A relationship expert identified 5 warning signs of unhealthy love

Bret Hartman/TEDKatie Hood speaking at TED 2019.
  • In her efforts to educate young people about healthy love, relationship expert Katie Hood has identified five signs that a relationship is veering into unhealthy territory.
  • The more unhealthy markers a relationship has, the more it’s likely to cross over into abuse, Hood said.
  • Hood said healthy love is a skill we can hone, but everyone is guilty of unhealthy behaviours from time to time.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Bad relationships start out like any other. They’re fun, exhilarating, and impassioned – but at some point they cross over into unhealthy territory.

Spotting the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship can be difficult, since we often harm and disrespect the ones we love, said Katie Hood, the CEO of the One Love Foundation. Hood’s organisation works to prevent abusive relationships by educating young people about the difference between healthy and unhealthy love.


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In her talk at this year’s TED conference in Vancouver, Canada, Hood identified a few warning signs that indicate a relationship – especially a romantic one – is headed into abusive territory.

Hood said we’re all guilty of unhealthy behaviours from time to time, but the more unhealthy markers a relationship has, the more it’s likely to cross over into abuse.

Here are five warning signs that a relationship could be unhealthy.


If things quickly become intense, it could be a warning sign.

There’s a rush that comes with the beginning of any new relationship, Hood said. Over time, that euphoria can morph into intensity – the first warning sign that a relationship is unhealthy.

“It’s not how a relationship starts that matters,” Hood said. “It’s how it evolves.” A few markers of intensity, according to Hood, are when a partner begins incessantly calling, texting, or showing up places.

Intense partners can be impatient when you’re slow to respond to their messages. They might also say “I love you” sooner than feels natural.

If a relationship feels like it’s moving too quickly, or starts to become suffocating, it might have veered into unhealthy territory.


Unhealthy relationships sow seeds of doubt about your support system.

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Isolation is one of the most frequently missed signs of unhealthy love, said Hood. That’s because it’s often confused with the desire to spend quality time with someone.

When a relationship is first starting out, it’s common to want to attach yourself to your partner in a way that’s still healthy. But the moment you start to feel isolated from your support system, you should rethink the connection.

“Healthy love includes independence,” Hood said. Abusive partners, she said, will often try to sew seeds of doubt about everyone in your life that isn’t them.

When talking about your friends, they might say: “Why do you want to hang out with them? They’re such losers.” Or they might try to convince you that your family is determined to break the two of you up. An unhealthy friend might guilt you into forgoing a plan to spend time with them.


Abusive partners might frequently accuse you of cheating, or demand to know where you are at all times.

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“Jealousy is a part of any human relationship, but extreme jealousy is different,” Hood said. “There’s a threatening, desperate, and angry edge to it.”

Hood said extreme jealousy can often creep in when the honeymoon period – that blissful time at the beginning of a new relationship – starts to peter out.

Extremely jealous partners can demand to know where you are and who you’re with at all times. They might also obsessively follow you on social media. These behaviours are often tied up with frequent accusations of cheating or flirting with other people.

In friendships, extreme jealousy can manifest in someone becoming possessive over your time or not trusting what you say.


They can also use words as weapons.

John Moore/Getty Images

People who are belittled by their partners often feel less confident or silenced in a relationship.

A partner who belittles, for instance, might make a joke at your expense, or shut you down in front of friends and family. This is often followed up by accusing you of overreacting. They might tell you not to be so sensitive, or to cut them some slack, thereby silencing your concerns.

“In unhealthy love, words are used as weapons,” Hood said. “Conversations that used to be fun and lighthearted turn mean and embarrassing.”

Hood said even she was guilty of belittling when she screamed, “You are the worst!” at her children after they complained about breakfast.


If your relationship feels like a roller coaster ride of breakups and makeups, it could be a sign of unhealthy love.

Unhealthy relationships often feel like you’re on a rollercoaster.

You have tearful arguments, followed by passionate makeups. You’re constantly breaking up and getting back together. Your partner makes hateful comments, then quickly apologizes and promises to never say those things again.

Hood files all these behaviours under a category called “volatility.” The more tense your relationship becomes, she said, the more volatile it can be.


We can all learn to love better.

Kathrin Ziegler/Getty Images

One of the reasons why relationships become unhealthy, Hood said, is that we’re never explicitly taught how to love.

By understanding the characteristics that make for an unhealthy relationship, we can train ourselves to do better over time, she said.

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