Advice To Singles: Top 7 Warning Signs of Unhealthy Relationships


Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 11.19.25 AMBeing involved in marriage ministry, my husband and I often see couples who are stuck in miserable patterns of dysfunction and abuse. I am adamant about telling my single friends to be WISE and DISCERNING when considering any opposite sex relationship. Being in love with the idea of marriage, or a wedding, or a ring, should be replaced with a serious and prayerful caution about what to look for in a future mate. As Zane and I tell our girls often, few decisions will determine a person’s happiness (or misery) in life more than the choice of whom to marry.

Being able to see warning signs and walk away BEFORE marriage is far preferable to making a bad decision and having to deal with it the rest of your life. We have seen husbands and wives trapped in miserable situations because, frankly, they didn’t choose carefully. They rushed into marriage. They thought the person would “change” after marriage or that things would get better “when kids come along.” The reality is that a potential spouse will probably be on his or her best behavior before marriage.  Anything unhealthy will likely only get worse. Because of this, I am unapologetic about warning my single friends to run–not walk–from anyone who is not treating them well and who demonstrates any kind of unhealthy relational patterns.

Zane and I read many of the wonderful articles by Dr. Deb Hirschhorn, and the following list is her original material. She has a wealth of  resources on marriage, parenting and other relationships. To visit her blog, go to

Unhealthy Relationships Top 7 Warning Signs

Dr. Deb Hirschhorn

Sign 1: You can’t put your finger on it, but you are miserable in your relationship.

Another way of saying this is, “trust your gut,” or “don’t ignore your inner wisdom.” If something inside is telling you things are not right, it’s easier to push it aside. It’s easier to say, “Oh, that isn’t important.” But then, you are not honoring your own inner voice. And that voice is important. If it’s telling you that this person is making you miserable, then listen to it. Don’t push it aside.

You might want to argue that this person you’re with is really nice, really good, a wonderful person. And to prove it, you list the many gifts you are given and the sweet things you’re told. But you know what? If some voice inside you is telling you you are unhappy, that’s the real voice to listen to. And I’ll tell you why: Because what is deep inside you speaks the truth. It has access to little things that you want to ignore: things that are said that hurt at the moment but you forget later, or things that were not said but should have been that hurt and you forget about them also. Sure you forget them. Who wants to remember pain? But that inner voice does remember; it comes from your subconscious where everything is stored. That’s why you need to listen to it—and honor it.

Sign 2: The person in your life is giving you a message that something is wrong with you.

Some people are very obvious in how they put others down. They call them names, they use disgusting language; they roll their eyeballs at them. If you’re getting that message from your boyfriend or girlfriend, that’s clearly unhealthy. Get out of that relationship. Fast.

But the whole process of putting someone down can be very subtle. You can offer an idea and it just gets ignored without a word. That’s a put down. You say, “Here’s a fun thing to do,” and you offer a suggestion, but there is no response at all. If that happens a lot, I’d start to wonder. For sure if the response was sarcastic, like, “Oh yeah; great fun,” then you know you’re being put down. Don’t take it! Don’t allow anyone to treat you like that. Whether it’s name calling, sarcasm, or other put downs, it’s not a message those who care about you should ever give you.

Another way that someone can give you a message that something is wrong with you is through constant criticism and blame. Sometimes, this is very subtle and it looks like mere disagreement or even humor. But watch out for these types of corrections: “No, honey, we take a left at the next light. You really have a bad sense of direction.” If it’s unbalanced and you can never tease back, watch out.

No one is perfect, but the person who wants to draw attention to your imperfections—while ignoring his or her own—is using you for target practice. You don’t need that.

Sign 3: You get left out half the time.

There is no excuse for someone in a relationship to leave you out of important events in their lives. Friends wouldn’t do that. How do you let your special person do that to you? Do you start to think maybe you deserve it? See, that’s exactly what you must never do. If someone treats you badly it’s because they’re not a good person. Period. It’s not because you deserve it. No one deserves to be mistreated. Even criminals have rights!

Being included is the whole reason for being connected to someone. A connection that’s not connected isn’t much of a connection, after all. No need to blame yourself; just consider the relationship not to be worth keeping.

Sign 4: You’re being isolated.

This one is the opposite of #3. There, you didn’t feel “part of.” Here, you’re “all of.” In the beginning, this seems very flattering. You are the center of attention. But after a while, you look around and notice that there is no one else in your circle. Just you and this person. You realize that your family has been cut off and so have your friends. That’s a big warning sign that something is wrong.

When someone does that, they take away your support system. When they have you to themselves, they can start to convince you that everyone else is wrong, sick, or no good. And without being able to talk to anyone about it, you start to become confused. That’s the goal. When you’re confused, you can turn to them more and more for answers.

I hate to say it, but it’s a form of mind control. When you have no one else to turn to, then this person has so much more power over your thoughts and opinions and how you spend your time. After a while, you don’t even quite know who you are. It is because we can express ourselves to others–and hear their reaction—that we clarify our ideas. And our ideas are the basis of who we are. So, don’t let anyone cut you off from your friends and family.

Sign 5: You’re always the bad one.

When something goes wrong, does your significant other manage to be the victim and you seem to always turn out to be the “bad guy”? Playing victim is a warning sign of someone who was emotionally abused growing up and always feels like he or she is being hurt. The problem is that no matter how innocent you are, no matter how kind your heart, you are always in the wrong. As much as you are concerned about the feelings of your friend, what about your feelings?

It’s not right to make you out to always be the bad one. In a relationship of two equals, both people will make mistakes; both people can be responsible for problems that come up. When you always become the bad one, what happens to the other person? Simple: He or she is totally freed of responsibility. If it’s always your fault, it’s never theirs. Do you see what a clever way this is to not have to look at themselves? This is another sign of a relationship you do not want to be in.

Sign 6: Conversations make no sense.

There are people in this world who just don’t like to think. And I’m not talking about doing schoolwork. They can be excellent academically or on the job. The thinking I’m talking about is what is involved in a pesonal accounting of one’s actions. It’s being reflective, looking at oneself. Thinking: “Could it be possible that I hurt someone else’s feelings?” In order to do this, one must be logical. One must be willing to admit, logically, that if most people say something would hurt their feelings, then that behavior probably really is hurtful. It’s not logical to just defensively respond, “No, it isn’t!”

One way people who don’t want to look at themselves get around this is to misquote others. Ann will tell something to Bill and then Bill will quote Ann as saying the exact opposite! Where in the world did Bill get that from? The answer is: It was more convenient to keep repeating something he wants to believe rather than sticking to the facts. Here’s another example of a conversation like that:

Lisa: My brother did the wrong thing in leaving you off the team, but he is usually a fair person. He must have had some kind of reason, even if it wasn’t a good one.

Paul: So, basically, what you’re saying is your brother can do no wrong.

Do you see where I’m going, here? Lisa said the exact opposite! She is trying to see the good in her brother and help Paul to see it, but she is taking Paul’s side here. Paul, however, wants no part of that. It’s easier for him to just say that Lisa has not taken his side at all. Now, he can launch into Sign 5 and make her the bad one with himself the victim.

If you find conversations end up like the one above with Lisa and Paul, this is not a healthy relationship. People have to really be able to hear what you say and not misquote you. The really annoying thing is that if Lisa and Paul get married, he will keep doing this for the next 47 years if they stay together that long. If you’re Lisa, don’t get started with it; it’s not going to get better.

Sign 7: There’s too much anger.

There are angry people in this world. Maybe they have good reason, but you know what? Anger feeds on itself and it doesn’t go away. It’s like a fire that is out of control: Everything in its path burns. People who are angry more often than not have bigger problems than you, as a friend, can handle. And you can easily become the target of their anger yourself. If your boyfriend or girlfriend often complains about others or is furious at them, this is not a relationship that will bring you joy.

I do understand how you might feel compassion for the suffering your friend has had, but your compassion will not make that suffering go away. All that will happen is the pain will suck you into that dark place your friend is in and then you will both be there in it together. There is no reason to throw away your whole life like that. And a good friend who really cares about you wouldn’t want you to be in that awful place anyway.

If the anger is directed at you, that’s even more reason to end the relationship. Anger escalates. Eventually, it could become dangerous.

So what do you do when faced with these seven signs?

The hardest thing is to confront someone who is making you uneasy or who frightens or depresses you. It’s scary. Step one is to reach out to the friends that you’ve been out of touch with and explain what’s going on. Explain that you’ve decided to break off the relationship and you want support. Get them on board. And if there is any potential for violence, you might consider contacting the police to be in the vicinity.

Step two is to meet in a public place to make the break so as to ensure both physical and psychological safety. With friends in the area should you need them, you can calmly explain that this relationship needs to end. Prepare for it by taking deep breaths, getting calm and focused.

Finally, you might find that you are harassed afterwards. Depending on how dangerous the relationship was, it could be violent. Be sure the right people know. Do not keep this to yourself. That is another topic, but an important one.

Most of all, focus on creating the good life that you want for yourself. And that begins by being treated well.


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