9 Red Flags of an Unhealthy Relationship
Any type of relationship can be an unhealthy one. Bad relationships aren’t just limited to marriages or partnerships, they can occur while dating, in friendships, or families. Any relationship that is harmful or destructive to your physical, mental, or emotional well-being is an unhealthy one. There are many reasons people stay in an unhealthy relationship. They don’t recognize or aren’t willing to accept that the relationship is unhealthy. They are fearful or lack the inner strength to leave. Or, they believe that they can change their partner and things will improve. The sad truth is that unhealthy relationships rarely get better, instead, they get progressively worse, leaving scars that are difficult to recover from.
It’s easy to see the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship, if you know what to look for. Anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or fearful is a clear red flag. Of course, we know that if someone is abusing alcohol or drugs or physically abusing another, the relationship is unhealthy, but there are many other warning signs that you should be aware of. If you see any of these warning signs, get out and find help.
Any behavior that is aggressive is unhealthy. Actual physical abuse is just one type of aggressive behavior. Any type of physical force is unhealthy; not only hitting or slapping, but pushing, grabbing or causing any type of physical pain is abusive. Cruel behavior toward other people or animals is a sign of aggressiveness. Displays of angry temper or violence are aggressive. Hitting, kicking, or throwing objects are also clear signs of aggression. Any time you feel frightened or intimidated in a relationship it’s time to get out.
Any type of imbalance of power in a relationship or controlling behavior is unhealthy. Any time one person views the other as unequal or inferior, there is an imbalance of power. Often in a controlling relationship, the other person expects you to conform to their expectations of how you should look and behave. They may justify their behavior, by claiming they are only trying to help you make good decisions or that they know what’s best for you, but’s it’s really not about what’s best for you, it’s about their need to control. This type of behavior often worsens until they are making all of your decisions for you, what you wear, how you look, who your friends are, where you go, and what you do. They may go so far as to secretly check your text messages, phone calls, and email to monitor your activity. A sure red flag for controlling behavior is when you feel inferior or that you have no power to make your own decisions.
Possessive behavior may take the form of jealousy or imposed isolation. They will tell you that it’s just that they love you so much and worry about you, but possessiveness is not about love, it’s about a lack of trust. A possessive person may try to cut you off from your friends and family. They will often accuse you of flirting or cheating. They may even lie or make excuses to prevent you from spending time with other people, say they are sick or manufacture a crisis, for example. As the possessiveness worsens, they may call or drop by your home or work unexpectedly to “check up on you.” At first, this behavior might feel like intense love, but that’s not love, that’s stalking. Moreover, it can be dangerous.
All of us can be self-centered from time to time; it’s a necessary part of self-preservation. Selfishness becomes a problem when everything revolves around how it affects one individual, with no consideration for the other person. Self-centered people think only of themselves. They ignore or discount the feelings of others. They expect you to meet their needs, both physical and emotional, with no reciprocation on their part. They often make you feel responsible for their happiness and moods. Phrases such as “You make me feel…” or “If you’d only give me what I need…” are sure signs. Any time consideration, care, and generosity do not flow both ways, it’s a red flag.
A manipulator uses pressure or guilt to get you to do things you don’t want to do, often things you don’t feel are right. They most obvious kind of manipulation may be pressuring you for a physical relationship you’re not ready for, but emotional manipulation can be just as harmful. Whenever someone makes you feel guilty, uses disapproval or threats to influence you, or withdraws love or attention as punishment, that’s manipulation. If you feel as though you are doing things that you don’t feel comfortable about to please another it’s a red flag to pay attention. The most extreme and most dangerous kind of manipulation is the threat of self-inflicted harm or suicide. If this happens, get help immediately. You can’t handle this type of behavior alone.
At times, we can all be critical of the ideas and behaviors of others, but when it’s frequent and done with the intent to hurt or belittle, it’s unhealthy. Critical people make you feel inadequate or unworthy. They repeatedly disrespect you, your thoughts, your behaviors, and your words. They often may humiliate you in front of others, though some may be concerned with how others view them and criticize in private to appear kind and caring to others. Anytime someone makes you feel as though you are not good enough, intelligent enough, attractive enough or that your ideas are stupid or worthless, the warning bells should be going off. It’s not about you at all; it’s about making themselves feel superior by making you feel worse. A very early red flag is when someone talks negatively about or disrespects others in front of you.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde do not belong in a relationship. This kind of volatile and unpredictable behavior is very unhealthy. It can be very confusing and mentally draining to try to deal with sudden shifts in another person’s mood. A person who rages in a fit of anger one minute, then smiles, cries or acts as if nothing happened the next is unstable and needs help. Volatile people can also be hypersensitive to things you say and do. Small or unexpected things seem to set off a drastic mood change. This type of behavior is common in abusive relationships and may be a sign of bipolar disorder or another mental imbalance.
Dishonesty has no place in a healthy relationship. Not only is dishonesty inherently wrong, but it disintegrates trust between two people. The lies may be big or small, excessive exaggeration or complete fabrication, often with no discernible reason. People are dishonest for a number of reasons. They may be trying to exaggerate their importance, get themselves out of trouble, or be trying to hurt others or cause drama. The reason is irrelevant; the lack of honesty and trust makes a healthy relationship impossible. A clear early warning sign are the little white lies you hear them telling others. If they’re dishonest with others, they’ll lie to you too.
Irresponsible behavior can take many forms and can be the most difficult to recognize. Constant Financial problems or mismanagement of money may be a sign of an irresponsible person. The inability to keep a job for long or frequent switching of education majors or programs might be another sign. When someone expects others to support him or her financially or “rescue” them when they have difficulty in life, that’s a clear red flag. Everyone needs help, but a pattern of expecting others to fix their mistakes or take care of them is a problem. In a healthy relationship, both people take responsibility for their own decisions and meet their own needs.
Healthy and fulfilling relationships may be the most important thing in our lives, but when they become unhealthy, they can also do the most damage. A healthy relationship is one of trust, kindness, respect, understanding, and generosity, one that offers support and encouragement. An unhealthy relationship is one where there is violence, distrust, cruelty, a lack of responsibility, an imbalance of power, blaming, manipulation, or extreme jealousy. When there is a lack of consideration and respect in a relationship, the results can be devastating both physically and mentally. Be aware of the red flags, heed the warning signs, and get out quickly.