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Recognizing the Signs of a Bad Relationship

Updated on October 10, 2016
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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.

If you feel alone, isolated, and cut-off from friends and family, that may be a sign that you are in a bad relationship. Healthy relationships let you stay connected to friends and family.
If you feel alone, isolated, and cut-off from friends and family, that may be a sign that you are in a bad relationship. Healthy relationships let you stay connected to friends and family.

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 bad 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 a bad 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 bad relationship.

There’s no scientific formula for determining whether or not the relationship you are in is bad. 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.

When your partner threatens to harm you or your pets if you try to leave, that's a strong sign that you are in an abusive relationship.
When your partner threatens to harm you or your pets if you try to leave, that's a strong sign that you are in an abusive relationship.

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 bad 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 bad 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 bad 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 can’t find common ground about important spiritual beliefs and values. It’s OK to have different ideas about how to decorate a home, how to make the world’s best fudge brownies, or what to do on Friday night date night. But when it comes to spiritual beliefs and values, compromise is not always possible. For example, if you have different views on criminal justice (i.e.; capital punishment), human rights (i.e.; gender equality) or women’s health (i.e.; reproductive health and freedom to choose), maintaining a long-term relationship may be hard. Having different political beliefs doesn’t mean that things won’t work out. But if your religious beliefs are at odds with his, you will have to make an extra effort to respect each other’s thoughts and values.

6. You make excuses for your partner’s behaviour. Trying to cover up for his bad 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.)

What would you do if you thought your friend was in a bad relationship?
What would you do if you thought your friend was in a bad relationship?

9. 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.

10. 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 is a sign of a bad relationship. 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 signs. Other relationships may have all of these signs plus many more, and yet they are still not perceived as bad 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.

What would you do if you thought your friend was in a bad relationship?

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© 2014 Sadie Holloway

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