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12 signs of an unhealthy relationship that may seem innocent, but probably aren’t.

This post deals with abuse and might be triggering for some readers.

Throughout my childhood and adulthood, I often heard it said that we should give other people the benefit of the doubt. 

Doing so comes easily to me sometimes, especially when I don’t want to lose a relationship or learn the truth about my idealistic (and unrealistic) view of someone.

As someone who has an insecure attachment style, I deeply long for relationships but often fear I’m on the verge of losing them. Out of desperation for a relationship, I’ll put up with toxic behaviours, making excuses for people and trying to "see the bright side" when in actuality, I’m just not being honest with myself. Even worse, I sometimes let that negative treatment affect my self-worth and self-esteem.

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It took me many years to realise that men were treating me in toxic ways. To learn that I’m worth more than unhealthy relationships and that I could let them go and still be okay. To stop making false excuses for men who didn’t deserve that from me.

I want you to recognise the signs and learn to respect yourself earlier than I did. 

However, I also want to be clear on two things: 

(1) I’m not a relationship expert and I’m speaking from my own personal experiences and viewpoints. Unfortunately, I can’t speak to every person, relationship or nuance.

(2) While I touch on signs of and resources for abuse in this article, my suggestions for helping yourself are mainly focused on relationships that are unhealthy or give us less than we deserve. Abuse is a much more complicated situation, especially when it comes to getting out of that relationship and finding safety. 

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If you feel unsafe or that you could be a victim of abuse, please call 1800RESPECT.

Below are 12 examples of signs that could seem excusable, but indicate you may be in an unhealthy relationship. 

1. They’re a little too honest — or not honest enough.

Why it may seem okay but isn’t:

You’ve likely heard the phrase, "Honesty is the best policy." While honesty is important, being mean in the name of honesty is hurtful and unnecessary.

People should never use honesty as an excuse to make a rude, unhelpful comment.

At the same time, finding a relationship with someone who doesn’t leave out important details is also crucial. 

Lying by omission is when people purposely leave out important details to deceive someone, and that’s not okay. 

People often make excuses about why they’re lying by omission, but if they’re keeping something important from you, it’s a problem.

What you can do or remind yourself of:

Remember, you deserve someone who’s kind and honest with you. 

Remember, you deserve someone who respects you and your rights. If someone isn’t treating you well, you’re allowed to let them go. 

2. They apologise after hurting you, repeatedly.

Why it may seem okay but isn’t:

Apologising is an important part of a relationship repair, but people should also say and mean it earnestly. 

If someone repeatedly hurts you because they know they can just apologise after, and they don’t work to change their unhealthy behaviours, they’re not treating you well.

What you can do or remind yourself of:

Check in with yourself and even reach out to a therapist or loved one. 

Is this person making the same mistakes? Do they seem to truly care about your needs and respecting you as you deserve? Are they abusing apologies? 

If they make you unhappy and insecure more often than they make you feel happy and secure, you may want to rethink the relationship.

3. They’re always too busy to talk to or hang out with you, especially when you’re the one trying to initiate plans.

Why it may seem okay but isn’t:

Many people are busy these days, it’s true — but many people also use busyness as an excuse. 

In relationships, we want to find people who meet our needs and want to spend time with us. You deserve to feel important in relationships and you deserve people who will make time for you. 

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You don’t need to be with people who blow off plans or your wants to seem 'cool'. This behaviour can be a sign of 'breadcrumbing', a relationship phenomenon in which people give you attention only when you pull away so they can use you.

What you can do or remind yourself of:

When I was dating someone who made me and my time feel unimportant, I tried to make plans with friends who wouldn’t. 

I focused on hobbies and relationships that made me happy, and I remembered I was worth more than being used or being someone’s second choice. 

I remembered I was worthy and needed to find someone who showed affection freely. You deserve the same.

4. They text you and ghost you repeatedly.

Why it may seem okay but isn’t:

Similar to sign #3, some people jokingly blame their behaviour on being "awful texters" or "too busy". 

While that may be true and not necessarily a malicious thing, you’re allowed to want more attention than that. 

Further, this behaviour can sometimes be a sign of 'paperclipping', when someone continues to come back to you only because they want to use you and how good you make them feel without fairly returning that love.

What you can do or remind yourself of:

Even if you miss that person or want a good relationship with them — believe me, I’ve been there — know you deserve someone who wants to interact with you because they like you, not because they enjoy using you for how you make them feel. 

You aren’t a trophy; you’re a person worth respect and love. Know you aren’t obligated to text them back or continue to give to them while receiving nothing in return.

5. They give you attention when you pull away.

Why it may seem okay but isn’t:

People reaching out when they feel like they’re losing you can seem fair, but it can also be a sign of 'breadcrumbing', as mentioned above.

You deserve love and attention consistently, not only when you realise you want better. Love and attention shouldn’t be used to confuse you, but to affirm you.

What you can do or remind yourself of:

Note when you feel like someone is using you or stringing you along while showing no genuine compassion. Know you deserve consistency in relationships and people who treat you well. 

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Don’t feel you have to keep up the relationship or that you’re responsible for its fall.

6. They don’t give you adequate emotional support.

Why it may seem okay but isn’t:

Not everyone was born to be a therapist, and we shouldn’t expect therapy from people who aren’t our therapists. 

However, you do deserve someone who genuinely cares about you and wants to support you. 

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People may make excuses about why they can’t help you, but ultimately, you should be fulfilled. In my opinion, people need to do what they can to love you well, and their authentic attempt to affirm and care for you should be clear and encouraging.

What you can do or remind yourself of:

Try to focus your emotional energy on people who can replenish it, not people who strip it away. 

While not every relationship is perfect, your relationships should fill you up at least most of the time and feel equal. 

People tend to show us what they can give, so we want to be careful to not self-betray by not listening to those signs.

7. They can’t give you what you truly need in a relationship.

Why it may seem okay but isn’t:

We all have different needs in relationships, and they’re all worth respecting. 

While someone who can’t meet those needs or doesn’t at least try to may not be doing so maliciously, focusing too much on that relationship can be a waste of time. You will find people who can meet your needs.

What you can do or remind yourself of:

Remember that you aren’t needy for having needs and that people should respect that. Focus on relationships that fulfil you and make you feel good, and try to not worry or feel guilty about others.

8. They know your triggers, but repeatedly trigger you.

Why it may seem okay but isn’t:

We all make mistakes and have slips, and triggers can sometimes be more random or less common than others. 

However, I believe that people should make a legitimate effort to avoid triggering you and to keep your triggers in the back of their minds. 

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They should apologise when they slip up and ask how they can support you after. They should never guilt you for having triggers or for feeling triggered.

What you can do or remind yourself of:

Remind yourself that your triggers are valid and worth respecting. 

If people constantly trigger you — especially intentionally or neglectfully — feel free to spend less time with them or to have a conversation about your concerns and needs.

9. They want to be around you so often and so badly that they limit your time with other relationships and interests.

Why it may seem okay but isn’t:

When people want to be with us all the time and show lots of interest, it can feel encouraging and esteem-boosting. 

New relationships especially are exciting and can make us want to spend extra time with people. 

However, people should also respect your boundaries, hobbies and other relationships. 

They should allow you to be an independent person and not limit you or force you to do anything you don’t want to do.

What you can do or remind yourself of:

Having more than one interest or relationship in your life is okay and even important. Don’t feel guilty about that. 

If people can’t respect that, it’s more than okay to let go. 

Be aware of what’s not love, but enmeshment. 

Further, be especially careful if you’re experiencing this sign because it can be a hallmark sign of abuse. 

10. Your loved ones don’t like them.

Why it may seem okay but isn’t:

Not everyone will like you or people you’re in a relationship with. 

We can’t like everyone, and everyone can’t like us. However, sometimes our loved ones can see unhealthy signs in relationships that we can’t because we’re (understandably) wearing rose-coloured glasses.

What you can do or remind yourself of:

Listen to your loved ones’ concerns and try not to shoot them down too quickly.

Do your best to be honest with yourself, even when you have to come to hard realisations. If you or a loved one has a gut feeling that you need to let the relationship go, you may want to do so.

11. They protect you but overtly harm others in the process.

Why it may seem okay but isn’t:

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Having someone protect us can feel romantic, especially after so many movies have portrayed similar situations that way. 

While self-defence or defending someone else may require strong emotional or physical acts, it shouldn’t require more than is necessary to get away to emotional or physical safety. 

The purpose and intended result should be your safety, not someone else’s harm.

What you can do or remind yourself of:

Check in with yourself and listen to yellow flags. Do they come across as violent and angry? Did you feel more or less safe when they helped protect you? 

12. They constantly blame you when things go wrong.

Why it may seem okay but isn’t:

We all make mistakes and are in situations in which we’re to blame. 

However, people shouldn’t make you feel like you’re always at fault. Further, if you did mess up, the resulting conversations should be fair and respectful, not accusatory or anxiety-inducing.

What you can do or remind yourself of:

Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes sometimes, especially if we learn from them. 

However, also remember that not every bad thing is your fault, and people shouldn’t unfairly put the blame upon you or make you feel bad. 

You deserve to feel happy and respected, and if not, you may want to let go of the relationship.

The Takeaways.

You deserve to feel fulfilled, happy, secure and important in relationships. 

You deserve people who treat you in genuine, fair, compassionate ways. 

Do your best to be honest with yourself and check in with yourself or other trusted loved ones when you have a gut feeling about a yellow or red flag. 

Remember, you are worthy of good relationships and will find people who treat you well, so hold out for those and let go of others. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and refer you to a service closer to home if need be.

Feature Image: Getty.

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