Unhealthy Relationships: Types and Symptoms

A relationship is where two or more people or groups are connected and behave towards each other. Human beings are complex. Therefore, relationships are complex. When we are in healthy relationship with another or a group, there is a feeling of reciprocity and both parties get their needs met. Relationships can be a source of support, joy, love and reward but if a relationship causes you to feel unhappy, stressed, disregarded or in the worst instance, abused, then it is a sign that an imbalance exists in the relationship and your needs are not being adequately met. The foundations of any relationship are the building blocks for healthy maintenance and survival. Relationships are generally established upon mutual understanding, trust, respect, compassion, empathy, vision, partnership, grace and forgiveness, but can, in time, become extremely unhealthy.

Relationships can sway back and forth between people and groups with equal give and take. When one party takes more than the other or disrespects the other, the relationship is unequal and can become unhealthy and sometimes, toxic. A toxic relationship is any relationship that is damaging or destructive to you or others. Toxic relationships can prevent those involved from living a happy, healthy and fulfilling life.

Here are some examples of types of unhealthy or toxic relationships and how to recognise the signs and symptoms:


Healthy friendships constitute respect, loyalty, honesty, trust and nurturing. These type of friends allow you to be the best version of yourself and you feel supported. When any of these areas are off kilter or out of balance, it can cause a strain on the friendship and possibly a strain on you. An example of unhealthy friendships are when one person is “needy” or clingy and their needs appear to take priority in the relationship leaving little or no room for you. This drains you of your energy and time which is exhausting and it leaves you feeling depleted which is toxic.

Healthy friendships should be based on honesty and open communication so you can both be real and authentic with each other. If a friend is not open-minded, this can cause a fracture in the relationship as they are not willing to consider your needs or point-of-view.

A good test to see if a friendship is working for you is to check-in with yourself how you feel before and after meeting them. If you experience symptoms of feeling “off” or worse after meeting them, this is a good indication whether this friendship is serving you or not, and if something is off balance. Ending friendships can be difficult but so can staying in the relationship and the paramount question is whether this person is serving your highest good and there is an equal balance of give and take. Or, do you feel that the friendship is one-sided and you are giving more than you are receiving. Sometimes, friendships can change or evolve over time as we change, so you need to consider if this is something which can occur and if your friend can and is willing to change. The key here is open, honest and real communication to see if you can at least be met half way.


Dating relationships can be fun and exciting where two people share a mutual attraction and interest in getting to know each other. Communication is essential to building any healthy relationship to ensure both individuals are clear about their intentions and expectations. This will help prevent any misunderstandings down the line.

Both people need to be on the same page with respect to what they want from the relationship. There is usually a “getting-to-know-each-other” phase where everything is new and shiny so it is important to communicate your needs and wants early on.

Boundaries are crucial in a healthy dating relationship and both partners should allow each other adequate space and time separate from each other. Spending too much time together can be stifling and it doesn’t allow the relationship to breathe. In some cases, one partner might be more “needy” than the other in terms of wanting to spend time together, and it is important to find a balance which works for you both. Conversely, one person might need more space; so there is a figuring-out period where both people can work together to achieve a happy medium. If you feel the person you are dating is too needy or alternatively, too distant, you may need to ask yourself if this person is right for you and if you want to continue dating. Trusting your gut is important as this will give you a clear indication of what “feels” right.

Listening, offering support and encouragement are also key components to a healthy dating relationship and ways in which people show respect for each other. Healthy dating relationships are about being respectful, being each other’s cheerleader and not brining the other down. This is never ok and if this is happening, it is important to seek support.


Similar themes exist in unhealthy working environments such as lack of transparency and poor communication. The culture of an organisation has a huge influence on its success and is effectively its immune system. It determines “how” things are done and is the sum of the values and rituals which serve as “glue” to integrate the members of an organisation.  If the culture of is negative, it can have a negative ripple effect on overall performance and productivity and become toxic or “sick”.

When there is a lack of clear communication, it can negatively affect employee relationships as people are not properly informed and this can cause conflict and misunderstandings. When there is a lack of investment in employees, it can leave people feeling demotivated and like a “cog in the wheel” and therefore working relationships suffer.

Elements of a healthy, positive and productive workplace include clear communication, investment in employees, fairness, innovation and leaders with direction and purpose. When some or all of these aspects are absent in the workplace, it can lead to low morale, low levels of motivation, high turnover and high absentee levels which can negatively impact the overall productivity and success of a company or organisation and the internal relationships within.

When you feel unhappy or dissatisfied in your workplace, this usually leaks into other areas of your life and affects other relationships so it is important to be cognisant of this. Some people can experience physical symptoms such as sleep disturbance, stress and low mood as a consequence of unhealthy working environments.

It is key to tune into how you feel in your work and if you feel motivated and that your needs are being met, or perhaps it is time for a change or to communicate your concerns to your manager/boss.


The family is one of the most complex relationships in existence. Every family is unique and has its unique set of members, values, functions and beliefs. Family dynamics are different for every family. Some characteristics of healthy families include commitment, spending time together, communication, admiration and coping skills. Unhealthy families who have poor listening and communication skills can contribute to a breakdown and lack of respect, which can potentially damage the family structure.

Please read my article on Family Dysfunction – How Can Change Occur to recognise if your family relationships are unhealthy or dysfunctional.


Healthy marriages need attention and nourishment to survive where both partners allow each other to have their own identity and goals and feel supported. Marriage requires a constant and continuous effort by both partners to allow the relationship to thrive. Many marriages can become over-focussed on careers, children and finances and may fail to neglect the romance, intimacy and connection that a relationship can bring.

One symptom of an unhealthy marriage is such that one of the partners becomes a parent to their spouse by doing all the household chores and parenting to the children. This can lead to anger and resentment by the “parent” in the marriage as they feel they are doing more and giving more. Open, honest communication is vital to restore the marriage to healthy functioning where roles and responsibilities are equally shared.

At other times, there may be an absence of one of the partners who has “checked out” of the marriage either emotionally or physically. This can leave one of the partners feeling abandoned and isolated. At times, they may turn to their children for support to fill the void of the absent spouse.

Sometimes, there may exist issues with addiction whether it be alcohol, work or gambling which can again, put a strain on the marriage leaving the other partner to “carry the load” and responsibilities of the household and family duties. If there are mental health issues which aren’t addressed, one partner may feel isolated and powerless to support the other, and may be left with a feeling of desolation and loneliness in the marriage.

In extreme cases, one of the partners may mistreat their partner by abusing them emotionally, verbally or physically. This is never ok and if this exists in your relationship, it is important to seek support. These are just some of the types of issues which can occur in marriages and it is important to get the help you need.

Remember, healthy relationships are based on respect, open communication, and setting boundaries. In order to achieve healthy functioning in any of the above relationships mentioned, these elements need to be present. Maintaining healthy relationships requires effort by all individuals to allow the relationship to grow and flourish and from this, there is equal giving and receiving.

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