How is your love relationship going? Is it more happy than unhappy — or is it the opposite?
When your love relationship is unhealthy and unhappy, it infects your entire life and your mental health.
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources and options to help couples in an unhealthy relationship — from courses to counseling.
But sometimes we don't recognize the signs of real trouble, even though we feel deeply unhappy, lonely, or confused.
It can also 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 decide to end the relationship) is the only way to find peace of mind and regain happiness.
- What Are Examples of Unhealthy Relationships?
- 27 Clear Signs of Unhealthy Relationships
- 1. Criticism and Ridicule
- 2. Lack of Communication
- 3. Loss of Emotional Intimacy
- 4. Disengagement
- 5. Passive Aggressive Behavior
- 6. Inability to Forgive
- 7. Codependent Behavior
- 8. Substance Abuse
- 9. Verbal Abuse
- 10. Physical Abuse
- 11. Disagreement on Major Values
- 12. Loss of Respect
- 13. Little Physical Affection
- 14. Dishonesty and Secrecy
- 15. Jealousy and Insecurity
- 16. Sexually Focused
- 17. Narcissistic or Controlling Behavior
- 18. Poor Money Skills or Values
- 19. Competitive Behaviors
- 20. Overly Involved Extended Family
- 21. Threats of Leaving
- 22. Trying to Change You
- 23. Turning to Others for Support
- 24. Condescending Behavior
- 25. Partners in Crime
- 26. You Feel Worse about Yourself
- 27. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
- Can An Unhealthy Relationship Become Healthy?
- Do you see some of these characteristics of an unhealthy relationship?
What Are Examples of Unhealthy Relationships?
Plenty of relationships start on a less-than-ideal foundation. And while everything might feel great initially, it doesn’t take long for the warning bells to start ringing. That’s especially true if your relationship falls into one of the following categories:
- Relationships based on passion (with little or nothing beyond that)
- Relationships based on comfort or convenience (i.e., settling)
- Relationships based on lies (or one really big one)
- Relationships based on traumatic experiences
- Relationships based on control or manipulation
- All-consuming relationships (no room for personal pursuits
From these types of relationships spring all sorts of unhealthy behaviors, as you’ll see in the list below.
27 Clear Signs of Unhealthy Relationships
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.
Constant criticism reflects contempt from one partner toward the other.
Contempt is one of the most soul-crushing and damaging behaviors you can inflict on the person you are supposed to love the most.
But how can love truly exist if one partner views the other as worthless or deserving of scorn?
2. Lack of Communication
There is a lack of open, honest, and loving communication between the couple — about positive, neutral and negative topics.
Any kind of conflict in communication often devolves into anger and blaming with no resolution ever reached.
One partner or the other doesn’t feel secure in expressing feelings or self-doubts because they know they won't be heard. Or worse, they may be criticized or demeaned.
3. Loss of Emotional Intimacy
Emotional intimacy is the connection a couple has when the trust and communication between them foster 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.
The couple lives more like distant roommates than true love partners.
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 other 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.
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 judgment 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.
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 Behaviors
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.
23. Turning to Others for Support
You don’t look to each other for moral or emotional support. Maybe one of you would like to depend on the other for that, but you just don’t have that kind of connection. When you’re feeling low, you don’t expect support from your partner. You look for it elsewhere.
They do the same. If they’re going through something, you’ll find out from someone else — someone they’ve confided in — if you find out at all.
24. Condescending Behavior
Your partner acts condescendingly toward you, making you feel stupid or selfish whenever you disagree with them. They’re the “smart one”; you’re the lucky one. You’re not allowed to outshine them — ever.
Challenge them just a little bit, and you get the “Oh, honey…” treatment. They keep their tone warm and friendly, using humor to disarm you and to appear mature and witty, while they point out the “adorable” flaws they see in your argument.
25. Partners in Crime
Your partner manipulates or coerces you into doing something unethical or illegal to “help them out.” Maybe they can’t legally buy a firearm, so they guilt you into buying one for them because shooting at the gun range is how they blow off steam.
Whatever they ask you to do, you know it’s wrong. And maybe, at first, you can overlook some of their asks. Eventually, though, you get the message that if you’re not willing to risk getting caught for a crime, just to make them happy, they’ll dump you for someone who is.
Let them. Or save them some time by being the first to walk away.
26. You Feel Worse about Yourself
You were more self-confident before you started this relationship. Being with this person has eroded both your confidence and your self-esteem.
You used to feel more sure of yourself. And now you’ve forgotten what it feels like to be admired or even respected. Your partner makes arrangements for both of you without bothering to ask.
Call them out on it, and they use their favorite weapon — guilt — to push you back down.
27. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Your partner might promise to call you when they’re at work or on a trip, but once they get there, they forget all about you. And when you eventually call them, they act annoyed, saying, “I was gonna call you just as soon as I was done [doing something more important].”
Except, you know by now, they’re probably just saying that to save face. Once you’re out of sight, you might as well stop existing for them. They don’t call, they don’t respond to your texts, and they don’t ever talk to their coworkers, friends, or family about you.
Can An Unhealthy Relationship Become Healthy?
While the potential for your relationship to improve depends on what both of you are willing to do, positive change is possible. You can make your relationship better if you’re both willing to work for it.
All it takes for the relationship to get worse or to end is one person deciding it’s not worth it or that it’s their way or the highway. To make a relationship healthy, it always takes two.
Which of the following ten steps are you both ready to take?
- Be honest with each other about what you want and what changes you need.
- Consider couples counseling to get help from an experienced relationship advisor.
- Take risks together as a couple to build trust and share wins and losses.
- Learn conflict resolution skills so you can both express and process pent up anger.
- Make communication a priority and check in with each other every day.
- Find ways to laugh together and make time for that every day.
- Take steps to improve your financial situation to reduce stress for you both.
- Remind each other why you fell in love and make time for romantic date nights.
Do you see some of these characteristics of an unhealthy relationship?
Take an honest look at your own relationship and determine whether or not any of these relationship warning signs are present.
If so, it’s time to assess whether or not the relationship is causing more distress than happiness.
It's hard to acknowledge that your relationship is unhealthy and could be damaging your sense of self-worth.
No one wants to admit that their marriage or love partnership is failing or in serious trouble. But there are actions you can take to potentially turn things around.
One of the biggest causes of stress between couples is unhealthy communication. Sometimes you need a professional to help you navigate the problems between you.
If your partner will join you, go to a professional marriage or relationship counselor to discuss the damaging issues and work on strategies and skills to improve them.
Once couples have allowed their connection to devolve into acrimony, emotional abuse, or any of the 27 behaviors listed here, it's extremely difficult to repair the relationship without professional help.
But 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 and fixing an unhealthy relationship and making sound decisions about your future together.
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