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Signs of Dysfunctional Relationships and Potential Relationship Violence

Relationships can be enormously complex requiring a variety of factors: compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and a desire to seek the happiness of the other. That being said, all interpersonal relationships are not always healthy. 

Unhealthy behaviors within a relationship are often present early on as seemingly harmless actions that later escalate into problems such as emotional abuse, verbal abuse and physical abuse. Identifying early signs of abusive behavior can help you recognize a dysfunctional relationship and seek help for yourself or for a friend. Regardless of identity, anyone can be a victim of physical violence.

Being in an abusive relationship can have profound and lasting negative effects on an individual’s mental health. Victims often experience anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and low self-esteem. The constant state of tension and unpredictability leads to chronic stress, making them feel perpetually on edge. Over time, they may begin to internalize the negative messages from their abuser, leading to feelings of worthlessness and self-blame. This can result in a diminished sense of self-worth and an erosion of one’s identity. The isolation often imposed by abusers can further exacerbate feelings of loneliness and entrapment, making it challenging for the victim to seek help or visualize a life outside the abusive dynamic.

Here are 10 signs of abusive behavior that can lead to potential relationship violence: 

  • Intensity: Over-the-top behavior that feels like too much too soon. Lying to cover up insecurity. Obsessive behavior.
  • Jealousy: Irrational, angry behavior when you speak with someone your partner perceives as a threat. Persistently accusing you of flirtatious or inappropriate behavior.
  • Control: Telling you what to wear, who to hang out with, when to speak or what to think.
  • Isolation: Insisting you only spend time with them. Making you dependent on them for money, love, or acceptance.
  • Sabotage: Making you miss appointments, work, or something important to you by starting a fight, pretending to be sick, breaking up with you, or hiding your phone or keys.
  • Criticism: Calling you names. Brainwashing you to feel worthless.
  • Blame: Making you feel guilty. Making you feel like everything is your fault.
  • Anger: Overreacting to small issues. Losing control. Violent outbursts. Making you feel afraid.
  • Substance Abuse:  Becoming overly emotional after drinking or using other substances. Sobbing, threatening to harm oneself, becoming violent or angry. Not remembering what happened while drunk. Using ‘I was drunk’ as an excuse for poor behavior.
  • Group Conquest: Acting differently when in a group than when alone. Treating partners as conquests. Sexual one-upmanship and sexual abuse.

Helping someone in a dysfunctional or abusive relationship requires a delicate balance of sensitivity, emotional support, and understanding. It’s vital to create a safe space where the person feels heard and believed without being judged or pressured. Here are several ways you can help someone in a toxic relationship:

  1. Listen actively and empathetically, allowing them to express their feelings and fears.
  2. Avoid criticizing the abuser outright, as this might make the person defensive and less open to seeking help. Instead, focus on their well-being and safety.
  3. Offer resources, such as hotlines, mental health counseling services, and shelters, but let them decide when and how to act. Remember, the decision to leave or seek assistance is deeply personal, and it’s essential that they feel empowered to make the best choice for their circumstances.
  4. Encourage them to develop a safety plan and lean on a support network, but always prioritize their safety and confidentiality in every action and discussion.

If you or someone you know is experiencing an unhealthy or abusive relationship, there are several resources. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Get professional help from our mental health counselors at Diversus Health by calling or walking in for same day access. If you’re in imminent danger, please call 911.




If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health, request an appointment with one of our professional mental health providers at Diversus Health today. If you need immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.

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