Red Flag Phrases:
Warning Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship
by Lindsey Turnbull
It’s Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and I believe it’s important to have conversations about healthy relationships all year. Everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship.
When we talk about healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, the first thing that usually comes to mind is violence. While violence is definitely unhealthy and abusive, there are other, sneakier types of unhealthy relationships. Emotional abuse often goes under the radar because it is not as easy to recognize- especially for people who are new to dating. Emotional abuse can be downplayed as “less serious” because it isn’t physically violence, but it is just as serious.
Emotionally abusive relationships can lead to poor self-esteem, mental illness, loss of independence and self-worth, and even physical violence. It also normalizes unhealthy behaviors, meaning that someone in one abusive relationship is likely to be in an unhealthy relationship in the future.
Unhealthy and abusive relationships don’t start that way! In the beginning, abusers can be fun, charming, witty, and sweet. If an abusive person was horrible all the time, no one would date them! Abusive and unhealthy partners may start out being so loving, constantly texting, sending gifts, telling you how special and perfect you are…but they do not stay that way.
But how do you know if a person is unhealthy, potentially abusive? There are some phrases (and this is not an exhaustive list, so please feel free to message) that signal that a partner could potentially be abusive:
“If you really loved me you would…[something that makes you uncomfortable.]”
It could be anything from sexual activity, to sending nudes/sexts, to skipping class, to handing over your social media passwords. If it makes you uncomfortable, you have a right to say no. Always. In a healthy relationship, one person won’t guilt, shame, or manipulate the other into doing something.
“You’re SO stupid, ugly, worthless, etc.”
Constant put-downs are never OK! Someone who belittles you is not a healthy partner. If your partner calls you a name and then accuses you of overreacting or calls you “crazy,” that person could be gas-lighting you. Gas-lighting is a type of manipulation common in abusive relationships where one partner makes the other doubt and second guess themselves. Even fights should not involve name calling or belittling.
“This is all your fault.” “You MADE me do this/made me this way.”
No, no, and no. You can only control you. You cannot control how another person thinks, responds, or reacts to something. In healthy relationships, partners will talk through disagreements, not place blame elsewhere. A healthy partner will accept fault for their mistakes. An unhealthy partner will try to blame you (or someone else) for their poor behavior.
“You can’t talk to [some person] anymore.”
Jealousy is a huge red flag for an unhealthy relationship! Unhealthy partners will try to isolate their partner from friends, family, support systems, etc. In healthy relationships, both partners can enjoy friendships without pressure or jealousy.
Some people believe jealousy or possessiveness is a sign that their “partner really cares.” It is not, it is a huge warning sign that one partner is trying to make the other partner isolated and co-dependant.
“If you do this I will [retaliate, hurt myself, etc.]”
Not OK. Not ever. Not even if the person is living with mental illness. Unhealthy partners can attempt to manipulate, guilt, or blackmail to keep someone in a relationship- and scared to leave. Everyone deserves a safe, healthy, and manipulation-free relationship. Choosing to leave may be the safest, smartest choice- remember, we can only control our actions. It is not one person’s responsibility to sacrifice their happiness and safety for their partner.
In healthy relationships, partners respect, trust, and communicate with one another. They allow each other space, privacy, and honesty. Healthy relationships feel balanced- not like one person makes all the choices or has all of the power.
If your partner says one of these phrases once, I’m not saying you should immediately dump them. However, if you hear one or more of these often, it is probably time to evaluate your relationship and ask: Is this relationship healthy for me? Break-ups DO hurt, even breaking up with an unhealthy person, and that’s OK too.
For more information, OneLove has a really helpful article on identifying emotionally abusive relationships!
Oh gosh, this sounds like something I’ve said. What if I’m the one who is being abusive?
The first and hardest step is admitting that your behavior is not healthy. If you have already taken responsibility for your actions, you are on the right track.
Changing your behavior takes time, and often requires professional help. It is not impossible! You can learn how to treat your partners with respect- physically, sexually, and emotionally.
Look in your area to find a therapist, counselor, and/or a program that focuses on abusive behavior.
Not you, but someone you know? You can Help a Friend Who May be Abusing Their Partner from OneLove. ….But I’m doing it ‘for their own good!’
If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.
Love is Respect | Call: 1.866.331.9474 | TTY: 1.866.331.8453 | Text: loveis to 22522 | Online chat
National Domestic Violence Hotline. | Call: 1−800−799−7233 | Online chat available
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
The Trevor Project. | GLBT Youth Talkline at 1-800-246-7743 | The Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline | Available 24/7 by phone at 1-800-273-8255| Chat.
Your Life Your Voice