What are the Signs of an Unhealthy or Abusive Relationship?

By Alejandra Okie

TheBeehive.org talked to Kelly Brown, a school-based Licensed Professional Counselor, to get advice on how to recognize an unhealthy relationship.

TheBeehive.org: Can you tell us what makes a healthy relationship?

Kelly Brown: A healthy relationship is based on trust and respect. The two partners care for one another and are supportive. In a healthy relationship you can share your feelings with your partner. You can say how you really feel without being afraid of him or her getting back at you in some way.

TheBeehive.org: What is an unhealthy relationship?

Kelly Brown: In an unhealthy relationship one or both partners can do some things that can hurt the other. For example, it could be physical abuse, such as hitting or using violence that harms the other person. Or, it could be sexual abuse, where someone is forced to have sex. There is also a more hidden type of abuse, emotional abuse. For instance, your partner may put you down, try to control you or scream and hurt you with words.

TheBeehive.org: Can you talk some more about emotional abuse? It seems that some people don’t think it is as serious as physical abuse.

Kelly Brown: Emotional abuse can hurt just as much as physical violence. Emotional abuse can take the form of verbal abuse, or name-calling, yelling and blaming. In addition, your partner may intimidate you or threaten to hurt you.

TheBeehive.org: What are some ways that a partner may use control and intimidation?

Kelly Brown: In some cases, your partner may completely control your money, limit your access to food and other resources, or not allow you to work. They may constantly check on where you go and who you talk to. They can be very possessive and jealous. Sometimes they may not let you see your friends and family, or they may even threaten to take the children away.

TheBeehive.org: If someone is in an unhealthy or abusive situation, what are some of the feelings or thoughts they may be having?

Kelly Brown: Someone in an abusive situation may be fearful and may feel like they always have to walk on eggshells out of fear of angering their partner. They may feel embarrassed or helpless, and they may think they deserve to be mistreated. Their personality may change and they may have low self-esteem. They may be afraid to leave the relationship. They may feel depressed, anxious or even consider suicide.

TheBeehive.org: What help is available to someone who is in an abusive relationship?

Kelly Brown: If they feel they are in danger, they should call 911 immediately. If they are depressed and have thoughts of suicide, they should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline right away (1-800-273-8255). The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) is a great resource that provides free and confidential help for anyone who is suffering from violence. If they are a victim of sexual assault, they should call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at [1-800-656-4673(HOPE)] and they should get medical care as soon as possible.

TheBeehive.org: Is there help for people who are in an abusive situation, but whose partners are not violent?

Kelly Brown: As I mentioned before, emotional abuse is very serious. People in these situations should know that they do not have to stay in an abusive relationship. They can talk to a family member or friend they trust and they can also find help in their community by contacting an organization in their state.

TheBeehive.org: Is there anything else you would like to mention about abusive relationships?

Kelly Brown: Yes, it’s important to know that emotional, sexual or physical abuse can happen to anyone: teenagers, couples who are dating, married couples, women and men. It can also happen in same-sex relationships. No matter your specific situation, remember that it is not your fault. Leaving an unhealthy relationship is a process, it may not happen overnight. But you can leave an abusive relationship and get help.

Kelly Brown, M.A., is a school-based Licensed Professional Counselor in North Carolina. She provides individual therapy to students in grades K through 12 and their parents.

Photo: Ed Yourdon

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