By Evan Espinosa, Pfy. D.

Unhealthy relationships can be hard to define because they encompass many actions and behaviors. A good working definition for unhealthy relationships is, “Relationships that contain behaviors which are dangerous, risky, injurious and unconducive to one’s health.” This is an important definition as it helps shed some light on what families should be mindful of when it comes to detrimental behaviors within a relationship.

Actions that fall within the umbrella term of unhealthy relationships include acts such as: assault (physical or verbal), battery, intimate partner violence, domestic violence, rape, bullying, intimidation, coercion, hazing, and extreme discipline. When you think of these negative behaviors, the first things that come to mind may be relationships between intimate partners. However, unhealthy relationships are not limited to romantic relationships. Unhealthy relationships can form between your child and anyone they know.

It is no surprise that actions like slapping, hitting, shoving, yelling, and insulting each other within any of the previously stated relationship variations are unhealthy. It is also beneficial to look at more subtle behaviors that can happen, which people sometimes overlook. Actions like denying affection, financial control, negative comments, blaming, hovering, and unfound accusations can be just as impactful within a relationship. It’s a myth that someone has to be physically harmed in order for it to be unhealthy. Yes, arguments and disagreements will happen within any relationship, but it speaks volumes about the strength of a relationship when each individual can control their actions and emotions, and work collaboratively to resolve a dispute in a caring and loving fashion. This is extremely important for parents to be aware of, since children often learn to treat others based on their parents’ actions. Children who see family disputes end in violence or abuse are much more likely to continue relating towards others in a maladaptive way and are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, health issues, and conduct problems.

Dating and peer violence can be an even more common issue for adolescents. The social media boom has its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, social media keeps us connected with others and can be used to facilitate positive messaging. On the other hand, sexting, cyber bullying, and derogatory postings keep children encapsulated in a world of drama that is hard to get out of. Friendships can be easily lost and turned into something negative based one misinformed message. Intimate relationships can turn possessive if your child’s boyfriend or girlfriend dictates who they can and cannot talk to on social media, while monitoring all electronic exchanges.

Parents should be on the lookout for signs of an unhealthy dating or peer relationship, such as: frequent arguments, isolation, unexplained outbursts (anger or sadness), constant texting or messaging, “break up to make up” behavior, hovering by the friend or significant other, sudden negative self-talk, only socializing with the significant other or friend, and threats. Remember, both males and females can contribute unhealthy behavior to a relationship. Such behavior is not limited solely to males.

The way families can combat unhealthy relationships is by defining healthy relationships for the family. Healthy relationships allow both partners to feel supported and connected while still maintaining their independence. Healthy relationships should allow partners to grow with each other in a natural and mature way. The two major components of a healthy relationship are communication and setting healthy boundaries. Parents model many things for their children. How to resolve an argument and how to treat one another in a relationship are two of the most important skills a parent can pass along to their child. Treat each other with respect, be supportive, compromise, allow questions to be asked by your children, and celebrate each other’s successes.

When these behaviors are addressed within the home, your child will develop a strong sense of how they should be respected by others. If you find your child is in an unhealthy relationship outside of the home, identify where the problem is coming from, remove your child from any harm, and offer ways to cope. If need be, involve the authorities and seek professional help for your child. With these few adjustments within the home, unhealthy relationships can be identified and changed for the betterment of our families and our youth.

For more information visit:



Join our monthly eNewsletter to get Arizona Parenting delivered straight to your inbox!

You rock! Thanks for signing up to receive our monthly eNewsletter! Check your inbox for confirmation!