Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship and Ways to Improve It

Ashley Broadwater
A couple is having a fight.Budgeron Bach/Pexels

One of the scariest aspects of unhealthy relationships is how insidious they can be. The warning signs aren’t always clear-cut or fully abrasive from the start, and they’re often normalized and romanticized, especially in TV and movies. Further, getting out of them can be hard — and sometimes feel almost impossible.

But you deserve a healthy relationship, and I want to help you have one. Below are four dangerous red flags that indicate you may be in an unsafe relationship, as well as how it can become healthier, either with your current partner or a future one.

1. Possessiveness

What it can look like

While possessiveness can look obvious and physical — like grabbing your arm or not letting you out of the house when you want to leave — it can also appear in more insidious and innocent-seeming ways that may even come across as romantic. Examples you may see from your partner include:

  • Demanding you tell them where you are constantly
  • Not letting you have friends that are the same sex as your partner
  • Making you feel bad when you want to spend time with friends or family
  • Getting overly jealous in a way that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable

How to make it healthy

A healthier, safer flip side to those warning signs exists. If you feel safe to do so, you and your partner (with the help of a therapist, preferably) can work on turning those bulleted behaviors into the following, respectively:

  • Asking you to check in periodically so they know you’re safe in what could be an unsafe situation (like once you’ve gotten to your destination safely after driving in the dark or in a storm)
  • Working on building trust
  • Establishing boundaries and compromises around your time together and time apart, to where the decision is fair
  • Figuring out the root of the jealousy and helpful ways to handle it

2. Manipulation

What it can look like

Your partner may not always manipulate you consciously and purposely, but regardless, the effects can be serious. Here are some ways your partner may manipulate you:

  • Crying only so they get their way in an argument
  • Saying they’ll kill themselves if you break up with them
  • Making you feel guilty or bad when you did nothing wrong

How to make it healthy

If you notice these manipulative behaviors, here’s how you can make the situations more healthy:

  • Using communication skills and tools like “I statements” and compromises
  • Sharing mental health resources and knowing you have to take care of yourself first
  • According to experts: sticking up for yourself, making the moment productive, and remembering it isn’t really about you

3. Silence

What it can look like

While we sometimes need to take a moment to ourselves to calm down, complete and ongoing silence (or silencing) can be harmful and unproductive. It can look like:

  • Giving "the silent treatment" as punishment or after an argument
  • Not letting you speak up about your needs, wants, feelings, our boundaries

How to make it healthy

Communication is crucial in a relationship, especially when establishing boundaries and solving conflicts. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Learning and practicing communication skills — even before you have an argument — like these on TherapistAid
  • Allowing each person in the relationship to speak without interrupting them or invalidating what they’ve said, realizing impact means more than intent

4. Guilting

What it can look like

Guilt can feel horrible, especially when it’s placed upon us unfairly and intensely. While we need to take responsibility for our actions and encourage positive behaviors in our partners, the guilting behaviors below are manipulative and unhealthy:

  • Unfairly blaming you for something you didn’t do
  • Making you feel guilty or pressuring you to do something you don’t want to do
  • Saying mean words (or even giving mean looks) that make you feel bad about who you are

How to make it healthy

Guilting often isn’t helpful because it can’t fix the situation — it only makes someone feel bad. Here are more helpful ways to settle conflicts, disagreements, and concerns:

  • Trying to figure out solutions and what could help next time instead of blaming the other person
  • Respecting people’s boundaries (in your words and actions) by not pushing or pressuring them in any way, and truly listening to what they’re saying
  • Lifting the other person up and approaching issues or concerns with compassion rather than judgment


Red flags aren’t always obvious, so trust your instincts and gut feelings. If you ever feel unsafe or uncomfortable in your relationship, you may need to let that person go and/or work with a professional.

And remember — always — that you’re worth having someone who loves you wholeheartedly and treats you well. You deserve the best!

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A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, I'm an Atlanta-based freelance writer with fun news to share on local entertainment, mental health, dating, and more.

Atlanta, GA

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