Relationship wellness: Part 1

The red flags of unhealthy teen relationships.

A couple fighting.
Image by Afif Ramdhasuma from Pixabay

When discussing human nature, we are hardwired to feel wanted by those around us. It is this notion that drives us to connect with others, thus establishing relationships that become friendships or even more. As these relationships develop, they can be healthy or unhealthy. When those relationships are unhealthy, we can be left wondering if we made the right decision. If this question has occurred to you, do not feel alone.

According to research from Thriveworks, roughly 34% of Americans believe that relationships have been the main stressor within their mental health challenges. Furthermore, around 16 million women and 11 million men report experiencing interpartner violence (IPV) before the age of 18. As a result, it is important for individuals to gain awareness of healthy versus unhealthy relationships, what the signs are, and how to act appropriately when the signs present themselves.

Here are ten red flags to look for when entering and navigating teen relationships, based on the findings of the One Love Foundation.

  1. Intensity. Intensity is when someone expresses extreme feelings/behaviors that become overwhelming over time. In conjunction, the pace of the relationship may feel rushed, resulting in higher levels of anxiety during exchanges. Teens who experience high levels of peer pressure could be at risk of staying within intense relationships longer than desired, due to the pressure of meeting peer expectations.
  2. Possessiveness. Possessiveness is when someone attempts to place ownership over you, which is fueled by jealousy/insecurity. While jealousy is natural within relationships, it becomes unhealthy when it becomes conflict-focused. This may lead to accusatory statements, insisting you are flirting, cheating or planning on leaving the relationship. As a result, teens may feel anxious within their decision-making and seek approval to do things to avoid conflict.
  3. Manipulation. Manipulation is when someone is trying to influence your decisions, actions and emotions. Usually this occurs subtlety or within passive aggressive behaviors that make you question prior beliefs. As a result, teens may feel confused or lack certainty within their choices, gradually losing their sense of self.
  4. Isolation. Isolation is when someone keeps you away from friends, family, and other loved ones. This behavior occurs gradually, then becomes more demanding in nature. Often, this will create moments where teens may need to pick between the individual and person/situation. As a result, this can leave teens feeling uncertain about their decisions and the state of their relationship.
  5. Sabotage. Sabotage is when someone negatively impacts your reputation, achievements or aspirations. In doing so, this behavior limits forward movement and results in immediate distress. These behaviors include starting rumors or threatening to share private information. Teenagers should stay mindful of their partner’s/peer’s self-esteem, as a lack thereof could create unhealthy habits to protect their own insecurities.
  6. Belittling. Belittling is when someone does or says things that make you feel bad about yourself. These include name calling or criticisms. Belittling can be present within conflict or humorous moments. Overtime, if this does not get addressed, one can become self-conscious and lose confidence within themselves. Teens could find themselves doing this subconsciously, due to generational norms, with humor or retaliations. However, it is important for teens to engage in self-regulation and boundary maintenance within relationships, to limit this exposure as much as possible.
  7. Guilting. Guilting is when someone makes you feel responsible for their actions and overall happiness. Within this, they may blame you for things outside of your control and make you feel obligated to change something about yourself for their own benefit. This in turn places the teens’ needs aside, in fear of the potential outcome. An example of this is when their partner/peer threatens to hurt themselves or others if one leaves the relationship.
  8. Volatility. Volatility is when someone has strong unpredictable reactions that make you feel scared, confused or intimidated. As a result, you may feel like you need to “walk on eggshells” to avoid conflict that can turn violent, either verbally or physically. Within this space, teens may notice their partner’s/peers’ emotions go from high and low, being unable to gauge their triggers or responses.
  9. Deflection. Deflection is when someone continuously makes excuses for their unhealthy choices. Individuals may blame you, others, or situations for their own actions to avoid embarrassment or self-criticism. In turn, this limits opportunities for healthy communication and accountability within the relationship, resulting in self-blame and tendency to suppress emotions for the teens involved.
  10. Betrayal. Betrayal is when someone becomes disloyal or acts intentionally dishonest. This could include breaking your trust through sharing private information, lying, being two-facedor experiencing infidelity within the relationship. At times, these behaviors can be discussed and worked on, however, it is important for teens to recognize the frequency and severity of the betrayals to determine if trust can be restored.

If there are any concerns you might be in an unhealthy relationship (romantic or friendship), feel free to review the following materials for additional support:

You can learn more about mental health and wellness by visiting Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H Healthy Youth page.

Continue learning about relationship wellness in Part 2 of this series, which will cover relationship green flags.

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