What are the signs of an unhealthy relationship?

What are the signs of an unhealthy relationship?

Whether it be with a friend, romantic partner, colleague, or family member, there are some common signs of an unhealthy relationship. 

If you feel like you are never certain where you stand with someone, or they often cause alarm bells to sound in your head, you might be in an unhealthy relationship.

If you think you are in danger, be it physical, mental or emotional harm, seek immediate advice and assistance.

What is an unhealthy relationship?

By relationship, we mean your connection to another person. This could be anyone, not just someone you are romantically involved with. In a healthy relationship, you will show equal respect for each other. You will be prepared to communicate effectively to repair things, and avoid prolonged upset. You and your partner will be open to learning more about each other’s needs and emotions, and you will both be willing to change to allow growth.

However, in unhealthy relationships you may notice your needs being consistently overlooked or outright rejected – sometimes consciously, other times not. This can lead to feelings of irritability, anger and resentment, and can fuel relationship disharmony as well as personal mental ill-health.

In more extreme or even abusive cases, relationships might be described as toxic. You might notice yourself feeling consistently drained or unhappy after spending time with the other person. It may be that the significant other is trying to control or exert power. In many instances, these dynamics can be difficult to notice initially, and you might not be sure why you feel negative emotions following interactions.

This can become complicated when the other person is your boss or a more senior staff member.

When interpersonal difficulties arise, things can be resolved if both parties are willing to work towards forming a healthy relationship. In practice, it is often the individual upon whom greater impact is being exerted by the unhealthy relationship that feels the need to initiate some change first. 

Keep reading to find out more about healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Signs of a healthy relationship

Due to past experiences, you may find it difficult to determine if you are in a healthy relationship – particularly if you haven’t experienced many healthy relationships previously. 

Or, you might have a relatively healthy relationship with someone but need to address some concerns before they become something more serious.

Common signs of a healthy relationship include:

  • Mutual respect for one another
  • Respecting boundaries that have been set
  • Able to trust each other
  • Honest communication
  • Can openly discuss problems
  • Do not attempt to intimidate each other
  • Want what is best for each other
  • Showing compassion and affection for one another
  • Your relationship moves at a pace you are comfortable with
  • Will compromise on differences in opinions and preferences where possible

In a romantic partnership, both individuals should be comfortable with the extent of the sexual relationship. Neither of you should be doing something that causes you to feel uncomfortable or pressured – sexually or otherwise. 

In healthy romantic relationships, each individual should be afforded space to be themselves. A partner in a healthy relationship will never put pressure on their companion to change or act differently. No denying of freedoms – however small – is a good sign. A healthy relationship, therefore, rarely involves ongoing negative comments towards a partner’s valued friends or hobbies, or the limiting of access to these. Where these things begin to be denied, it may be a sign of a relationship becoming abusive.

Partners in healthy relationships also tend to be open to learning about their companion and their evolving needs. Where problems arise, healthy partners can work towards negotiated, mutual change – even where this involves learning to cope better with difficult emotions brought up by the relationship. Changes here are most easily arrived at through transparent, respectful, and calm communication. You may need the support of a professional to help if this isn’t working.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship

The first step to working on, or leaving, an unhealthy relationship, is recognising when you are in one. 

If something is bothering you about your relationship, you should trust your gut and think about what it is and why it bothers you.

Does this person affect your self-confidence or cause low self-esteem? Is one of your basic needs consistently overlooked?

Some unhealthy behaviours may appear at rare moments in your relationship, and this does not mean that your relationship is unhealthy. But, it is usually worth discussing these with the other person. Consistent and ongoing problems that are not resolved through communication require further help.

Common signs of an unhealthy relationship include:

  • Not respecting a no
  • Physical or sexual violence
  • Targeting known insecurities
  • Insulting each other frequently
  • Consistently causing you stress
  • An inability to compromise
  • Pressure to act a certain way
  • Not being able to trust each other
  • Lack of responsibility for your or their actions
  • Blaming their actions on someone else or you
  • Attempting to start an argument for no reason
  • Comparing you or your partner to someone else
  • Sharing private information without your permission
  • Sabotaging your reputation or other things important to you
  • Not supporting each other or turning your relationship into a competition
  • Threatening behaviours or giving ultimatums to control actions
  • Strong or unpredictable reactions to small things (a volatile person)
  • One of you suggests that the other is beneath them in some way
  • Your value is determined by how you look, how much money you make, or what you can do for them

If the person you have a relationship with ticks one of these boxes, you may want to have a conversation with them about this. If they tick multiple boxes, you may wish to seek the advice of a professional.


Controlling behaviours are a key sign that you are in an unhealthy relationship. 

A person is controlling if they use positive or negative reinforcement to manipulate your actions or decisions. For example, if they often make negative comments after you’ve seen a specific person or anyone that isn’t them, they may be attempting to isolate you. This can make it difficult for you to seek the advice of others about your relationship or to leave a partner.

You may feel like you have to check with your partner that what you are wearing, doing, or how you spend your money is acceptable. While there may be occasions when you want input from your partner on these matters, you should be and feel in control of these choices.

Obsession and possession

Your relationship likely isn’t healthy if someone asks you to constantly inform them of where you are, what you are doing, or who you’re talking to. If you feel monitored or that you need to respond quickly to messages it isn’t a good sign.

Similarly, your partner depending on you for everything is a sign that your relationship is unhealthy. Have a think about the following questions.

Does this person put pressure on you to always be with them or do things for them?

Are they jealous when you’ve spent time with other people without them?

Do they express that they can’t live without you?

It can be hard to end a relationship. But at any point in a partnership, you should feel that it is your choice to walk away if you want to. While it may be a sad decision, the other person should not make threats about what might happen if you decide that your relationship is over. This kind of message is a sign in itself that the relationship is unhealthy.

Read our blog to discover how unhealthy relationships affect your mental health and when to seek help.

Book an appointment

If you believe you are in an unhealthy relationship or struggle with a healthy one, our specialists at Kove can offer expert advice. 

We can help you determine whether your relationship is healthy and provide support in working on your relationship.

Contact us today to discuss your situation.

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