Sadie Holloway is a workshop facilitator who teaches interpersonal communication skills to help people strengthen their relationships.
Are you in a bad relationship? Learn more about some of the warning signs that your relationship is harmful to your physical and emotional health and well-being.
Being in an abusive relationship can feel like you are cut off from the rest of the world sometimes.
How do you know if you are in a bad relationship? Maybe you and your spouse are just going through a rough patch and your marriage problems can be sorted out. On the other hand, things may be so stressful in your relationship that you feel it’s time to let go of a relationship that is causing you pain and anguish.
Letting go of a relationship, even a bad relationship that causes you pain, can be very difficult. There may still be good parts about your relationship with your husband or wife, and that can make it hard to notice the telltale signs and symptoms of a relationship that’s not good for you.
Sometimes it’s hard to know if you are in an unhealthy relationship because you’ve just gotten used to the way things are. Admitting to yourself, or to someone else, that things about your relationship are causing you to feel sad, anxious, and fearful isn’t easy. Why? Because one of the things about being in a bad relationship is that you may have started to doubt yourself and your feelings. Unhealthy and abusive relationships can erode your self-esteem. Trusting yourself and your inner wisdom is harder to do when you’ve been in a relationship with someone who brings you down and makes you feel worthless.
That’s the first sign that you’re in a bad relationship: you feel worthless. A good relationship should make you feel good about yourself. If you’re not happy, your heart may be telling you that it’s time to get out of a toxic relationship.
There’s no scientific formula for determining whether or not the relationship you are in is harmful. Only you can make that decision for yourself. There are, however, some common signs that can help you decide if staying in your current relationship is a good idea, or if it’s time to move on and break free of an unhealthy relationship.
The video below explores some of the signs and symptoms of emotional abuse. It's a good place to start learning more about what an unhealthy relationship looks like.
Here are some more signs that you might be in, or heading towards, a bad relationship.
1. You spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not you're in a healthy relationship. People always say that time flies when you’re having fun. Laughing and having fun with your partner on a regular basis is a sign that you are in a good relationship. On the other hand, if you feel like you are spending a significant amount of your time dealing with relationship problems, then the days will feel like they are dragging on.
2. Your partner threatens to harm himself if you break up with him. Attempting to make you feel guilty for ending a relationship is a sign that the relationship is not healthy. This isn't just a sign of a toxic relationship, it's a sign that additional support and resources may be needed to help you stay safe if you do decide to end things.
3. Your partner threatens to harm you, your pets, or loved ones if you leave. Violence or threats of violence have no place in a healthy, happy relationship. Seek the support of a qualified counsellor, women's center, transition house, healthcare professional or social service agency if you are feeling threatened. It's OK to get support when leaving as an abusive relationship.
4. You feel like you have to choose between your partner and something that makes you happy or brings you joy. If you feel like you have to give up something that makes you happy in order to please your boyfriend or girlfriend, that’s a sign of a unhealthy relationship. Good relationships find ways to create enough space for your individual goals and aspirations. Why would someone who says he cares about you ask you to give up something that makes you happy? Likewise, if you are the one expecting your partner to let go of a hobby or social group in order to make you happy, you may be the reason you feel like you are in a bad relationship: you have unhealthy expectations about what he should do for you.
5. You make excuses for your partner’s behavior. Trying to cover up for his reckless or irresponsible behavior, either to protect him from the consequences or to spare yourself shame and embarrassment, could indicate that you are headed for trouble. Firstly, you can’t change someone else’s behavior. If you feel ashamed or embarrassed by the things he says or does, covering up for him is not going to help. Secondly, by trying to manage his life, that is, protecting him from the consequences of his actions, you are sending him a signal that you don’t trust him or the relationship. It’s important to trust each other enough to take full responsibility for individual choices. That’s the sign of a good relationship.
6. If your partner doesn’t love you and accept you as you are, that’s a strong sign that you’re in an unhealthy relationship. Being in a good relationship means that your partner loves you unconditionally, and has no desire to change anything about you.
7. Your partner is controlling. If your partner tries to tell you what to wear, what to say, or whom you can or can not see, take a step back and ask yourself if that’s the sign of a good relationship. (Hint: It’s not.)
8. Your partner makes major decisions that affect you without consulting you. Not including you in important decisions that affect the two of you is a subtle form of control. Committing your household or family to debt by taking out loans without talking to you is not fair, even if he says that he will be the one making the payments. If you are in a good relationship, your partner will have no doubts about talking to you about issues that impact the both of you. From accepting a pay raise that has longer hours attached to it, to inviting in-laws to live with you indefinitely, your partner should be consulting you on all issues that will affect your life.
9. Your partner behaves in ways that put you at risk. While your partner may never dream of raising a hand and beating you, reckless behavior that threatens your safety can be the sign of a relationship that isn't good for you. Speeding excessively, driving while under the influence, substance misuse that impairs good judgement or any other risky behavior that can injure you should give you pause to consider whether or not the person you are with is a healthy influence in your life.
This list doesn't cover all of the signs of a bad relationship. Some relationships may only show a few of these indicators. Other relationships may have all of these signs plus many more, and yet they are still not perceived as toxic relationships by the people in them. That's why deciding whether or not you are in a bad relationship is a personal decision that only you can make for yourself.
If you need more information about unhealthy relationships, there are community resources that may be able to help you. Support groups, women's centers, social service agencies and healthcare professionals such as your doctor or a counsellor may be able to offer you assistance in helping you make the healthiest decisions possible for your own unique circumstances.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Sadie Holloway