Recognizing Unhealthy Relationships

Everyone deserves relationships where they are safe to be themselves.  This includes people in the LGBT community.  One way to tell whether a relationship is healthy is to look at the LGBT Power and Control Wheel.

Another way is to check it against these warning signs of an unhealthy relationship:

Psychological Abuse

Abuse can come in many forms.  Even if an abuser doesn’t leave physical marks on their partner, a relationship may still be abusive.  Some people are emotionally abusive.  Emotional abuse can take many forms such as: making a survivor feel guilty, blaming a survivor for their anger, having extreme mood swings, or denying the existence of their relationship.  The following example describes a case of emotional abuse.

David and Kyle, two out gay men, are both highly involved in the LGBT community.  David leads an LGBT teen group and Kyle participates in PrideFest meetings at the local community center.  The two men are known to be friends and begin dating after leading the gay men’s group together.  While their closest friends know that they are dating, Kyle insists on keeping the relationship a secret.  At a recent men’s group meeting, Molly sees Kyle flirting with another man while David is in the room.  Molly asks Kyle about the relationship and David lets her know that Kyle insists on keeping their relationship a secret and refuses to give up dating other men.

Humiliation / Lack of Respect

Lack of respect is another sign of an abusive relationship.  An abusive partner can demonstrate lack of respect by name calling, criticizing, belittling their partner’s thoughts or looks, ignoring their partner, or being unavailable when their partner wants to do something special.  The example below highlights what lack of respect or humiliation looks like in a relationship.

Karen and Emily are two women who have been dating for a year and a half.  Emily works as part of the AIDS resource center.  The AIDS resource center holds a major fundraiser every March.  The two women have invited a number of their friends over to their house to get ready for the event.  Emily finishes getting ready and sits in the living room to wait while some of their other friends finish getting dressed.  When Karen comes out she says, “Are you really wearing that?  You know that you don’t look good when you dress in men’s shirts.  Why don’t you dress more femme?”  An argument continues regarding Emily’s appearance.

Controlling Behavior

Abuse can also take the form of an abuser tightly controlling what goes on in their partner’s life.  Most forms of abuse involve some sort of controlling behavior.  This type of behavior may be a warning sign of other abuse in the future.  A controlling person might isolate their partner from friends and family, discourage a survivor from being involved with LGBT groups, get jealous easily, tell their partner what to wear or how to behave, use technology to stalk their partner, steal their Facebook page, text or call constantly, or force their partner to be out or to be closeted.

Tina is a lesbian woman who just started dating Jessie a bisexual woman.  Once a month Jessie goes out to dinner on Friday night with her friends from work.  On Thursday Jessie reminded Tina that she wouldn’t be able to hang out, because she is going out with friends after work.  During the dinner Friday night, Tina texts Jessie ten times asking her what she is doing and when she would be free to meet her.

For more information about technology and harassment, click here.

Threats / Intimidation

Survivors don’t have to be hit or sexually assaulted to be abused.  Abusers may use threats to control their partner.  Threatening a person without carrying out the threat is a form of abuse.  It is used to manipulate a survivor into doing what an abuser wants them to do.  An abuser may threaten to hurt themselves, hurt their partner, reveal a survivor’s LGBT identity, or disclose their HIV status.  An abuser may also scare their partner with looks or gestures, demand time even when their partner is busy, or use violence to objects to scare their partner.

Taylor is an out, straight, transgender man who is dating Jackie, a straight woman.  Taylor wants Jackie to move in with him and start dating more seriously.  Jackie just ended a 5-year relationship and does not want to move in with him right away.  Taylor threatens to kill himself by overdosing on pills if she does not agree to do what he wants.

Violates Boundaries

Another way abusers attempt to control their partners is by pushing their boundaries.  Abusers may read their partner’s diary, email, letters, or texts without permission.  They may constantly pressure their partner for sex when their partner is uninterested.  They may also constantly tease, make fun of, or pick on their partner even after being asked to stop.

Adam is a gay male who is in a relationship with Jay a bisexual man.  Adam is jealous and suspicious of Jay’s female friends.  Adam often says he is afraid that Jay will leave him for a woman.  After having a phone conversation with a female co-worker, Jay finds Adam going through the call history on his cell phone.

Other Signs

Some relationships are unhealthy even if there are no major signs of abuse.  Similarly, some people engage in behaviors that may not be abusive, but are certainly unhealthy.  Signs of that a person might be an unhealthy partner include: abusing alcohol or drugs and using it as an excuse for negative behavior, having a history of troubled relationships, treating pets poorly, being violent toward others, having a history of cheating on their partner, or shaming their partner about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What behaviors might a survivor engage in?

Abusers can often seem wonderful when they are not engaging in abuse.  Prior to an episode of abuse, abusers may be sweet or apologetic.  This periodic sweet behavior might make it hard for a survivor to label the negative behavior as abusive.

There are some behaviors that a survivor might engage in as a result of being abused.  Sometimes people who have been abused make sacrifices like giving up friends, activities, or ambitions due to a controlling partner.  At times survivors blame themselves or make excuses for their partner.  A survivor might think, “If only I hadn’t bugged my abuser, they would have gotten mad,” or “My abuser is only like this when they are stressed or drinking.”  A survivor might feel more insecure than they did prior to being in the unhealthy relationship.  They may rehearse what they will say to their abuser, apologize often for their behavior, try to predict their partner’s mood, or find that someone is expressing concerns about their relationship.

For more information about how to handle an unhealthy relationship, click here.

Adapted From

Queen’s University Human Rights Office

Additional Resources