What to Do About an Unhealthy Relationship

Here are some red flags that your relationship is in the danger zone and what can be done to repair an unhealthy relationship.

"It's better late than never." You have probably said this or heard this at least once in your lifetime, but when it comes to the health of important relationships, this very catchy phrase is in some cases the seal of death.

Nursing a troubled relationship back to health through therapy can be a difficult task, and can be even more so when emotions of love and friendship have deteriorated to the point of intense dislike, or even hatred.

Yet, couples often seek therapy after a separation has occurred, soon after divorce has been considered, or, in some cases, while already in divorce court. Although it is not impossible, even at these late stages to restore a relationship back to health, attaining a positive outcome this late in the game is more the exception than the norm.

Seeking Therapy

Surprisingly, one of the main reasons couples fail to seek therapy early is their unwillingness to come to terms with the extent to which their relationship has deteriorated, and/or the embarrassment of admitting to others that they are having problems.

There can be a sense of hopelessness and unwillingness to invest in therapeutic work, which is the result of a build-up of resentment between a couple. As individuals become resentful of each other, their defense mechanisms progressively become entrenched as adaptive coping styles and further emotional investment, or any commitment to therapeutic work necessary for healing is considered a threat. Due to this unwillingness to commit to therapeutic work, couples who do seek help early on often abandon therapy sessions before any positive goals are accomplished.

Undoing the damage caused by two resentful people acting out against each other in a relationship is sometimes beyond the scope of therapy. Even when professional therapeutic help can conceivably be effective, such a great amount of time and patience is required that couples are often unwilling to invest themselves in therapy when so much damage has already been done.

There are often clear signs that a couple needs to seek therapy immediately to nurse their relationship back to health. A brief questionnaire is included at the end of this article - it provides some key indicators of the health of a relationship.

Red Flags That a Relationship Is Approaching Serious Damage

In addition, the following are some red flags that your relationship may be approaching serious damage. If you are currently experiencing any of these indicators, you may want to seek the help of a qualified therapist:

  • The only conversation you and your spouse have with each other is about everything that is wrong with your relationship.
  • You have a long list in your head of all the things your spouse has done to offend you, and you literally go through that list every day.
  • You cannot remember the last time you were intimate with each other - or when you are, it is not satisfying, and on some occasions, even the intimate moments end with an argument.
  • You frequently wonder whether you would be happier with someone else. You have sometimes mulled over the idea of calling an old flame or flirting with someone you think might be interested in you.
  • You spend a great deal of time expressing how dissatisfied you feel in your relationship to close friends or family. Everyone knows you are unhappy.
  • You and your spouse are more like roommates than a romantic couple. You have started to live different lives, and form separate interests; you are no longer partners.
  • You are constantly involved in power struggles; it has become more important to be right than to work on healing and recreating friendship between you and your spouse.

If these scenarios describe your relationship, remember that when it comes to seeking therapy, late is sometimes just as good as never.

How Is Your Relationship Doing?

Answer the following confidential questions as honestly as possible:

  • Does your partner/ spouse value your needs as much their own?
  • Do you value your partner's/spouse's needs as much as your own?
  • Can you express your opinions and desires without fear?
  • Can your partner/spouse express their opinions and desires without fear?
  • Can you and your spouse/partner spend quality alone time together just talking?
  • Do you regularly and frequently have satisfying sex?
  • When you have a disagreement, do either one of you act nasty and disrespectfully (e.g., giving the silent treatment, staying out all night, yelling, threatening, intimidating)?
  • Do you know for certain or do you suspect your partner/spouse is cheating on you?
  • Are you unfaithful to your partner/spouse?
  • Do you feel that your marriage is a partnership in every respect?
  • Do you share the household and financial responsibilities?
  • Does your partner/spouse value their family's opinion more than yours?
  • Does your spouse/partner lie to you?
  • Do you feel that you can depend on your spouse/partner to support you through a difficult time (e.g., unemployment, sickness, financial crisis, infertility)?
  • Do you and your spouse have other meaningful relationships and interests?
  • Do you and your spouse/partner have a vision for why you are together, a vision that is something beyond yourselves?
  • Does your spouse/partner regularly threaten you with divorce or separation?
  • Do you regularly threaten your spouse/partner with divorce or separation?
  • Does your spouse/partner have a list of everything you have done wrong that they regularly refer to?
  • Do you have a mental list of everything your spouse/partner has done wrong that you regularly refer to?
  • Does your spouse/partner make important decisions that affect you too without seeking your input?
  • Do you make important decisions that affect your spouse/partner without seeking their input?
  • Do you or your spouse /partner have a troubling habit (e.g., drugs or other addictions, pornography, crime, frequent and lengthy periods of unemployment)?
  • Can you remember why you chose your spouse/partner with a smile on your face?
  • Does your spouse/partner ever apologize to you when you point out a mistake they've made?
  • Do you ever apologize to your spouse/partner when they point out a mistake you've made?
  • Does your spouse/partner ever say "thank you" for the usual things you do?
  • Do you ever say "thank you" for the usual things your spouse/partner does?

Hopefully, this article and the preceding questions have prompted you to think all the more honestly and thoughtfully about the current state of your relationship and whether or not you two would benefit from professional help. Seeking therapy as soon as possible, before problems deteriorate into crises, is especially advised - this especially applies to those issues that really trouble you, and/or when you feel there is abuse or intimidation going on.

By Claire Arene, MSW, LCSW

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2021, December 21). What to Do About an Unhealthy Relationship, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Last Updated: February 2, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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