When It Comes To Relationships, What’s Abusive And What’s Just Unhealthy?

average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During a single year, this equates to over ten million men and women. Still, it isn’t as though the rest of the country’s relationships are perfect.

Relationships, like most things, exist on a spectrum.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline has created a visual for this range that looks like this:

They’ve identified eight different areas (nine if you have kids and parenting is a factor) within a relationship that you can use to gauge where your own falls on this scale. Below is the breakdown.


In a healthy relationship, you and your partner discuss problems openly and respectfully. In an unhealthy relationship, problems either aren’t discussed at all, or the discussions quickly turn into arguments. In an abusive relationship, your partner communicates in a way that is threatening, insulting or demeaning.


Partners in a healthy relationship value each other for who they are right now. In an unhealthy relationship, one (or both) of the partners are inconsiderate of the other. In an abusive relationship, one of the partners doesn’t respect the other’s feelings, thoughts, opinions or safety.


In a healthy relationship, you believe what your partner has to say without the need for “tests” or “proof.” In an unhealthy relationship, one of the partners doesn’t believe what the other says or feels, and feels entitled to invade their privacy (for example, by going through their phone or email). In an abusive relationship, a partner makes false accusations and may hurt the other physically or verbally as a result of these unfounded beliefs.


People in a healthy relationship don’t tell lies, but also respect each other’s (that includes their own) right to keep some things private. In an unhealthy relationship, one or both partners lie. A relationship is abusive when a partner tries to blame the other for any hurt they’re causing with their lies, or makes excuses for abusive actions or otherwise minimizes the harmful behavior.


You make decisions together in a healthy relationship, and hold each other to the same standards. In an unhealthy relationship, one partner feels that their desires and choices are more important than the other’s. In an abusive relationship, one partner seizes total control over the other, making all decisions for the couple without the other’s input.


Everyone needs alone time, and in a healthy relationship, partners enjoy spending time apart or with others and respect this need for independence. In an unhealthy relationship, your partner’s community is the only one in which you socialize, and in an abusive one, one partner is isolated while the other controls where they go and with whom they speak.


Sexual and reproductive choices are made together in a healthy relationship, with open and respectful conversation. In an unhealthy relationship, one partner pressures the other or applies guilt in order to coerce sexual activity on their own terms. A relationship is abusive when a partner forces sexual activity (or pregnancy) on a partner against their wishes.


Partners in a healthy relationship have equal say in financial matters and access to the resources they need. A relationship is unhealthy when only one person is in charge of finances, and abusive when this is the case and additionally, open discussion of finances is not an option. This can also include one partner preventing the other from earning an income.


Partners raising children in a healthy relationship communicate comfortably about the needs of the children and the needs of the parents. In an unhealthy relationship, communication about parenting is poor or breaks down into arguments. Relationships are abusive when a partner uses the children to gain or exert power and control over the other, including by telling the children negative things or lies about the other partner.

Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship. — National Domestic Violence Hotline

These eight or nine areas aren’t the only means by which to assess a relationship, but they’re a good starting point if you have concerns about your own.

Abuse can come in many forms and from any type of person — regardless of gender or sexual orientation. If you feel that you may be in an abusive relationship, seek help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can help victims and survivors of domestic violence. Call 1–800–799–7233 or chat with an advocate on their website.

I write about my ongoing journey from domestic violence victim to survivor.

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