Characteristics of Unhealthy Relationships

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Our lives are shaped by our relationships. We interact with so many people, and it's important that these interactions are positive and healthy. In this lesson you'll learn how to spot an unhealthy relationship, no matter what type of relationship it is.

Connecting with Others

When you think a of relationship, your mind might immediately jump to dating and romance. But relationships are much more than this. They involve connecting with others on a personal level, our behaviors, interactions, activities, and communications. You have relationships with your parents, your siblings, your friends, your teachers, your co-workers, and everyone else that you know. Each relationship is different and your interactions in one may be completely different than they are in another.

Healthy Relationship Characteristics

No matter the type of relationship, it should be one that you feel good about. You should feel secure in any relationship, knowing that the other person involved sincerely cares about you and your wellbeing. How can you know for sure? Well, there are some tell-tale signs that will clue you in:

  • You enjoy being with the other person.
  • Each person trusts the other.
  • There is honesty between the two people.
  • The relationship is fair.
  • There is good communication.
  • You do things for the other person not because you expect something in return but because it is the right thing to do or it just makes you feel good.
  • Appropriate boundaries are set and respected.
  • Neither person engages in behavior that is hurtful to the other.

Healthy relationships make us feel good about ourselves and those we are with.

Unhealthy Relationships

Unhealthy relationships, on the other hand, are ones that hurt you either emotionally or physically. These may be difficult to spot because they can be confusing and misleading. You may feel that the other person cares about you because of certain things they do or say. There are things to watch out for to help you understand why it may in fact not be a healthy relationship.

In general, an unhealthy relationship is not balanced, and often one person needs to feel control over the other. They may use threats, coercion, destruction of physical property, or intimidation to get you to do things. If you ever feel afraid for them or yourself, this may be a sign that your relationship is unhealthy.


Guilt is a way of controlling someone. Guilt can make you feel like things are your fault, that if you don't do certain things you will hurt or disappoint others that you care about or that others will think less of you.

Unhealthy relationships may involve abuse, guilt, control, threats, and fear.
depressed woman

Isolation is another form of control in an unhealthy relationship. Keeping you from seeing friends and family, monitoring your phone and internet use, following you, and telling you where you can and can't go are ways to keep you close to that person but damage your relationships with others.

Unhealthy relationships may not respect boundaries, and there may be a lack of fairness between the two people. One person may not put in as much effort or care, or in the case of family and romantic relationships, there may be an inequality in how resources such as money are controlled or distributed.

Any time there is physical or emotional abuse in a relationship, it is an unhealthy one. If someone puts you down, makes you feel badly about yourself, or physically harms you or others you care about, this is not a respectful relationship and is dangerous to your physical and mental health.

When one person treats the other person unfairly, this may be a sign of an unhealthy relationship.
two men arguing

Healthy vs. Unhealthy

In a healthy relationship, you may feel like doing nice things for the other person. In an unhealthy relationship, you may do this to an extreme and to your own detriment. You find yourself constantly putting the other person first and neglecting your own needs. Even if they reciprocate actions of goodwill, a healthy relationship involves a balance of taking care of yourself as well as the needs of others.

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