By Julie Goldberg, MA, LAC

Starting a new relationship can be one of the most thrilling and exciting experiences. It can also be one of the scariest.

Sometimes, things can get out of hand and take a different direction than what’s expected in a typical teenage romance. This can lead to a relationship that is built on unhealthy patterns, distrust, and fear — all of which are certainly possible in teenage relationships (regardless of what the internet and your friends might tell you).

Unhealthy relationships often feel confusing and isolating – is what’s happening actually a big deal? Did they really just say that? Maybe I was the one that messed up! If you find yourself, or a friend asking similar questions, it may be time to seek additional help.

When the mind starts to race and doubt itself, it’s best to have something factual to consult as a reference point. Below, you’ll find signs that a relationship might be unhealthy and where to seek support.

The Relationship Spectrum

Relationships occur on a spectrum. No relationship is 100% perfect and healthy, nor is it 100% abusive. This adds to the confusion one feels when they start to notice some abusive patterns. Often, relationships vary between healthy, unhealthy, and abusive. It’s important to notice signs of an abusive relationship and seek help. No one ever deserves to be in an abusive relationship. 

Healthy Relationship: This type of relationship allows both partners to feel supported and connected, and at the same time still feel independent. They spend time together as a couple, with friends, and alone. The relationship brings them joy but doesn’t define them. They feel safe and supported.

Unhealthy Relationships: These relationships are usually based on power and control, not equality and respect. They often lack a sense of partnership and can be confusing and manipulating.

Abusive: In abusive relationships, there exists a pattern of destructive behaviors used to exert power and control. These behaviors can be externally visible, like physical violence, or visible only to the person experiencing it, such as emotional abuse or isolation.

Just because a relationship isn’t physically abusive, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other areas of abuse going on. Power and control come in many forms, violent incidents are often accompanied by an array of other types of abuse which are less easily identified. They still establish a pattern of intimidation and control in the relationship. This includes sexual intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, coercion, and threats, and using male privilege.

If you feel like you might be in an abusive relationship, there are many ways you can get the support you need. First, break the cycle of power and control and ask for help from a trusted adult. Reach out to an organization that focuses on teen dating violence – Love is Respect is a great place to start.

Remember, part of feeling like you’re in an abusive relationship is feeling alone. Reach out for help before the isolation takes over.


Julie is an adolescent therapist based out of Denver, CO. During COVID-19 she’s moved her therapy practice online and sees clients virtually across the state of Colorado. She helps teens better understand their emotions and navigate the challenging teenage years using mindfulness-based therapy.