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Unhealthy and Abusive Relationships

While we all strive for healthy relationships, all relationships face conflict; things don't always go smoothly and unhealthy behaviors come up.

Conflict can be resolved when a person corrects their unhealthy behavior and works together to restore equality in the relationship. However, if a person continues unhealthy behaviors, exhibits several unhealthy behaviors, and/or you notice a pattern of unhealthy behaviors, the relationship may have turned abusive.

Getting help for an unhealthy or abusive relationship can be difficult, but there are resources on and off campus that are available and ready to help.

Unhealthy Behavior

Unhealthy behaviors include:

  • Poor communication
  • Jealousy
  • Overreacting
  • Guilt
  • Dishonestly
  • Overbearing

If you're noticing unhealthy behaviors, have an open, honest conversation about the things that are bothering you. Ask them for their help in finding a solution that works for the both of you.

If someone with whom you have a relationship was displaying unhealthy behaviors ask yourself:

  • Are they open to talking about how their behaviors make me feel?
  • Do they accept responsibility and acknowledge their behavior was unhealthy and unacceptable?
  • Are they more receptive to my opinions and activities than before?
  • Are they making lasting changes?

If you can answer, "yes," to all of these questions. It's likely that your relationship is facing some of the typical conflict. If you answer, "no," or are unsure, that is a warning sign that things may be more serious and potentially abusive.

Abusive Behavior

Abuse centers around one person having power and control over the other. An abusive person does not want to have, or restore, equality in the relationship and will manipulate their partner and their partner’s actions to gain and maintain power and control.

While there are clear abusive behaviors, unhealthy behaviors can become abusive when a partner does not correct them, is exhibiting several unhealthy behaviors, and/or has a pattern to their unhealthy behaviors.

Abusive behaviors include:

  • Physical violence
  • Sexual violence
  • Outing
  • Threats
  • Intimidation
  • Isolation
  • Manipulation
  • Humiliation
  • Any threat, or action, against your well-being

The Power and Control Wheel provides additional examples of abusive behaviors.

If you experience any of these behaviors, know that you are not at fault for how someone treats you and that you deserve to be in a relationship that makes you feel safe and valued. You are encouraged to seek out the many support resources available to you.

Abuse is not accidental, it is purposeful, progressive, and patterned.

Purposeful: An abusive person knows how to control and manipulate their partner to gain and maintain power and control. They are intentional with their actions; it is not accidental or a personal flaw.

Progressive: Abusive relationships typically evolve time. What starts out as seemingly harmless behaviors (like getting jealous when you text other people) can grow more intense and  lead to more regular and/or severe violent episodes of abuse.

Patterned: An abusive person often follow a pattern, such as the cycle of violence (below) or their abusive/unhealthy behavior may be routinely present during certain times (such as before going home for breaks).

The Cycle of Violence

Abusive relationships often follow a cycle of violence where the abusive partner goes between being loving and/or apologetic, building tension in the relationship, and perpetrating violence (emotional, physical, sexual, etc.). After the abusive episode, the cycle tends to start over with the loving and apologetic "honeymoon phase," and goes on to repeat itself.

While it may seem like change is possible and that your partner will improve, it is important to remember that abusive people do not seek to restore equality; the abuser intentionally perpetuates the cycle, and the honeymoon phase is used to maintain hope of something better, to keep their partner in this cycle.