Kids Help Phone

Unhealthy Relationships

Unhealthy Relationships

Qualities of Unhealthy Relationships

Control is when someone makes all the decisions, tells others what to do, and does not let others do what they want. A controlling person might try to isolate a person from family and friends or become jealous. (This is not the same as parents, caregivers, teachers, and coaches having rules and guidelines in your life. The guidelines, rules, and responsibilities are to help you, even if sometimes it does not feel like it!).

Hostility is when one person tries to pick fights with the other person.

Dishonesty is when one person is lying or keeping information from another person. It could also be the person stealing from the other person. This does not include keeping information like a surprise party or a present from the other person.

Disrespect is when the person makes fun of the other person and their opinions or interests. It could also be destroying something which belongs to the other person.

Dependence is when two people feel as though they cannot live without one another, or when one person feels they cannot live without someone else. If the relationship ends or threatens to end, one person may threaten or do something drastic or unhealthy.

Intimidation is when one person tries to control another through fear (like threats of violence, insults, or isolation).

Violence can be physical, emotional, or sexual. Violence might be used to maintain control over the other person.


If you notice any of these traits within a relationship you are part of or your child/youth is a part of, seek help (talk to a counsellor or appropriate authorities).


Sometimes, people can struggle with self-esteem. This happens from time to time. If it is a recurring issue or if you or your child/youth are consistently struggling with self-esteem, it is important to connect them with help. Low self-esteem can lead to unhealthy consequences.

If someone has negative self-esteem, you might notice:

  • Negative self-talk (they talk poorly about themselves)
  • Poor boundaries
  • Giving up on themself
  • Risky behaviour
  • Not standing up for themself
  • Self-sabotage
  • Being constantly busy with work, activities, school, or others (this could be because they do not want to spend time with themselves)
  • And more


It can show up as something different for everyone.

If someone has low self-esteem, it can lead to:

  • Increased anxiety, stress, loneliness, and depression
  • Problems with relationships
  • More difficulty concentrating in schools
  • Increased risk of using drugs or alcohol

If your child/you are struggling with treating themself with respect, love, and compassion, talk to someone about it, like a counsellor, loved one, or mental health professional.

For every one negative thing a person tells themself (or someone else), they need ten positive ones to counteract it.


Unhealthy relationships can occur with a variety of people, from friends to coaches to family members.

What signs might you notice if a child/youth you work with is in an unhealthy relationship?

This can be challenging. This is not a matter of one-size-fits-all. As you know, relationships are complicated. Some of the following can be signs if a child/youth in your life is in an unhealthy relationship.

  • After they hang out with their friend, the child/youth might seem down, uncomfortable, or off
  • You see the youth/child putting in all the effort
  • The child/youth is being used by their friend
  • The person is much older than the child/youth. The person might message them a lot.
  • Your child/youth might start to isolate themselves or stop talking about their relationship
  • They might start acting differently
  • Their sense of style changes drastically and quickly
  • They start lying to you
  • The child/youth tells you when they do well, their friend is upset or unhappy for them
  • There is a lot of jealousy
  • The person makes fun of the child/youth for things they like (not just harmless teasing)
  • The child/youth starts ignoring other friends, relationships, or responsibilities
  • They stop taking care of themselves
  • The person threatens the child/youth
    • “I won’t be your friend anymore if…”
    • “If you break up with me, I will kill myself.”
    • This one is tricky because the threat might be to keep quiet so the child might not tell you what is going on.

These are just some of the signs you might notice if the child/youth is in an unhealthy relationship.


For the signs and what to do if a child/youth discloses abuse to you, click here for the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre website.

Further Resources

If you would like to speak to someone about mental health issues, the Alberta Health Services Mental Health Help Line is available 24/7, offering information and referrals on any aspect of mental health.

Call toll-free: 1-877-303-2642

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