What does a unhealthy relationship sound like?

Unhealthy relationships can take many forms, but often exhibit certain behaviors and patterns of interaction between partners. Recognizing the signs of an unhealthy relationship early is important to address issues or leave if necessary. While every relationship has ups and downs, consistent problematic behaviors or interactions indicate something is off. Here are some quick answers to questions that can help identify unhealthy relationship dynamics:

Does your partner:

– Criticize you frequently over small issues?
– Try to control your schedule, activities, or friendships?
– Cross boundaries you have set or ignore your objections?
– Blame you for their own moods or behaviors?
– Make you feel like you are walking on eggshells?
– Pressure you for intimate contact when you don’t want it?
– Threaten to harm you or themselves if you leave?
– Accuse you of cheating without cause?
– Gaslight you into doubting your own perceptions?
– Refuse to compromise or see your viewpoint?

Do you:

– Feel anxious about their moods or reactions to things?
– Find yourself making excuses for their behavior?
– Believe you can “fix” them or the relationship issues?
– Question whether you are the problem in the relationship?
– Keep thoughts and feelings to yourself to avoid issues?
– Feel isolated from friends and family due to their demands?
– Frequently feel unhappy, despite reassurances from them?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, it could indicate an unhealthy dynamic that needs attention. Be honest with yourself about behaviors from your partner and changes in yourself since the relationship began.

Common unhealthy relationship patterns

There are some common patterns that emerge in unhealthy relationships. Being aware of these tendencies can help identify if there are issues present.


One partner feels entitled to dictate the other’s behavior and social contacts due to irrational jealousy and need for control. Stalking, checking phones, and accusations of cheating frequently occur. The jealous partner feels they “own” the other.


One partner may guilt, gaslight, promise change, shift blame, or otherwise psychologically manipulate the other. This creates self-doubt and a tendency for the abused partner to appease. Manipulation tactics are used to maintain power imbalances.


Partners in unhealthy relationships frequently disregard each other’s boundaries. This can include dismissal of opinions, inappropriate jokes/comments, or refusing to acknowledge emotional needs. Pet names said sarcastically or hurtfully also reflect disrespect.


Lies, omissions, or hiding things erode trust and intimacy in relationships. Dishonest partners may conceal engaging in hurtful behaviors, misuse shared finances, or have secret contacts or experiences. Their duplicity damages the relationship.


Frequent dramatic highs and lows in emotional states or moods create instability. Partners feel like they are walking on eggshells to avoid sparking rages. Volatile partners may later apologize and promise change.


One partner heavily relies on the other emotionally or financially without reciprocity. They may threaten self-harm if separation is mentioned. Dependent partners fail to develop their own identities or lives outside the relationship.

Common behaviors in unhealthy relationships

Some specific behaviors commonly occur in unhealthy dynamics that undermine intimacy. Being aware helps identify them quickly.

Stonewalling – One partner totally shuts down communication by refusing to respond. This forces the discussion to end unresolved. They may ignore questions, change the subject, or leave the room.

Coercion and threats – Partners threaten to end the relationship, cut off support, harm themselves or others, or retaliate in some way if demands are not met. Fear created by threats coerces compliance.

Targeted insults – In efforts to emotionally wound their partner during conflicts, abusive partners pick sensitive vulnerabilities to attack through insults, mockery and criticism.

Sabotage – Partners may secretly undermine goals, happiness, or wellbeing of the other out of jealousy or control needs. Sabotage may include causing them to lose jobs or friendships.

Blame-shifting – Chronically shifting blame for relationship problems or partner’s feelings onto external things or the partner themselves. Taking little responsibility for impact of their behaviors.

Lies – Consistently lying to cover up behaviors, history, contacts, time spent away from partner or other activities damages the relationship and stability.

One-sided boundaries – Demanding respect for their own boundaries while regularly violating their partner’s boundaries. Hypocritical restriction of freedoms.

Control and criticism – Dictating partner’s behaviors, appearance, and social life through criticism and demands. Treating their partner like a child in need of correction.

Intermittent positive reinforcement – Occasional kindness, apologies, gifts or compliments between episodes of manipulation, criticism or abuse. Keeps the partner invested in the relationship.

Minimizing concerns – When partners raise concerns about treatment, it gets dismissed as an overreaction or too sensitive. Their needs get minimized and invalidated.

Negative impacts of unhealthy relationships

Unhealthy relationships take a toll on mental health and self-esteem. Some negative consequences include:

Exhaustion – Partners feel drained from walking on eggshells, the rollercoaster of emotions, and constant tension. Energy gets depleted.

Lost time and opportunities – Due to demands on their time and behaviors, unhealthy relationships cause some partners to miss career or social opportunities.

Broken self-esteem – Criticisms and abuse erode self-confidence. Partners feel worthless, insecure and undeserving of love.

Anxiety and depression – The chaos and stress of unhealthy relationships commonly leads to anxiety disorders or depressive symptoms.

Isolation – Controlling or dependent partners may cut off outside friendships and family connections. This isolates victims from emotional support systems.

normalized dysfunction – Destructive behaviors get accepted as normal. Partners forget what healthy intimacy feels like. “This is just how relationships are” mentality develops.

Physical health issues – The chronic stress takes a toll on physical health. Victims may develop stress-related conditions like digestive issues, headaches or insomnia.

Addiction issues – Some turn to excessive drinking, recreational drugs, gambling or other addictions to cope with the relationship dysfunction.

Financial instability – Abusive partners may tightly control finances, cause loss of jobs, run up shared debt or sabotage economic stability.

Unhealthy relationships damage lives and partners’ abilities to trust and connect with others. Seeking help via counseling and domestic violence resources is important if attempting to leave.

How to have relationship check-ins

Having honest, calming check-ins allows partners to voice concerns, establish boundaries, and identify issues. Here are tips:

– Find the right time – Discuss when you are both calm and receptive. Not mid-argument. Avoid alcohol.

– Take turns sharing – Actively listen without judgment then rephrase their point back. Validate their feelings.

– Use “I” statements – Use “I feel…” phrases to avoid accusatory “you” language. Take responsibility for feelings.

– Seek understanding – Ask questions to fully understand their perspective and reasoning. Even if you disagree, show you comprehend it.

– Establish boundaries – If certain behaviors are unacceptable, be clear. State needs and expectations kindly.

– Brainstorm solutions – Offer ways to address issues raised. Suggest compromises. Collaborate to problem solve.

– Watch for defensiveness – Call out and diffuse any defensiveness. Refocus on mutual understanding and empathy.

– Affirm your commitment – Express love, appreciation and dedication to improving the relationship together.

– Make agreements – Clarify mutual agreements for acceptable behavior moving forward. How will you support each other’s boundary needs?

Follow up on check-ins to address progress and outstanding issues. Seek counseling support if patterns continue.

Reflecting on personal dealbreakers

Getting clarity on your absolute dealbreakers for unacceptable behaviors helps assess relationships. Some examples:

– Physical abuse – Any interpersonal violence or behaviors that physically endanger you or make you feel unsafe.

– Chronic dishonesty – Lies or secrecy that damage trust in the relationship. For example hiding contacts, friendships or finances.

– Emotional abuse – Treating you in humiliating, insulting or demeaning ways. Trying to undermine your self-esteem.

– Addiction issues – Problematic substance abuse or other addictions they refuse to address. Especially when they become dangerous or destructive.

– Disrespecting boundaries – Repeatedly ignoring or dismissing your stated boundaries or violating your consent.

– Control issues – Trying to dictate who you see or how you spend your time. Interfering in your work life or friendships. Possessiveness.

– Financial irresponsibility- Making large purchases without consulting you, accruing debt issues that threaten your shared stability.

– Criminal behavior – Theft, violence or legal issues you find unacceptable based on your principles.

– No effort – Refusing to address relationship problems. Unwilling to communicate, compromise, attend counseling, or improve.

Clarify what behaviors would mean the end of the relationship for you personally. Enforce those boundaries.

Signs it may be time to leave an unhealthy relationship

Partners should seek couples counseling if both are willing to improve the relationship. However, many unhealthy relationships exhibit entrenched patterns unlikely to change. Consider leaving if:

– Your physical safety is at risk – Any form of physical or sexual abuse should mean the immediate end of a relationship. Your safety comes first.

– Happiness is rare – The relationship feels like constant work and emotional pain. Joy, comfort and fun are uncommon.

– Issues are unresolved – Despite repeated efforts to communicate and address problems, nothing changes. Partners remain defensive.

– Trust is broken – It has become impossible to rebuild trust after lies, cheating, or other betrayal. Suspicion and resentment make intimacy impossible.

– Partner is unwilling – They resist counseling, don’t acknowledge issues, or undermine efforts to improve the relationship. Change requires mutual willingness.

– Needs aren’t met – Your core needs for respect, affection, honesty, support, etc aren’t getting met even after clearly communicating them.

– Confidence is crushed – Persistent criticism, disrespect, Gaslighting, and emotional abuse have eroded your self-worth.

– Mentally drained – You feel depleted by constant drama, tiptoeing to avoid problems and emotional chaos. The environment has become toxic.

– Nothing left to give – You’ve given everything to make it work but find you have no energy or emotions left to keep fighting for the relationship.

Take time to grieve but know you deserve healthy love. Seek support to navigate leaving safely. Your wellbeing and fulfillment matter.

How to build healthy relationships

Healthy relationships make partners feel secure, supported and valued. Cultivating that takes work. Strategies to build healthy relationships include:

Mutual respect –

Value each other’s autonomy. Support each other’s growth. Avoid controlling behaviors or attacks on self-esteem.

Shared values –

Having common core values builds connection. Discuss convictions about ethics, spirituality, politics, and goals.

Personal time –

Allow each other space for separate friendships, hobbies, and personal time. Codependence strains relationships.


Practice reflective listening. Share feelings and perspectives openly. Resolve conflicts calmly. Compromise.

Appreciation –

Express gratitude for each other’s efforts and qualities. Say thank you, give small gifts, and celebrate milestones.

Intimacy –

Bond through mutual emotional vulnerability and physical affection. Stay attracted to each other’s passions and dreams.

Accountability –

Admit mistakes. Take responsibility for impacts of behaviors. Hold each other, but yourself first, to higher standards.

Shared experiences –

Bond through adventures, travel, classes or volunteering together. Trying new things creates memories.

Support system –

Surround yourselves with positive friends and family who strengthen your bond. Seek mentorship and premarital education.

The work is endless but relationships thrive when partners commit to growth, intimacy and mutual fulfillment.


Unhealthy relationships damage quality of life and mental health. Partners should watch for controlling behaviors, criticism, dishonesty, volatility and other red flags. Addressing issues early via honest check-ins and counseling helps. However, some relationships have entrenched dysfunction requiring difficult decisions. Clarifying dealbreakers helps assess options. With support, people can heal and build new healthy relationships based on mutual respect and care.

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