What is an Unhealthy Relationship?

Healthy Relationship FAQ SAVIS Youth

Relationships are complicated. Sometimes it is difficult to see when we are in an unhealthy one.

The Power & Control wheel describes different tactics used in abusive relationships. If these traits are a part of a relationship, this is a sign that the relationship is unhealthy and may even be abusive.

Abusers often use different forms of abuse in addition to physical or sexual violence. In fact, physical or sexual violence may happen rarely or not at all, making it difficult for some people to identify the signs of abuse. This is because we don’t often think of other actions – for example spreading rumours, calling someone names or intimidating someone – as abusive, even though they can be equally or even more harmful than physical violence.

Take a look at the Power & Control wheel to learn more.



Peer Pressure involves threatening to expose someone’s weakness or spread rumours. It can also involve telling malicious lies about an individual to a peer group.

Using anger or emotional abuse involves putting the person down, name calling, making the person feel like they are “crazy”, playing mind games, humiliating them or making them feel guilty.

Using social status can involve treating the victim like they are a servant, making all the decisions and being the one to define gender roles in the relationship.

Intimidation involves making someone afraid by using looks, actions and gestures. It might include smashing things, destroying property, abusing pets or displaying weapons.

Minimizing, denying and blaming are related tactics which involve making light of the abuse and not taking concerns about it seriously. This can involve saying the abuse didn’t happen and shifting responsibility for the abusive behaviour by saying that the victim caused it.

Threats: This tactic involves making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt a person. It can also involve threatening to leave, to commit suicide, to report the person to the police or to share personal information via social media. It could also involve making the person do illegal things.

Sexual coercion involves manipulating a person or making threats to get sex. It can also involve getting someone drunk or drugging them to sexually assault them. In some cases it can involve deliberately getting a person pregnant.

Using isolation or exclusion includes controlling what another person does. This can include controlling who they see and talk to, as well as controlling what they read, watch and where they go. It involves limiting their outside involvement. The abuser monitors their victim’s behaviour and jealousy is often used to justify these actions.


The Cycle of Abuse:

Abuse can look differently depending on the relationship. Abusive relationships tend to follow a general pattern however. This is called the “cycle of abuse”.


  1. Tension builds – In this phase, tension increases and there is breakdown of communication. The victim becomes fearful and feels the need to calm or please the abuser.
  2. The Incident – In this phase, the tension escalates resulting in abuse (verbal, emotional or physical). The abuser uses anger, intimidation and threats and often blames the victim for the violence. Note: There may be abuse in other phases of the relationship but it is the worst during this stage.
  3. Reconciliation – In this phase, the abuser may apologize, make excuses for their actions, blame the victim or deny that the abuse happened or was as serious as the victim claims.
  4. The Calm or “Honeymoon” – The incident is “forgotten” and little to no abuse takes place during the “honeymoon phase”.

When we know about the many types of abuse and the cycle of abuse, it is easy to understanding why so many people do not immediately recognize the signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship.

The “This is Abuse” project created a series of videos to raise awareness about the signs of abuse. Take a look the following video and see if you can recognize the different abusive tactics.

If you are experiencing an unhealthy or abusive relationship, remember you can always call SAVIS for support