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The Top 10 Signs You Are in a Dysfunctional Relationship


Tools and tips for every day relationship problems. Blog posts on how to stop conflict, how to have more intimacy and how to have better communication with your husband, wife or partner.

The Top 10 Signs You Are in a Dysfunctional Relationship

Erika Boissiere

It’s very difficult to acknowledge or even consider that you might be in a dysfunctional relationship. Your friends may have expressed concern, your family may have intervened, or maybe you are silently suffering in your relationship, all alone.   

Sometimes we do not even know how bad things are. Some say to themselves, “It’ll get better.” Or maybe others say, “This is how all relationships are.” Sometimes that is true, however, most of the time, it’s not. Our job as couples therapists is to be very honest with you: healthy relationships exist, as well as, incredibly dysfunctional ones. Everyone deserves to be in a loving and supportive relationship. The difficult step is being honest about what kind of relationship you are in and being ready to seek help and make a change. 

Just being able to acknowledge that you are in a relationship that isn’t healthy can be helpful. No, you are not going crazy. Things are not great. If you feel that your relationship is in fact dysfunctional, individual counseling or couples counseling can be tremendously effective. However, it’s up to you to decide when you need and are ready to accept professional help.  

Here are our top 10 signs of serious relationship distress. 

Sign #1: Abusive or Critical Language 

If your partner is criticizing you, belittling you, or regularly saying negative things that make you feel inferior, this type of communication is toxic and unhealthy. Couples counseling can assist in changing this behavioral pattern and identify and address the core root of the problem, which is critical for lasting change in your relationship. 

Sign #2: Domestic Violence 

25% of women will experience an act of physical violence in their relationship over the course of a lifetime. If you are the person committing the physical violence or the victim of domestic violence, getting professional help can be extremely supportive. There are shelters for victims of domestic violence and counselors that specialize in this complex issue. Don’t wait until things get desperate to seek professional help and support.  

Sign #3: Disgust or Contempt for your Partner 

Are you disgusted with your partner? Does your partner make you feel that you are beneath consideration or worthless? If so, this is a red flag and you should highly consider couples counseling. Contempt is one of the biggest relationship killers and can be addressed with a relationship professional. 

Sign #4: You’ve Given Up 

After years and years of fighting, have you given up on happiness in your relationship? Do you simply not care anymore? Are you moving through life just to get through the day? If so, individual counseling or couples counseling can help guide you – either to stay in the relationship or to get help to turn things around. 

Sign #5: Long Periods of Silence 

How long has it been since you last spoke to your partner? Hours, days, weeks? Do you avoid going home? Whatever your scenario is, long periods of non-communication and silence are a key sign that your relationship is in distress. 

Sign #6: Fear 

Are you scared of your partner? Do you feel like you are walking on eggshells and that they could snap at any moment? Being in a constant state of fear and anxiety is incredibly stressful and can add to an already anxious relationship situation. 

Sign #7: Affairs or No Trust 

Being constantly suspicious of your partner or experiencing an affair in a relationship fundamentally breaks the foundation of trust between you and your partner. It is important to address either one of these issues and identify clear steps to rebuild the relationship and trust again. Without this bond and assurance of your significant other, your relationship will be uncertain, in limbo, and the battles with your spouse will continue. 

Sign #8: Exaggerated Gestures for Attention 

Is your partner constantly threatening to either hurt themselves, leave you, or engage in unsafe behavior? Sometimes partners will instigate an affair, just to get your attention. Whatever your circumstance is, this type of attention seeking behavior is unhealthy and will not lead to positive outcomes for either person. 

Sign #9: Dependency 

There are moments when you really need to depend on your partner, and yet other times then you need your independence. These feelings come and go, sometimes throughout the day or even through different periods in your life. However, when you partner is constantly dependent on you for decisions, social activities, and you feel that without your existence they would crumble, it is time to consider getting help.

Sign #10: Isolation from your Friends or Family 

One of the biggest red flags that your relationship is dysfunctional is when one partner isolates the other partner from their friends or family. This process is typically very slow and happens over time, but if you are in a relationship where you feel that you cannot reach out to friends or family because of your relationship, a professional counselor can provide some guidance. 

If you are interested in learning more about couples counseling, learn more about The Relationship Institute of San Francisco. We specialize in couples and relationship counseling, rooted in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.