Understanding Unhealthy Relationships: Rooted in Roles, Feelings, and Behaviors

The twenty-one types of unhealthy relationships can be classified into three main groups based on their root causes. The first category, ‘Power Imbalance,’ originates from the roles assumed within the relationship. Here, there’s often an uneven balance of power or responsibility, making one partner feel overwhelmed or controlled. The second category, ‘Emotional Disconnection,’ stems from emotional voids that can result in feelings of distance, resentment, or secrecy. The third category, ‘Behavioral Patterns,’ arises from distinct actions and responses that can stress and deteriorate a relationship.

Group 1 – Power Imbalance

This theme deals with an uneven distribution of power and control within the relationship. It involves one partner consistently exerting dominance, which can lead to feelings of subjugation or neglect. These imbalances can manifest in various ways, including direct manipulation, physical abuse, financial control, or dynamics that resemble a parent-child relationship. Such partnerships struggle with a lack of equality, as one partner’s needs and desires overshadow the other’s. Within this category, there are two subgroups. The first is Power Dynamics, in which one partner imposes their will on the other. The second is Dependency Issues, in which one partner relies excessively on the other, whether emotionally, financially, or with substances. In both groups, one partner dominates. Where they differ, is in who fosters this dynamic.

Power Dynamics

1. Controlling and Coercive Relationships (1):

  • Description: One partner consistently exerts dominance, using emotional, verbal, or physical tactics to control various facets of the relationship. This often creates a climate of fear and submission, diminishing the agency of the oppressed partner.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Arises from a lack of mutual respect, trust, and open communication, leading one partner to impose their will upon the other.

2. Manipulative Relationships (2):

  • Description: In this unhealthy relationship type, one or both partners resort to cunning strategies to sway decisions or perceptions. Tactics can include gaslighting, guilt-tripping, or playing the victim card, obscuring reality and leaving the manipulated partner feeling lost or at fault.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Lack of transparency, open communication, and empathy can breed grounds for manipulation.

3. Physically Abusive Relationships (3):

  • Description: Marked by incidents of physical violence, these relationships involve one partner resorting to physical harm as a means of exerting control, inflicting pain, or expressing frustration.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Absence of safety, mutual respect, and open communication can escalate conflicts to physical confrontations.

4. Financially Dominated Relationships (4):

  • Description: Money becomes a tool of power. One partner controls the finances, making most or all monetary decisions, often restricting the other partner’s access or dictating their spending.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Lack of equality, transparency, and shared responsibilities can result in financial imbalances.

5. Obsessive Relationships (5):

  • Description: Intense preoccupation with the partner defines these relationships. Extreme possessiveness, relentless suspicion, and overwhelming jealousy can erode trust and individual autonomy.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: The absence of trust, personal growth, and boundaries can foster obsessive behaviors.

6. Parent-Child Dynamics (6):

  • Description: Instead of two equal partners, the relationship mimics a parent-child dynamic. One assumes an authoritative or caregiving role, while the other takes a passive or dependent position, making mature conflict resolution difficult.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: The absence of equality, mutual respect, and shared responsibilities can pave the way for this dynamic.

Dependency Issues

1. Dependent Relationships (7):

  • Description: In these relationships, one or both partners are excessively reliant on the other for emotional support, decision-making, or daily tasks. Such dependency can impede individual growth and create strain as one partner may feel burdened or the other, stifled.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Arises from the absence of personal growth, independence, and mutual respect, causing one partner to overly lean on the other.

2. Substance Dominated Relationships (8):

  • Description: Substance abuse or addiction becomes the dominant theme, affecting interactions, decisions, and overall relationship health. It might be one partner struggling with addiction or both, but the substance overshadows genuine connection and communication.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Lack of open communication, safety, and support can give way to substances filling emotional or relational voids.

3. Chronic Rescuer-Rescuee Dynamics (9) (also known as Savior-Victim Dynamics):

  • Description: One partner consistently assumes the role of the rescuer, trying to “fix” or “save” the other. The latter often plays the role of the victim, requiring constant help or support. This dynamic hampers equality and mutual growth.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Absence of equality, mutual respect, and personal growth can set the stage for one partner to always step in as the savior, preventing the other from addressing their own issues.

Group 2 – Emotional Disconnection

Relationships under this theme suffer from an emotional void, characterized by avoidance, neglect, and an overarching detachment. Partners may find it challenging to express their feelings openly, leading to secretive behaviors, passive-aggressiveness, emotional abuse, or the sensation of “walking on eggshells.” There’s a palpable lack of emotional intimacy, understanding, and reciprocity. This distancing can result in stagnation, where both partners feel distant, unappreciated, and emotionally unsatisfied, even if they remain together. This group is also subdivided into two subgroups. Emotional Distance & Neglect is a group of unhealthy relationships stemming from a lack of emotional presence, understanding, or addressing of feelings directly. Trust Violations introduce challenges that erode the trust foundation, often having emotional underpinnings.

Emotional Distance & Neglect

1. Passive-Aggressive Relationships (10):

  • Description: In this unhealthy relationship type, one or both partners express their negative feelings indirectly instead of openly discussing what’s bothering them. This can manifest in subtle ways, such as procrastination, stubbornness, sullenness, or deliberate failure in tasks. The underlying aim is often to avoid direct confrontation or to subtly retaliate.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Often arises from a lack of open communication, trust, and conflict resolution.

2. Neglected Relationships (11):

  • Description: Partners in neglected relationships often feel overlooked, undervalued, or taken for granted. There might be a lack of emotional connection, physical intimacy, or mutual support. Often, one or both individuals may prioritize other aspects of their lives over the relationship, leading to feelings of loneliness or isolation.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Can develop due to a lack of prioritization, shared time, affection, and mutual respect.

3. Emotionally Abusive Relationships (12):

  • Description: Emotional torment is a frequent feature of the relationship. It includes consistent belittling, intimidation, or gaslighting, often leaving the victim doubting their self-worth, memory, or even sanity.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Lacking empathy, mutual respect, and open communication can form the foundation for emotional abuse.

4. Walking on Eggshells (Dysregulated/Hostile) (13):

  • Description: This type of unhealthy relationship is characterized by constant anxiety about causing offense or triggering a negative reaction from one’s partner. One partner might be overly sensitive or explosive, making the other partner fearful of speaking up or expressing their needs and feelings.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Can emerge from a lack of safety, mutual respect, conflict resolution, and open communication.

5. Stagnant Relationships (14):

  • Description: These relationships lack growth, novelty, or progression. Partners might feel they are in a routine that neither satisfies nor evolves. There’s a sense of being stuck in a rut, with both partners feeling disengaged or uninspired by the relationship.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Often originates from a lack of personal growth, shared goals and values, and shared joy.

Trust Violations

1. Chronic Infidelity (15):

  • Description: This type of relationship is marred by repeated breaches of trust in the form of extramarital affairs or other forms of infidelity. The unfaithful behavior is not an isolated incident but a pattern, leading to severe trust issues, emotional pain, and potential dissolution of the relationship.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Such behavior can stem from a lack of loyalty, transparency, prioritization of the relationship, and mutual respect.

2. Unresolved Past Relationships (16):

  • Description: In these relationships, one or both partners have not fully processed or moved on from past relationships. This can manifest as frequent comparisons to an ex, unresolved emotional ties, or even maintaining inappropriate connections with former partners. The present relationship often feels overshadowed by the past.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: Often arises due to a lack of transparency, trust, loyalty, and mutual respect.

3. Secretive Relationships (17):

  • Description: These relationships are marked by withheld information, deliberate omissions, or concealed activities. One or both partners keep secrets, leading to an atmosphere of mistrust and uncertainty. The secrets might not always be malicious in intent; sometimes they’re kept to avoid conflict or protect feelings. However, the cumulative effect often erodes trust and intimacy.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: This challenge may arise due to an absence of transparency, open communication, trust, and mutual respect.

Group 3 – Behavioral Patterns

This theme is all about what you can see happening in unhealthy relationships. It’s not just about how people feel; it’s about what they do. This can include things like constantly breaking up and getting back together or cutting off contact with friends and family. These actions affect the relationships stability and health.

1. Overly Competitive Relationships (18):

  • Description: In these relationships, partners are constantly in competition with each other. Instead of supporting one another, they vie for superiority or constantly measure their achievements against their partner’s. This dynamic can undermine mutual appreciation and lead to resentment.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: The roots of this challenge can be traced to the absence of mutual respect, shared joy, supportiveness, and appreciation.

2. Cycle of Breakup and Reconciliation (19):

  • Description: Some couples experience a recurring cycle of breaking up and then reconciling. These repetitive patterns can be emotionally draining and introduce instability into the relationship. They often result from unresolved conflicts or inability to address root problems.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: This pattern may emerge due to a lack of conflict resolution, adaptability, mutual respect, and open communication.

3. Isolating Relationships (20):

  • Description: In this type of unhealthy relationship, the couple becomes increasingly isolated from friends, family, or social networks. While couples should certainly spend quality time together, excessive insularity can be indicative of unhealthy dependency or control dynamics.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: This challenge can be related to an absence of independence, mutual respect, and shared interests outside the relationship.

4. Relationships Based on Physical Intimacy (21):

  • Description: While physical intimacy is an important component of romantic relationships, when a relationship is solely or predominantly based on this, it may lack deeper emotional or intellectual connections. Over time, such relationships may struggle to withstand challenges or evolve as partners grow and change.
  • Origination from Lack of Strengths: The emergence of this challenge can be tied to a lack of shared goals and values, open communication, mutual respect, and shared interests.

Explore Deeper: Understanding Unhealthy Relationship Patterns in Detail

I hope that this introductory overview of unhealthy relationship patterns has provided some insights and clarity. It’s my intention to shed light on the complexities that relationships can entail and offer a roadmap for positive change. If you’ve identified with any particular pattern, I encourage you to delve deeper. Click on the links provided to explore each relationship type in more detail. There you’ll find a wealth of information to help you better understand the dynamics, including descriptions of the feelings, actions, and rationales both partners employ to maintain the cycle.

Recognizing and acknowledging these patterns is the first step towards fostering healthier, more fulfilling relationships. Unhealthy relationship patterns can lead to depression and anxiety, so if you find yourself struggling, consider reaching out to either myself or a therapist in your area. We’re here to support you on your journey towards positive change and more harmonious connections.