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7 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

Unhealthy relationships make you sick, sad, and insecure – and sometimes you’re blinded to it all. These signs of relationships that aren’t healthy will help you see your problems in a new light.

“The fact is, I had become addicted to David, and now his attention was wavering,” writes Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love. “Addiction is the hallmark of every infatuation-based love story. It all begins when the object of your adoration bestows upon you a heady, hallucinogenic dose of something you never even dared admit that you wanted – an emotional speedball, perhaps, of thunderous love and roiling excitement.”

But wait – her addiction gets worse (and then it gets better!). To learn more about Gilbert’s journey away from and towards love, read Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. If you find yourself insecure and not confident, read How to Gain Confidence and Create Healthy Relationships.

And, here are seven signs of problems in unhealthy relationships…

7 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

These relationship tips are inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s experience of being addicted to a man, which she describes in Eat Pray Love.

“Soon you start craving that intense attention, with the hungry obsession of any junkie,” Gilbert writes. “When the drug is withheld, you promptly turn sick, crazy and depleted. Next stage finds you skinny and shaking in a corner, certain only that you would sell your soul or rob your neighbors just to have that thing even one more time.”

“Meanwhile, the object of your adoration has become repulsed by you. He looks at you like someone you’ve never met before, much less someone he once loved with high passion.”

Gilbert’s relationship wasn’t just unhealthy — it was addictive.

1. Unrealistic expectations of your partner

You think he’ll solve your self-esteem, body image, family, and work problems – not to mention your financial woes and spiritual blockages. You believe the “right relationship” or the “perfect man” will make everything better.

2. A need for instant, constant gratification

You expect him to be around all the time, especially when you need him. You want him to make you happy immediately. You’re using him to make you feel good about yourself; you’re not relating to him as a partner or even a human being (this was what Elizabeth Gilbert was talking about in Eat Pray Love).

This may be a sign of addiction in a love relationship.

3. Dishonesty or omissions of truth

You don’t talk about who you are or what’s really bothering you. You lie about what you want, both to yourself and your partner. This is a problem in love that women often ignore.

4. Compulsive control – an often ignored sign of an unhealthy relationship

Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

7 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

You – or he – has to act a certain way, or someone threatens to leave. You both feel trapped in your toxic relationship. You know it’s gone sour and you’re not together voluntarily, but it’s hard to leave…this is an unhealthy relationship sign that people often ignore.

5. Lack of trust – one of the worst problems

You don’t (or can’t) trust each other. You don’t really believe your partner really loves you – and you may not be comfortable with solid love. At some level you know you’re in an unhealthy relationship, but you can’t let go. You need help solving relationship problems, but you don’t know where to start.

6. Social isolation – your relationship is almost a secret

Your friends, family, and coworkers aren’t knit into the fabric in a healthy, loving way. In some addictive relationships, the partners only want to be left alone. This sets the stage for an uncontrollable downward spiral. Some lovers look at social isolation as a sign of love and passion, but it’s really a problem in a love affair.

7. Cycle of pain, betrayal, lies, or blaming

You’re trapped in a cycle of pleasure, pain, disillusionment, blaming, and reconnection. This cycle in an unhealthy relationship repeats itself until one partner breaks finally breaks free – like Elizabeth Gilbert did in Eat, Pray, Love.

One way to create a healthy relationship is to learn how your spouse gives and receives love. If you’re not sure about this, read Examples of the Five Love Languages.

I welcome your thoughts on these signs of unhealthy relationships. Never do I give advice because I encourage you to listen to that still, small voice! But you may find that writing helps bring clarity and insight to your relationship. So, write away.


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32 thoughts on “7 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship”

  1. Hi, great post – thanks! All the signs of unhealthy relationship are really true. Trust is the key to every successful relationship.

  2. Thanks Jane – it’s good to know that most relationships have an unhealthy aspect! That makes me feel better about my marriage 🙂 because it’s not perfect. I think it’s good – I’m very, very happy with my husband, but I’m sure we could use a tune up!

  3. Jane Ilene Cohen

    Most relationships have aspects of them that are not healthy, which means being in a relationship requires personal change and growth. Many people are invested in getting immediate satisfaction, and try to use their relationship to feel whole, rather than doing the work needed to be capable of a loving, satisfying relationship.

  4. Hi Hailey,

    I think the smartest thing to do is to NOT put Cameron in the middle of your power struggle with Travis — or his power struggle with you, rather. Travis is playing games and manipulating you and Cameron, and you’re both falling for it. It’s tricky, because the more you go against Travis, the more Cameron will fight you — and the more friction you’ll have in your relationship!

    What are some ways you can stay true and authentic to yourself, but not get caught in Travis’ game?

  5. Around last January, my boyfriend (we had been together a year and a half at that time) made a new friend at his job and this friend just happens to be a gay 25 year old man. (This isnt one of those kinds of stories, its an important fact). At first, they only talked at work, then moved onto playing xbox, then began texting and occasionally hanging out. Now they go to movies together, out to eat afterwards, drink together, and spend the night together. I feel as if they are the ones in the relationship and not me. Recently, my boyfriend and his friend, his name is Travis, have been talking about getting a matching tattoo together. This bothers me since i had the idea of us getting matching tattoos years ago. I told Cameron, my boyfriend, that i didnt want him to get the tattoo so he dropped it. But last week, Travis messaged me on facebook telling me that no matter what i say, they will still be getting the tattoo but that he wanted to know why i opposed the idea. I answered his question yet he kept arguing with me about it. I said nothing mean at all to him because i knew it would upset Cameron if i did. Towards the end of the argument, Travis said that Cameronis afriad to talk to me because hes afraid I’ll yell at him since thats all i ever do. This made me angry but as i said before, i didn’t express it. I just stopped replying to him. Travis told Cameron after the argument was over with that i was being hostile the whole time. Later that night, Travis sent me another message apologizing (not really) saying that he just wants to make sure that both me and Cameron are happy in our relationship but he doesn’t think that is the case. So he was hinting that Cameron isn’t happy with me. I asked Cameron about it and he says that hes never said any such thing to Travis. I think that Travis is making up lies to put a wedge in between me and Cameron because he has a crush on him. I’ve told Cameron to tell Travis to back off, this is our relationship not his. Do you have any other advice on how Cameron and I should handle the situation?

  6. Dear Chingy,

    Do you trust your partner? Can you see yourself growing old and retiring with him? Is he who you want to spend the rest of your life with?

    Sometimes making a huge life change — such as leaving a partner because your relationship is unhealthy — is the scariest thing we can do. But, it may be the most important thing you can do!

    I can’t help you decide if you should leave because of your relationship problems. I don’t know what’s going on in his mind, or yours. But I do know that if you’re not happy, you need to take some sort of action to change your life.

    I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful! How about this: write down 3 reasons to stay with your partner, and 3 reasons to leave. Which decision makes more sense to you? Which one is harder, but better?


  7. Hi have been with my partner for 21years ,and have 6kids together 3years ago we had a argument over facebook ,he had a secret but never told me that he had a older son and was chattin to the.x girlfriend aswell behind my back then I confronted him he said he dont know much about the boy dont know if it is hes kid then strollin through the computer I decided to put hes name up found out that he was on dating websitesand in one of the articles he changed he life story never said he had kids so 2years on wednesday 28/01/2013 before that date I always felt there was sumthing wrong the sex life was not good I was interested but he wasent thats how I felt then that wednesday I decided to see if I can get into hes hotmail and I did lol and goin througj I seen it all chat sights fotos everything u can think of wen I asked him wat they all was he was in denial hes words were im not worried I never done nothin wrong then wen it got heated up he decided to pack hes stuff and go but only went to the local park and sat dor a while im iam lost he makes me sick when I think about wat I found I dont love him but I only got him ere for the kids and he thinks everything is goin to be the same help me decide hes hotmail and thete it all was in black and white mote chat line

  8. It also takes time, energy, and COURAGE to recognize an unhealthy relationship. It’s easier to just ignore problems and hope they go away.

  9. I wrote a report about the communication about partners and I think that to know ourselves is the first step to be in a “healthier” relation to our partner. I think the biggest problem between people is the unbalance between them, but as soon as we learn to talk with each other and understand each other (the key to it is to understand ourselves) we can experience a much better relationship.

  10. Dear TN,

    Thank you for sharing your feelings with me! It sounds like you have a lot going on, and you’re a very insightful and wise person. You’re “in your head” a great deal of the time, analyzing and thinking things through. This can be both good and bad.

    I can’t tell you what to do about your current relationship, or even if it’s unhealthy for you. It sounds like you’re struggling with it and other relationships in your life. I don’t think I can write an article or make a comment that will sort everything out for you!

    When I was struggling with my life, I went into counseling for 8 months. I wanted to be married, but I didn’t know how to be in a relationship. I was super sensitive about a lot of things in my life, including all my relationships. My counselor helped me see aspects about my personality that were holding me back.

    Have you thought about talking to a counselor in person, to figure out why you’re not connecting with people? I think that’s the best way to get a handle on your unhealthy relationships and other problems you’re facing. I can’t give you the support or guidance you need.

    I know how difficult it is to open up and ask for help, and I admire you for reaching out here! But I really think you need to sit down and sort through stuff with someone in person.

    I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, and welcome you to come back anytime and let me know how you are.


  11. Dear Laurie,

    I love your blogs and it has been giving me a lot of thinking. From past relationship to present relationship. I’m feeling terrible and been looking for online advice and articles to make me feel better. I cannot share my feelings, nor tell anyone what is going with my life. For my whole life, I’ve been living in a secret, in a cover.
    I often feel very lonely, and in need of somebody. Other times, I’m too busy with work and school to worry about someone is there for me or not. I am in a relationship that has been on and off for a couple years. Sometimes I feel like I know for sure this person isn’t the one I love, nor whom I would like to spend the rest of my life with, but because of my personality, I tend to worry and plan a future a head of me. I found myself have a part in every point you named, and I know it is an unhealthy relationship.

    I know there are people who are better suit to me, care about me, love me, give me what I want the most but could not get from this person. And I have tried. But I failed because I get very very annoyed and most of the time “gross-out” when they get close to me. I cannot find myself dating somebody else because of what, I’m not sure.

    I have problems everywhere. From family to personal relationship. I dislike social relationship and only have a couple of people I would call to go out and eat but never one really close to me. I’m scared to be exposed. While this person is with me, I never shared what I’m thinking, but it gives me a feeling of “I’m not alone”. I don’t love or miss the person when he is gone, but I feel the anger, jealousy, and pain when he’s out without thinking about me. And I still want to end the relationship. I want a healthy relationship. The joy, the late night calls, the little pain of missing someone dearly, but I found it impossible the last couple times. I would talk and get to know someone, next thing I get bored and just want to quit connection with that person within 2-3 weeks.

    I take a look of my life for all those years, all the pains, the joys, it’s all mine. People surrounding me are either giving me headache or just pain. I don’t know what I’m living for, or what to expect. Work and school, school and then work. Found myself laughing with friends, but never truly happy. Life could end now, and I don’t think there’s any regret. But I chose to keep on living. To care for others. Not to expect to get anything in return.
    I just want a relationship where it can save me from my thoughts, my pains and my own prison.
    Tell me what I should do with the current relationship. What I should do to change, turn this life around and make it better?

    Thank you Laurie

  12. Wow!! awesome article. Describes my marriage to the T, which ended 3 years ago. I felt so depleted and dead inside after it ended. He did not treat me right and the marriage needed to end but after I asked him to leave, I became obsessed with him for I wanted him so badly but he didn’t want me. After reading this article, I learned I was using him to be happy, it’s like he was my self-esteem. I’m in such a better place emotionally and am in a healthy relationship now as of a couple months ago but my ex-husband and the obsession and pain I went through is surfacing again, like indigestion. As those memories arise, I deal with it and each time I do, I grow stronger and can keep proceeding in my new healthy relationship. Yes, I’ve been used and abused and I realized I was no angel. I had to learn to be happy by myself or be my own best friend:-)

  13. Omissions of truth is an important one, Laurie. It’s easy to identify and talk about lies, but omission of truth is a much more grey area that can be tantamount to lying.

    I think this really shows itself when couples who share finances fail to tell their partner that they have bought something, often hiding it away like a child. I think this stems from constant accusations about what money should be spent on, and a reluctance to enter into old arguments.

    An aweful lot of advice on relationships comes down to the expectations we have of each other; roles, responsibilites etc. Very often, we expect our partner to be better than we ourselves are willing to be, which is hypocrisy really. If both partners try to improve themselves, than the relationship benefits as a whole.

    It’s great to see your article identifies some real issues, instead of the usual wooly “lack of communication” which many other relationship blogs tout as if it were the magic bullet. Thanks for sharing, Laurie.

  14. I dont know what to do. I married my husband, moving from canada to do so. everything was wonderful for a while and we planned to renew our vows in front of family on our 1 yr anniversary. things are not good right now and havent been for a while. he makes hurtful comments toward me and thinks i am too sensitive. “the most sensitive woman he has ever met”. i do love him but we have severely declined in communication. we can barely say 3 things to each other without it causing a spat. i am on eggshells most of the time and keep most of it inside because when i bring it up to discuss it he leaves the room implying i pissed him off. we havent been able to resolve any issues. i am so tired and think about packing up and leaving him. i dont know what to do????

  15. 1) Neither of us talk about what’s bothering us. Clearly we hate each other sometimes and we have to ‘smile’ cos we feel we get so much out of our move to Spain together. It’s not about the relationship

    2) He’s started to act like a child. We’ve moved away together and now I can’t threaten to leave, as I don’t have a base of friends and family like at home – and it’s a £500 flight return. He physically has hidden my passport before. He knows I’m more stuck with him so he can act around me how he wants – like a miserable arse!

    3) Our relationship was based on him being so beneath me, i’d threaten to leave any moment… it’s a compulsive control relationship (or it was until we moved).

    4) He only wants me (i think) as a status symbol because of my age. Neither of us picture being together once he’s like 50 and he’s completely tired of our clashing personalities by then.

    5) Lack of trust – WE ADMIT we don’t trust each other’s admission we love each other. I don’t believe he really loves me – it’s like a ‘cling’ thing or lust. He was 45 he met me at uni!

    6) I cheated before and he can’t get past it.

    7) His extreme possessiveness

    8) Linked to all the above – he’s jealous and I suspect he’s jealous that without him, I could lead out a really exciting life at my prime. I feel he’s keeping me from living life.

  16. Having dealt with it before…. I can say people do it because they love the person, but worse, they don’t love themselves more. (PAUSE) One of the basic human needs is to be loved and wanted and what happens when “that” doesn’t happen? We fall apart. I had a rough and sometimes violent relationship and my message to all would be… 1) love yourself first!… 2) seek out true friends… 3) True Love does not hurt but heals… 4) Love yourself first!!!!!

  17. Hello!
    for the first time in 6 years, i feel like i can “talk” about the fact I let him destroy me and totally ruin my life. Seriously, I knew it from the start. Now its totally different since, I would say, feb-march. But seriously, I never thought that you could be cruel to the one you love…But yes it happens a lot, and specially to good people. I took the decision to leave, If I dont do it now, it’s like be part of my murder. But after a lot of thinking, I know that my only way to get through this without being too affected mentally is to leave whrn he won’t be home. I’ve already start packing, I told him it was winter cloth wich was partly true. I havent change my idea on this, even though I know it’s gonna so hard, its a drug-love-addiction. Dont waste your time explaining seriously these narcissic with pervert tendencies will never gives a shit about nobody else but him ultimately…so runaway as soon as you can, weither you’re a boy or a girl!! sorry for my english not first language

  18. Hi. My love for my soon to be ex husband had me at hello! But; now seven yrs later, and yrs of on and off serious meth use on his part has left me loveless. To give and or receive. The damage ti my soul is incomprihensible. To anyone with a relationship with a meth addict, please get away from the person before you get put thru a human shredder that my ideal true love did me. The cycles of insanity never stop. It is the holocaust of evil for the non user( me). There is no answer but that I loved an unemotionally unavailable person who turned all around on me blaming me for the break up when tje only single issue is meth use and sales on his part. Love can never exist around anyone on meth. I will never trust and love the way I began our relationship. And I will resolve to just live lonely, until my replenishment is complete. I am not optimistic, but I see others do have love in their lives. But I am drained of any hope for any love again. I feel like I was forced to do heart surgery on myself without anisythic
    . With the world watching for complete humiliation for the continual loyalty I kept giving my ex, THE. BLACK WHoLE. Love is way too blinding to me that I am so not going to put myself in any position like that again. Now/ my ex has made a pimp out of his life and his drug sales, I can’t get proof to. Convence judge not to alliw visitation. Judge doesn’t care that he was arrested three times in last seven months. I am still worried even tho I am out of the relationship
    I am still abused by his lousy parenting to my daughter
    Do not take any chances people with drug addicts…………
    They are monster zombie liars and cheaters to the max. Peace to your life keep it simple. And clean. Joy

  19. Ive been in a relationship right now for 6 year I know im not completely happy but his a great man the love isn’t there any more I just don’t know how to get out every time I try to leave I cant I start crying as if it hurts to leave but when im home is as if were not together

  20. I was in a relationship for 4yrs. He was everything I had dreamed of in a true loving relationship at least until i started finding text, emails and other messages to different women. He left me for a much younger girl and went as far as moving her in with him weeks after dating. Didnt last but a month and he realized it was not what he wanted. He came back and apologized. I tried trusting him but his lies even the smallest made it hard to. He wld call all day and visit me at work 5x a day. Flowers weekly and food all day to make sure i didnt have to leave work. I loved how he looked out for me but was he? We did everything together and loved being together all the time. So why wld things get bad? When he wld get mad he wld call me awful things and later apologized for it. I wanted to spend my life with him but he made it impossible with his actions. He wld keep me up all night on the phone arguing or wld not let me sleep when together cuz he wanted to settle an argument. I loved him so much and still do but when it started getting physical i thought it wld be only one time. He wld break my things and try to fix it or buy me another. He seemed like the perfect man and seemed like it to many but only i knew the person hed become when alone. why if we loved each other so much things got so bad.

  21. The best way to control addiction to other people is to really and truly enjoy your own company. You need to be able to sit at home alone reading a book, watching TV, or walking by yourself thinking; at least for a couple hours a week. You need to have time for self-reflection because in the end your addiction to another person has to do with your insecurities about yourself. If that person ever leaves, how will you live with just you!

    Very good write-up. I’ve never read the book but it seems very informative from a practical POV.

  22. “Social isolation – your relationship is almost a secret”

    This one is huge for me. I actually dated a girl for almost a year and kept her hush-hush the whole time. It finally tore our relationship a part. The reason I didn’t tell anyone? I didn’t know how to let my friends know I was dating a girl with a daughter. Terrible idea, I still feel bad about it.

  23. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Dear Marjorie,

    Thanks for your comments. Some people stay in unhealthy relationships because they’re scared of never being loved again, of never finding anyone else who will want them. That’s why I stayed with a loser for months (I would’ve stayed with him for years if he hadn’t dumped me). I just wanted to be in a relationship, so I overlooked and ignored our worst problems.

  24. I think a huge reason a lot of people stay in unhealthy relationships is because they don’t really know any different. I tell everyone I know that starts saying “You just haven’t found the right one” or “He’s out there, you just have to find him” that the only people that, in my opinion, stay together anymore are the people who have been together since they were young & don’t know any different. I also think that if you grow up in an unhealthy environment, you are more apt to be in unhealthy adult relationships. Great post! Very interesting.

  25. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Maybe the biggest sign of an unhealthy relationship is that you’re unhappy. Maybe these are the REASONS your relationship is unhealthy…but the sign is unhappiness.

  26. It hapened to and i felt like i have to postipone every time ihave to tell him its over i would not. love was a routine indeed eat, pray and love. i hated it.

  27. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your insights, fitness girl! I think women in ALL cultures sometimes overlook love and man problems because they want to stay in the relationship….even if it’s an unhealthy relationship.

    Sometimes the pain of what you know is better than the pain of change, or of loss.

  28. I happened to watch the movie EAT PRAY LOVE, upon watching it I realized how many women were relieved also when they watch the movie and how much more if they happen to read the book. One thing I could say is that for some culture women are in denial of their situation of a certain relationship because they were blinded by their love or illusion of her man or they use the kids as an excuse thats why most women don’t realized these signs of unhappy relationships.

  29. Thanks for your comment, May! I read Gilbert’s book, too — and I just wrote an article about leaving unhealthy relationships, based on a few phrases that Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in Eat, Pray, Love.

    If you’re in a mentally or emotionally abusive relationship, it might be time for you to read “How Do You Leave a Mentally Abusive Relationship?

  30. This is so uncanny or u may call it serendipity. I’ve just finished reading Gilbert’s book-Eat Pray and Love and I just chanced upon this website. This is amazing.

    I like the book very much especially the part when Richard, the texan telling her to let go of David. I read and reread it over. It made so much sense. I’ve been through it all. I recommnend all women (who are working on their lives) to read it.