How to Break Unhealthy Relationship Patterns


Summer 2024

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Relationships involve a lot of nuances, and sometimes recognizing when you’re in an unhealthy relationship can be quite tough. When you search online for clarity, you may see many articles only describing one kind of toxic relationship, identifying signs of abuse and how to get out safely. Now, this information is important, and if you are being abused you need to be able to recognize it so that you can take the proper steps to get out of the relationship and keep yourself safe. 

However, toxicity comes in many forms, and not all unhealthy relationships are abusive.

Unhealthy Relationship vs Abusive Relationship 

While abusive relationships are about one person’s desire to hold control over another, unhealthy relationships come in many different forms and stem from many different sources. In these instances, your health and safety may not be in danger, but the relationship certainly isn’t a good one either. Plus, there’s always a chance that both people are equally contributing to the toxicity. 

To clarify, those with high self-esteem and self-respect will not settle for someone who treats them poorly. Now, you are not to blame for being abused or for any toxic behaviour that is directed at you, but, when you do not value yourself, you are more likely to find comfort in those who do not value you either because they reinforce how you see yourself.

You may also struggle with identifying red flags, may not understand your wants versus your needs, have your own struggles in regard to communication and trust, and may have an idealized fantasy of the perfect partner in your head, but may be finding your standards impossible for potential partners to meet in real life.


We tend to repeat or reflect what we learned in childhood. How we were treated by our parents or trusted adults impacts how we view ourselves, and how we understand what a relationship should look like. If our parents were absent, highly critical, judgmental, argumentative, or abusive, then that is behaviour that we will come to expect from others. 

Also, our parent’s relationship or lack thereof, is our introduction to relationships in general, and is often the unconscious blueprint that we use for our own relationships. As an example, let’s say your parents never demonstrated that they love each other for who they are. They never went on date nights, never showed each other affection, and their only compliments about each other pertained to how they serve one another. This behaviour dictates how we will expect our partners to treat us and is how we will treat our partners. In this case, “acts of service” is not your love language, it’s just the only way you know how to show love. 

Of course, this is just one example, there are many ways in which our upbringing and social connections shape our romantic relationships as adults. So, consider doing some self-reflection and growth before entering another relationship. 

Next Steps

Take a break from being in a relationship for a while and instead focus on yourself. If you are able, work with a mental health professional to talk through your experiences and find ways to understand yourself so you can move forwards. If this is not an option for you, there are resources online, such as questionnaires that you can use that will walk you through the types of questions you should be asking yourself about your upbringing and past relationships. This should help give you some perspective on yourself and areas of growth. 

Of course, this sort of work is very hard and will take time. You will uncover parts of yourself that you’re not proud of, and parts of yourself that you’ve been neglecting, but all of this contributes to breaking the cycle.

You cannot control the actions of others, but you can control and change yourself. Learning about yourself, your needs, and the things that you experienced in the past and how they shape your view of relationships, are all very important to guiding you towards healthy relationships in the future. This does not mean changing yourself to fit someone else’s standards, but rather, learning to raise your self-esteem and to value yourself.

Lauren Schwartz | Staff Writer

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