Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Sex & relationships health centre

Select a topic to explore more.
Select An Article

Abusive relationships

Physical or emotional abuse is not normal in any relationship at any age and should not be tolerated.

In a relationship, both people should feel loved, safe, respected and have the freedom to be themselves.

Warning signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship

If being in a relationship results in a person feeling scared, intimidated or in some way feeling controlled, it could be an abusive relationship.

A Home Office survey revealed the following:

  • One out of three teenage girls has experienced sexual assault in a dating relationship.
  • 25% of girls said they have been hit or physically attacked by a partner.
  • 18% of boys said they have been hit or physically attacked by a partner.

However, an abusive relationship does not have to involve physical violence to be unhealthy.

Additional warning signs include:

  • Controlling behaviours, such as not letting you go out with your friends, telling you what to wear, insisting on being with you all the time, or calling or texting you frequently to 'check-up' on you.
  • Verbal and emotional abuse that involves calling you names, jealousy, putting you down and threatening to hurt you or a family member if you don't do what they want. In the same Home Office survey, 75% of girls have been verbally abused by their boyfriends.
  • Sexual abuse that includes unwanted touching and kissing, being forced to have sex or perform sex acts against your will.

What if I am in an unhealthy or abusive relationship?

Unfortunately, some people in unhealthy or abusive relationships blame themselves and feel helpless to stop the abuse, or feel threatened or humiliated. It is never the fault of the victim of abuse and no one has any right to deliver abuse, intimidation or hurt another person.

If something feels uncomfortable or wrong with the relationship, trust your gut feelings and end the relationship. Ending any relationship can be hard, especially if you care about the partner despite the abuse.

Here are some tips for ending an unhealthy or abusive relationship:

  • Get help immediately and let trusted family or friends know about your concerns.
  • Break the silence. Talk to someone you trust, such as a parent, teacher or a school adviser. Tell them what the other person has done to you and how they treat you.
  • The law says that certain adults (teachers, counsellors, doctors, social workers) report neglect or abuse to the police or to child protective services. If you'd like to talk to an adult anonymously, call ChildLine on 0800 1111 or visit their website at

How to protect yourself from unhealthy or abusive relationships

If you've experienced an abusive relationship, or if you are concerned you may enter one in future, here are some tips to protect yourself:

  • Build a healthy self-image. People with a positive self-image and good self-esteem are less likely to get involved in bad relationships. Get advice on boosting confidence and feeling secure about yourself.
  • Don't let a relationship become a burden. Take a step back from the relationship if your instincts tell you things are becoming too intense or demanding.
  • Trust your family. Have a close relationship with your family so you have a built-in support system that will help you in all of your relationships.
  • Be informed. Read up on abuse, dating violence and healthy relationships, and share this information with friends and siblings to help protect them too.

Relationships are an important part of life and they should be special and fun. Knowing the warning signs can help avoid getting into an unhealthy or abusive relationship.

Next Article:

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 09, 2016

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

How to help headache pain
rash on skin
Top eczema triggers to avoid
Causes of fatigue & how to fight it
Tips to support digestive health
woman looking at pregnancy test
Is your body ready for pregnancy?
woman sleeping
Sleep better tonight
Treating your child's cold or fever
fifth disease
Illnesses every parent should know
spoonfull of sugar
Surprising things that harm your liver
woman holding stomach
Understand this common condition
What your nails say about your health