How to tell if your relationship behaviour is harmful

Are you thinking about how you treat your partner in a dating relationship? Here are some examples of harmful behaviour and steps you can take to get support. Remember, you’re doing the right thing by getting more information.

In healthy relationships, respect, trust, honesty and safety are important. Partners should treat each other as equals, be able to talk openly and be supportive. But sometimes, partners struggle more than they’d like.

Recognizing you may have a problem is the first step to changing how you treat your partner. Here are some examples of harmful relationship behaviour:

  • trying to control a partner (e.g. telling them what to do, isolating them from friends/family, etc.)
  • humiliating a partner (e.g. name-calling, put-downs, criticism, making them feel small, etc.)
  • expressing intense anger toward a partner (e.g. losing your temper, yelling at a partner, making threats, etc.)
  • overstepping a partner’s boundaries (e.g. invading their privacy, asking personal questions they’re uncomfortable with, etc.)
  • acting extremely jealous (e.g. checking a partner’s phone without permission, questioning them about friends, etc.)
  • physically abusing a partner (e.g. hitting, pushing, destroying their things, etc.)
  • sexually abusing a partner (e.g. sexual assault, rape, sexual activity without consent, etc.)

It’s important to remember that the things you say and do in a relationship can have consequences. Your behaviour can have negative effects on your partner’s physical and emotional health (e.g. self-esteem, stress, fear, etc.). No one deserves to be treated this way, but there are steps you can take to make sure the harmful behaviour stops.

If you want to work on how you treat your partner, you’re taking a step in the right direction. You can change, and you don’t have to do it alone. Remember the three “Ts:”

  • Talk to someone: you can try talking to someone you trust about what’s going on. This person could be a friend, sibling or safe adult (parent/caregiver, teacher, therapist, etc.). The individual you confide in should be able to help you decide on next steps. Resources Around Me can also help you find counselling/mental health and violence/abuse support services in your community.
  • Think before you act: before reacting to your partner, take a minute to think about what you’re about to say/do. Ask yourself if your words/actions are going to hurt your partner, or if you’d be OK if someone treated you this way. Try to channel your energy and focus on the good things you like to do for others. Kids Help Phone’s counsellors can also help you brainstorm strategies to manage your feelings and recognize why you may be behaving this way. It’s possible something may be going on for you deep down.
  • Take a break: if you’re concerned about how you’re treating your partner, it may be best for you to spend some time apart to figure things out. Taking a break can help you step back, stay calm and determine ways to address the behaviour (e.g. anger management, couples therapy, etc.). It may be helpful to do some research on toxic or unhealthy relationships so you have all the facts and can identify the signs.

Remember, it’s always important to treat your partner with respect. If you’re thinking about changing your behaviour, you can reach out for support and take a break from the relationship if you need to.


If you would like to know more about this topic, you can connect with a counsellor by phone or Live Chat.