Dishonesty and secrecy are key reasons couples and marriages end up failing. Being dishonest or secretive with your partner – even about trivial things – reveals you don’t feel safe sharing with your partner or you legitimately have something to hide. Either way, you undermine the trust and respect of your partner when you lie or withhold.

15. Jealousy and insecurity

When there’s consistent jealousy or insecure behavior by one partner, it could reflect a lack of self-esteem and confidence in your value in the relationship. Expressing insecure feelings and jealousy when there’s no valid reason will only push your partner away and lessen their respect for you. If there is a real reason for these feelings, you need to face the problems head on with your partner.

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16. Sexually focused

If your relationship is primarily focused on sex, then you have no real foundation for a lasting connection. Without emotional intimacy, affection, strong communication, trust, and engagement, the relationship will ultimately collapse.

17. Narcissistic or controlling behavior

A person with a narcissistic personality is self-centered, seeks constant attention, considers themselves better than others, and believes they’re entitled to special treatment. Controlling people desire to be in charge, prove themselves, and get their own way by controlling their environment and the people around them. Neither personality is conducive to authentic connection and intimacy.

18. Poor money skills or values

When one partner is financially irresponsible or has poor financial skills, it will eventually cause resentment, stress, and anger for the other partner. Money is a major source of conflict between couples even when both people are relatively responsible. When the financial relationship is unbalanced, it profoundly impacts respect and trust between the couple.

19. Competitive

Competition in a relationship is a rivalry for supremacy, and it can develop over children, money, career success, or friends. Sometimes the need to upstage your spouse or partner comes from insecurity. These power struggles can destroy a relationship because one person has to be the winner and one the loser.

20. Overly involved extended family

Parents, siblings, or other relatives who become too involved in a couple’s lives can drive a wedge between them. If one partner doesn’t set appropriate boundaries with his or her family, the other partner will grow resentful and feel like they are no longer the priority.

21. Threats of leaving

Does your partner constantly threaten to end the relationship or suggest divorce? This is a form of verbal abuse and emotional control, putting you on insecure footing as long as the behavior continues. You will never feel safe or valued as a partner.

22. Trying to change you

Some people view their partners  as a project to fix. They want to change their spouse’s appearance, behavior, or personality in order to make themselves feel more secure and in control. This reflects a lack of respect and unconditional love.

Do you see some of these signs in your love relationship? If so, it’s time to assess whether or not the relationship is causing more distress than happiness. If your partner will join you, go to a professional marriage or relationship counselor to discuss the issues and work on strategies and skills to improve them.

Even if your partner won’t go to counseling, you can go alone to navigate your feelings and decisions about the future of the relationship. Having support and guidance from a professional with perspective is essential to healing or releasing an unhealthy relationship.