Relationship Red Flags

In a perfect world, trusting, honest, and respectful relationships would be the norm. Every relationship would be free of physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse. Sadly, dating violence is more common than we think, and some relationships become unhealthy, even when they start out on a good foot.

Relationship Red FlagsA national survey from 2009 found that 10% of teens, female and male, had been hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriends or girlfriends during the previous year.[i] Approximately 29% of teens said they were verbally or psychologically abused during the previous year.[ii] Believe it or not, some of us are unable to recognize red flags that indicate that our relationships are unhealthy.

Look Out for Red Flags[iii]

Knowing the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships is important. Here are some behaviors and types of violence that you should treat as serious warning signs in relationships:

  • Verbal Abuse. Yelling, name-calling, or intentional humiliation, especially in front of others. This abuse intends to cause harm with words.
  • Emotional Abuse. Intimidating or threatening statements. These types of psychological mind games can also include jealousy, possessiveness, or someone threatening to hurt themselves or their partner if the partner breaks up.[iv] This abuse intends to cause emotional distress.
  • Physical Abuse. Hitting, slapping, throwing things, or shoving. This behavior intends to injure a person or make them feel unsafe.
  • Sexual Abuse. Demanding or forcing sex. This type of coercion can include emotional blackmail (like, “If you loved me, you would . . . .”). It can also include rape. These unwanted sexual advances can make a person feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
  • Abuse of Male Privilege. Playing the gender card, acting macho, or a having a “boys will be boys” attitude. This behavior assumes boys have more power than girls and have special privileges in relationships.
  • Constant Monitoring. Sending frequent text and instant messages to monitor someone’s whereabouts.[v] This can include tracking someone via social media.

Resources to Help You

Now that you know what to look for, here are steps that you can take immediately if you or a friend is in an abusive relationship:

Learn More About Relationships

The links below look at relationships from different perspectives:

  • Love Doesn’t Have to Hurt Teens. A guide to the basics of healthy relationships and why we all deserve them.
  • The Halls. A web series that follows the ups and downs in relationships among a group of friends at a Boston high school.

For more information and a complete list of resources, visit the YE4C’s teen dating violence page.

[i] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Surveillance summaries: Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2009. Retrieved from (PDF, 148 pages)

[ii] Halpern, C. T., Oslak, S. G., Young, M. L., Martin, S. L., & Kupper, L. L. (2001). Partner violence among adolescents in opposite-sex romantic relationships: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. American Journal of Public Health, 91(10), 1679–1685. Retrieved from

[iii] American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Love doesn’t have to hurt teens. Retrieved from

[iv] Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2011). Violence against women: Dating violence. Retrieved from

[v] Ibid.