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8 Warning Signs of Unhealthy Relationships

It's difficult to see warning signs of an unhealthy relationship. Thankfully, God gave us the Bible so we can learn what healthy relationships look like.

Unfortunately, we live in a world in which sin mars our relationships. From the moment sin entered the world, it began to unravel the fabric that binds us to other people. As a result, there are many unhealthy relationships.

It can be a challenge, however, to determine if a relationship is unhealthy. People are complex and interactions can be confusing. On top of this, many people were never taught what good relationships look like. They grew up in chaotic, broken homes where conflict was the norm. This can make it all the more challenging to identify toxic relationships.

Thankfully, God has given us the Bible, and in the pages of Scripture we see what good, God-honoring, healthy relationships look like.

We can also get a clear understanding of what unhealthy relationships look like. Here are eight unhealthy relationship warning signs.

Signs Of An Unhealthy Relationship

Abuse

Abuse is a sure sign of a massively unhealthy relationship. There is absolutely zero room for abuse in a relationship, whether physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, or any other type. Abuse is the opposite of God, who is loving, gracious, kind, and merciful.

Psalm 103:2-5 describes God this way:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

If you are experiencing abuse in any form, get help immediately. Don’t try to wait it out, hoping things will get better. Don’t blame yourself in any way. God absolutely does not want you to experience abuse in a relationship.

If you experienced some form of abuse growing up, you may assume that it characterizes all relationships. Be assured that it does not. Only toxic relationships contain abuse.

Bitterness

Bitterness is another sure sign of an unhealthy relationship. If a person is bitter, they hold on to grudges from the past. They refuse to forgive, even if you’ve done your best to apologize and make things right. They keep bringing up the same things again and again, reminding you of mistakes you’ve made in the past.

This is not how God operates. He forgives our sins and chooses not to remember them or bring them up to us. In Hebrews 8:12, God says,

“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

In a healthy relationship, each person works hard to forgive the other person. This isn’t always easy, but the effort is made. In bad relationships, one person refuses to do the hard work. They may say that they forgive you but their behavior suggests otherwise.

Lack of Love

All good, strong, God-honoring relationships are characterized by love. It is love that binds two people together and enables them to work through challenges and difficulties. What exactly does this love look like?

In unhealthy relationships, there is a distinct lack of love. There is impatience, envy, arrogance, rudeness, self-centeredness, easy irritation, and regular assumption of the worst.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes God-honoring love well when it says:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Granted, every relationship will have occasional instances of these things, but in unhealthy relationships, they are a constant theme.

If love is not the foundation of a relationship, the relationship won’t last over the long haul. It will be eroded to the point where it eventually falls apart.

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Excessive Anger

Every person in a relationship experiences anger from time to time. It’s inevitable and part of the human condition. The problem is when one or both people regularly exhibit excessive anger.

What exactly is excessive anger?

  • Explosive, violent outbursts
  • Being angry for a long period of time
  • Saying deeply hurtful things
  • Giving the cold shoulder for long amounts of time
  • Physical demonstrations like slamming doors

This is not how God acts. Psalm 103:8 describes God by saying,

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.”

Consistent displays of excessive anger will destroy the foundation of any relationship. It’s hard to feel safe around an angry person. You walk on eggshells, not wanting to set them off. You can’t have meaningful discussions with a deeply angry person, which makes it almost impossible to work through conflict.

Pastor Adrian Rogers said, “If you want to know what you’re full of, just see what spills out when you’re jostled. If you quickly explode, the love of Jesus is missing within.”

Gossip

Few things are more destructive to relationships than gossip. When someone speaks badly of you behind your back, they betray your trust. Suddenly, you feel very uncertain about your relationship with them.

Are they really your friend? Do they actually like being around you? Do they care about you?

Proverbs 16:28 says,

“A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends.”

Many relationships have been torn to bits by gossip. After all, you can’t trust a person who gossips about you. You can’t share your heart with them out of fear that they’ll betray your confidence.

In healthy relationships, gossip is absent. You can be sure that the other person won’t speak ill of you behind your back because they love you. You can confidently share your joys and struggles with them, assured that they won’t broadcast what you tell them.

Unfaithfulness

Unfaithfulness is a sure sign of an unhealthy relationship. A person who is unfaithful doesn’t stick with you in difficult times. They’re a fair-weather friend, leaving you high and dry when things get tough. They’re glad to be around you when things are going well, but when challenges arise they vanish.

Contrast this to how Jesus treated those close to Him. He didn’t abandon Peter even though Peter betrayed Him. He stuck close to Martha and Mary when their brother, Lazarus, died. When Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, Jesus invited Him to touch His hands and side.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 wonderfully describes the value of a faithful friend:

Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.

A faithful friend will pick you up when you fall. An unfaithful friend will leave you to struggle by yourself.

Criticism

There is constant criticism in bad relationships. Instead of encouraging you and building you up, a person tears you down with their words. They constantly point out your flaws and chip away at your self-confidence.

Criticism “corrupts” a person, causing them to feel discouraged and broken.

Ephesians 4:29 says,

“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

Healthy relationships, on the other hand, are characterized by consistent encouragement. An encourager speaks words of life, imparting grace to you and building you up. When you’re feeling low, they lift you up with their words. They help you keep going even when things get difficult.

Hope For Hurting Relationships

If you find yourself caught in a toxic relationship, you can have hope. God is in the business of restoring those who have been driven apart. He has the power to heal what has been broken.

The Apostle Paul is a prime example of this. Before he knew Jesus, he was actively seeking to persecute and kill Christians. He hated them and wanted to see all of them eradicated. Then God broke into his life and transformed him. Suddenly, he found himself loving the very people he once hated.

God can do that in your relationships too. He can change hearts and minds. He can repair bonds that have been broken and tear down walls that have been erected. When God heals broken relationships, it brings Him great glory and honor.

If you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship, ask God to do His transforming work. Ask Him to transform both you and the other person. If you have sinned against them, ask the Lord for forgiveness and the power to change. If you’ve been sinned against, ask the Lord to help you forgive and to soften the other person’s heart.

There are no relational problems too difficult for God. If God could solve the problem of us being separated from Him by our sins, then He can surely bring healing to your relationships as well.

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