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The Spectrum of Relationships

Exploring Relationships

Relationships exist on a spectrum and can range from healthy to abusive, with unhealthy existing somewhere in between. Relationships look different depending on the partners, friends or family members within them. No matter the relationship, it should build you up, rather than break you down.

Visit the education page to browse additional educational topics or learn more about how to cultivate healthy relationships.

Healthy Relationships

Healthy relationships are based on mutual trust, respect and kind communication. They allow you to feel supported and respected within the relationship, while still maintaining your independence. Healthy relationships don’t mean that conflict never arises, it just means that whenever it does it can be navigated through compromise and understanding. Within a healthy relationship, equality and respect are the norm.


Unhealthy Relationships

Unhealthy relationships involve disrespect and distrust. Sometimes this can manifest as stonewalling (refusing to speak with you or answer your questions) and/or defensiveness. In an unhealthy relationship you may not feel equal to your partner or like your goals are being supported.


Abusive Relationships

Abusive relationships exhibit patterns of destructive behaviors that are used to exert power or control over their partner. Abusive partners can make you feel fearful, they may make threats to harm themselves, you, your loved ones or your property. Blame is unequally shared; abusive partners don’t take responsibility for their own actions. You may feel unsafe, as perpetrators will often isolate you from your support system and exhibit various forms of physical, emotional and/or sexual violence.

Review some of the aspects of healthy relationships that build you up, as well as some of the behaviors that can be used to break you down. It is helpful to be aware of these red flags, so that we can take action earlier on in the spectrum before the relationship becomes abusive. Explore more about relationships on healthy relationships on wellness.asu.edu.


red flag

Identify red flags

Any relationship can be healthy, unhealthy or abusive. Unfortunately, these red flags do not just apply to our significant others, romantic or dating relationships. They apply to everyone in our life including our family and friends. All our relationships should help us thrive.

Manage conflict

Manage conflict

Conflict will arise in all relationships, but in an unhealthy relationship conflict may involve belittling and deflecting of responsibility. In an abusive relationship conflict may involve violence.

Trust your instincts

Trust your instincts

If you are concerned about a friend or concerned that you may be experiencing an unhealthy or abusive relationship, trust yourself and listen to your instincts. There are resources and support available to you or your friend.

Seek support

Seek support

Supporting a friend who may be navigating an unhealthy or abusive relationship? Or, if you are trying to navigate one of your own relationships, consider seeking support.

You may begin to notice some of these red flags in your own relationship, or a friend’s, but feel unsure about what to do next. It is normal to want to talk to someone to formulate a plan:

  • Visit ASU Counseling Services to learn more about counseling and crisis support on campus
  • Utilize the MyPlan app to further explore aspects of your, or a friend’s, relationship and be connected with resources for support.
  • Connect with the Sun Devil Support Network to talk to a peer about the resources available
  • Speak with an ASU Victim Advocate by calling 480-965-0107 or visit the Victim and Survivor Services webpage to explore options to speak with an advocate.
  • Reach out to EMPACT’s 24-hour ASU-dedicated crisis hotline at 480-921-1006.
  • In a life-threatening emergency, call 911.

Poster messages

Relationships exist on a spectrum and can range from healthy to abusive, with unhealthy existing somewhere in between. Trust yourself and seek support if you feel uneasy or distressed.

Healthy partners…

  • Healthy relationships build you up. These relationships help you thrive and are built off of a foundation of communication, trust, boundaries and support.
  • Unhealthy relationships may begin to break you down through lacking trust, support and respect of your boundaries.
  • Abusive relationships often involve violence, isolation, fear and threats. These relationships often make you feel unsafe. Remember to reach out to emergency services if needed, such as 911.

You may be concerned that a friend is in an unhealthy relationship.

  • Start by believing. Our friend’s partner who is exhibiting unhealthy behaviors may be our mutual friend as well. This can make it difficult for us to start believing our friend. It can take a lot of courage for someone to speak up about their relationships concerns. It is important that we trust our friend and believe them when they tell us about their experience in their relationship.
  • Listen without controlling. Unhealthy relationships can involve experiences where your friend’s autonomy has not been honored. For example, decisions were made for them and their independence was not supported. Thus, it is important that we listen to our friend without controlling the conversation or dictating what next steps they need to take.
  • Foster a safe place. Make sure you are honoring your friend’s boundaries. Ask before embracing your friend to offer support. Find out what would be the best way for you to check-up on them and connect with them following this conversation.
  • Recommend counseling or medical attention. Ask your friend if they may want more information regarding resources that are available.

All relationships are different, but an abusive relationship may involve:

  • Isolation. This may involve attempts to cut off someone from their circle of friends or family, not being supportive of someone seeing their friends or attempting to sabotage their plans.
  • Fear. Individuals in an abusive relationship may feel unsafe because of the volatility of the relationship and due to their boundaries not being respected.
  • Threats. Partners may threaten to harm themselves or others as an attempt to maintain control over their partner. They also may threaten to sabotage that which is important to their partner such as an upcoming exam.
  • Violence. Abusive relationships may involve instances of physical, sexual or relationship violence.

There is pervasive distrust in an unhealthy or abusive relationship and a lacking ability to take responsibility for one’s own actions. This lack of trust can often manifest in ways that attempt to control you, such as...

  • guilt-tripping. Your partner may use guilt to try to encourage or force you to do what they want.
  • giving ultimatums. This creates a false representation of reality which covertly forces you to decide between two things you should never have to decide between.
  • making threats to either harm themselves, your loved ones, your property and/or you in an attempt to force you to do what they want or to stay in the relationship.
  • dictating where you can go or even who you can talk to. This is often done in an attempt to limit, or even eliminate, your social circle so that you become even more reliant on your partner.

Unhealthy relationships turn abusive when there are threats or acts of violence, isolation, blame and fear. If you believe your friend is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, talk to them in private and share your concerns. It can be difficult to support someone in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, so seek support for yourself as well.

All relationships are different, but unhealthy relationships don’t help you thrive and may leave you or your partner feeling…

  • Smaller or less than. These feelings may be the result of belittling or shaming, sometimes arising during conflict, or from a lack of equality in the relationship.
  • As if one’s goals aren’t being supported. Relationships are made up of people with often differing interests and goals. Even if your goals are not identical to your partner’s or friends they should still be supported and prioritized.
  • Disrespected or dismissed. It is important that you feel heard in your relationship. One may feel dismissed because when they are attempting to discuss something that is bothering them, their partner is not creating space for them to feel heard. Your concerns are valid.