By Eleanor Beeslaar

Unhealthy relationships are based on power and control and can leave you feeling sad, afraid, lonely, worried and unsafe. It is important to be aware of the signs of unhealthy relationship behaviors, because even if they do not seem like a big deal at first, these behaviors can lead to relationship violence/abuse.

We know that unhealthy relationships are unsafe and can cause adverse effects, but what exactly do they look like? Though all unhealthy relationships are based on power and control, the behaviors and characteristics within these relationships may look very different. Abuse does not have a one size fits all definition and can take many forms, some of which are very subtle. Usually, the first thing that comes to mind when talking about dating violence or abuse is physical violence. Though this is a form of dating violence, there are many other ways that abuse can be present in relationships, including: emotional abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, stalking, and even digital abuse (, 2017). Below are the characteristics and behaviors that make up these different forms of abuse:


Type of Abuse Definition Examples
Physical Abuse Physical abuse involves any intentional and unwanted contact. It does not always cause pain or leave marks, such as bruises; however, it is still abuse (, 2017).
  • Scratching, punching, hitting, biting, etc.
  • Hair pulling
  • Pushing
  • Using a weapon
  • Throwing inanimate objects at you.
Emotional Emotional abuse involves harming a partner’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem (CDC, 2014).
  • Constant criticism
  • Shaming
  • Embarrassing a partner on purpose
  • Threatening to commit suicide to keep you from breaking up with them.
Verbal Abuse Verbal abuse involves the use of language to hurt and tear someone down (, 2017).
  • Threatening
  • Name calling
  • Putting down
  • Discounting or invalidating your feelings.
  • Withholding
Sexual Abuse Sexual abuse occurs when a partner pressures or forces you to engage in a sexual act that you do not or cannot consent to (CDC, 2014).
  • Unwanted kissing or touching
  • Sexual contact with someone who is intoxicated, unconscious, or otherwise unable to give consent.
  • Refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control.
  • Rape/attempted rape
Stalking Stalking occurs when someone repeatedly watches, follows, or harrasses you, causing you to be afraid and feel unsafe (CDC, 2014;, 2017).
  • Sending unwanted text messages, emails, or letters
  • Constantly calling and hanging up
  • Leaving unwanted gifts
  • Showing up at your school, workplace, or home uninvited
  • Tracking you through social media or other technology
Digital Abuse Digital abuse involves the use of technology (texting or social media) to harass or intimidate a partner (, 2017).
  • Monitors who you can be friends with on social media sites
  • Sends you negative/threatening messages through text or social media
  • Sending you unwanted explicit messages and/or demanding them in return

The information in the above chart has been adapted from (2017) and the CDC Understanding Teen Dating Violence Fact Sheet (2014). For more information visit and

With the continuous rise of technology, digital abuse has become increasingly more common, especially among teens, and it is something that we should be readily aware of. Connecting online is easy and fun, and it is much more common to form friendships and romantic relationships in this way. Though forming relationships online is normal and okay, it is important to remember that with this, comes the danger of online harassment, abuse, and even deceit from people who pretend to be someone they are not in order to do harm. The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from digital abuse is to be careful, be aware of the warning signs, and reach out for help if you need it! Check out this video of a young woman telling her story of digital abuse, and be sure to look at the description for helpful resources about relationship abuse:

An important part of preventing teen dating violence is being aware of the warning signs. We encourage you to familiarize yourself with the warning signs below!

  • Checking your text messages or social media without permission
  • Constantly putting you down
  • Extreme jealousy or insecurity
  • Isolating someone from friends or family
  • Telling someone what to do or what to wear
  • An explosive temper
  • Making false accusations (accusing you of cheating)
  • Possessiveness
  • Physically harming you
  • Forcing or pressuring you into sex

Relationship abuse does not discriminate and can occur regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Therefore, it is important to educate yourself, your friends, and your family members about the dangers and warning signs of dating violence/abuse. A crucial part of this is knowing where to go for help. Below are some resources to reach out to if you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship:


  • If you are in immediate danger contact 911


Relationship violence/abuse is NEVER the victim’s fault. No one deserves to be hurt, put down, and abused by the person they love. Remember, there is hope, and together, we can work to prevent teen dating violence!


References (2017). What Are the Different Types of Dating Abuse? Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Understanding Teen Dating Violence.

Retrieved from


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