An unhealthy relationship is one where a partner or close family member shows abusive behaviour that is disrespectful, controlling or even violent. Whilst all relationships have their ups and downs an unhealthy relationship may be, or may lead to, domestic abuse and it is important to recognise the signs of unhealthy behaviours.

Here are some of the signs to look out for that may help to identify if you are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. The relationship could be with a partner, ex-partner or another family member.

Abusive behaviour in an unhealthy relationship.

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1. Obsessive behaviour

This type of behaviour is when the person feels a need to be in constant contact with you. This may include obsessive contact via phone, text or direct message. This behaviour may feel overwhelming and could be a sign that things are becoming too intense.

2. Possessiveness

Whilst jealousy is a normal human emotion, when it becomes over the top, it turns into possessiveness. This might include being accused of things you didn’t do, wrongly accusing you of flirting or cheating and attempting to control the things you do and who you spend time with.

3. Manipulation

Manipulation is the attempt to sway someone’s emotions to make them to act or feel in a certain way. It can often be missed, as it is expressed in subtle or passive-aggressive ways. Someone is trying to manipulate you when they attempt to convince you to do things that you don’t want to do or try to influence the way you think.

4. Guilting

This is a form of manipulation where you are made to feel responsible for their actions. They may also pressure you into doing things that you don’t want to, by convincing you it would hurt their feelings, or they may threaten to harm themselves or take their own lives if you don’t do it.

5. Belittling

This includes behaviours that are carried out to try to make you feel bad about yourself. They might say or do things that make you uncomfortable about yourself, often making out it is a joke or that you are overreacting. They may make you feel insecure about your ability to make decisions for yourself.

6. Sabotage

Belittling can also take the form of sabotage which includes spreading rumours about you in order to break your relationships with others and damage your reputation.

7. Isolation

People may intentionally try to keep you away from your extended family and friends to separate you from the people who care about you. This is often done to obtain greater power and control over the relationship. It can be disguised as them wanting to spend more time with you alone but can lead to you not seeing friends or family or work colleagues as often as you would really like to.

8. Controlling behaviour

Someone is showing controlling behaviour if they do things like stop you from seeing friends or family, attempt to control where you go and with whom or control what you wear. Controlling behaviour can also include tracking someone’s movements through hacking into their phone calls or putting a tracking device on their vehicle, to check their phone, texts, emails and social media.

9. Responsibility deflection

This includes regularly blaming you or someone else for their own actions. This behaviour can also mean blaming the behaviour on drugs, alcohol, mental health or insecurity left from a previous relationship (like a cheating ex or divorced parents).

10. Betrayal

When a person in a relationship consistently lies or acts in an intentionally dishonest way. This might include lying to other people about you, sharing sensitive information about you, cheating or being disloyal.


If you are concerned your relationship is showing unhealthy signs, and you may be experiencing domestic abuse, or you’re worried about someone you know, or are concerned about the impact of your behaviour towards others, then help is available by contacting us or by telephoning 0800 69 49 999.

In an emergency, you should always dial 999. If you are worried that an abuser may overhear your call you can remain silent, tap the phone and dial 55 when prompted by the operator who will send help.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired you can register with – You will then be able to send a text to 999 if you require help in an emergency.

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About this article

January 19, 2024

Michael Wallis

Children and young people



Older people