• Sarah Antonious, IHO Volunteer

Seven Warning Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship


It's not always easy to tell whether you could face abuse by your partner at the outset of a relationship. Once you're in the relationship, it becomes even more difficult to discern healthy behaviour from abusive tendencies. Relationships can be long and winding, and abuse is not always obvious from the get-go. Often, it starts subtly in the abuser's everyday patterns.




Here are seven major warning signs of an abusive partner:


1) Controlling Behaviour


An abuser will try to control different aspects of your life, no matter how big or small. They will act as though they know what's best for you. Be aware of controlling tendencies like your partner calling or texting you excessively if you are away from them for short periods of time. Red flags can also include asking to check your phone, monitoring your calls/texts, and making rules about who you can see and how often. When a controlling partner gets mad at you for something, you will likely feel like you've broken a rule that you didn't know existed until they get upset about it.


Other warning signs: They check the mileage on your car, keep track of your credit card statements, and hide finances from you.


2) Jealousy


It's easy to confuse jealousy with love. You may feel flattered by your partner's jealousy as a sign of their devotion to you. However, jealousy is a big red flag when it comes to abusive traits. An abuser will often question who you speak to and spend time with. You may find yourself being accused of cheating or thinking of other men romantically when you aren't. An abuser speaks poorly of other people in your life and is often aggressive or hostile towards them.


3) Gaslighting


Gaslighting happens when a person manipulates you psychologically into questioning your own sanity. An abusive partner will convince you that everything you feel or think is irrational, that you are ridiculous, that no one else could love you, and that you are the problem.


The keystone of gaslighting is psychological manipulation, so it cannot be easy to identify. With a partner who gaslights you, you consistently come out of arguments apologizing. You feel as though everything is your fault. You become afraid to bring up a problem you may have with them.


4) Rigid Gender Roles


It is common for an abusive partner to try to enforce old-fashioned gender roles within your relationship. They will make you feel like you are there to serve them and your needs come second to theirs. Red flags can include refusing to contribute to housework, degrading language, forced sex, aggression during sex, or disregarding your unwillingness to have sex.


5) Verbal Abuse


An abuser may brush off certain kinds of verbal abuse as "teasing." Be aware of how your partner speaks to you; verbal abuse does not refer only to curse words. Red flags can include insulting you, putting you down, threatening you, embarrassing or humiliating you in front of others, saying degrading things and laughing at you.


6) Constant Mood Swings or Dual Personality


Does your partner's mood change like a flipped switch? Does this happen randomly with no reasonable justification? Is your partner affectionate one minute and shouting, swearing or upset in the next? This unstable behaviour is a sign of abuse. Abusers often develop a cycle where they get upset, lose control and apologize soon after.


It is not uncommon for an abuser to be seen as a "good person" to those outside the relationship. They may be pleasant and charming in between periods of anger. Abusers will often minimize their unreasonable mood swings by saying they have a "temper."


7) Isolation


Often, an abusive partner will try to isolate you from the rest of the world. They will try to make you feel alone like you have nowhere—and no one—else to turn to. Pay attention to how your partner speaks about your family and friends. Isolation is a gradual process. An abusive partner may start by claiming they don't like your friends and family. Eventually, they will refuse to spend time with any of your loved ones.


An isolating partner makes you feel like you have to choose between them and everyone else. They will guilt you for doing things you enjoy. You may feel like you need to give your partner your undivided attention every waking hour.


Trust Your Instincts


These examples represent only a few characteristics of an abusive relationship. You know your situation best; always trust your instincts. If you think you may be experiencing abuse in your relationship, help is only a phone call away.