Relationships are connections between people. Relationships can be close, such as those between family members, friends and lovers, or more distant, such as those between work colleagues. A relationship is healthy when it is mutually enjoyable, increases well-being, and meets the needs of both people involved without causing harm to either (Government of Alberta, 2015).


Understanding healthy relationships and boundaries starts when children are young in the context of family, community and school. As we move outside the home, our relationship circles grow wider to take in friends, peers, teachers, teammates, colleagues, health and social service providers.



I thought relationships were supposed to make you happy! I feel so pressured and unsure of what to do. Do I say “yes” and hook up even though I feel like I’m just being used? I’m not saying that I’m being forced to have sex, but I know that she’s put some stuff on Facebook that I’m not man enough. It makes me feel like such a loser, but I know that I want more than just sex. She’s following me around now and wants to know where I am all the time, which feels weird.






If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.

If you or someone you know is experiencing or have questions about domestic and relationship abuse call:  403.234.7233(SAFE) in Calgary or 1.866.606.7233 toll free in Alberta.

If you or someone you know is experiencing or have questions about sexual abuse and sexual assault, call: 403.237.5888 in Calgary or 1.877.237.5888 toll free in Alberta.


Relationships can be healthy, unhealthy or abusive. Healthy relationships make us happy and healthy; unhealthy relationships make us sick. If unhealthy relationships become abusive, it impacts all areas of health and can be life threatening. All abusive relationships are unhealthy, but not all unhealthy relationships are abusive.

Healthy relationships

Both partners feel safe, communicate and work out disagreements respectfully and can set and respect boundaries.

Unhealthy relationships

Partners feel awkward and embarrassed when sharing ideas and feelings; there is jealousy and disagreements turn into fights.

Abusive relationships

A partner is harmed in the relationship, feels unsafe to communicate feelings, boundaries or ideas because it could result in physical violence, forced sexual contact, threats, name-calling or other abuse. Abuse can be emotional, physical, sexual, financial, social or spiritual. Neglect is also a form of abuse (Government of Alberta, 1995-2015).




People of any sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, faith, culture, socio-economic status or community can be affected by abusive relationships.

Healthy or Unhealthy – How Can You Tell?

The following characteristics indicate that a relationship may be healthy or unhealthy:

Lack of trust
Healthy communicationPut downs
AcceptancePower issues
Clear boundariesObsessive behaviors
Shared powerNo fun
For more examples of what is healthy, unhealthy and abusive in relationships, click here.


Sex without consent is sexual assault.  For more information on consent and sexual assault, click here.






Bullying can be verbal (name-calling, put downs and threats), social (gossip, ganging up, excluding), physical (hitting, damaging property) or cyber (using computer or social media to harass or threaten).  It can occur at home, work, school or during sports. 

Abusive Relationships

Relationships that are abusive may follow an abuse cycle that looks something like:

As the cycle repeats, the intensity and harm caused by each incident becomes increasingly serious. People may be concerned that someone they know is in an abusive relationship.


Warning signs of abuse include:


  • Personality changes such as becoming withdrawn, depressed, angry, fearful or overly cheerful.
  • Behavior changes such as stopping regular activities, excessive apologizing, neglecting hygiene, or making excuses for others.
  • Physical marks or injuries, attempts to hide injuries or excuses for injuries.
  • Admitting to abuse or subtle hints at abuse (Connect Family & Sexual Abuse Network, n.d.).






It can be difficult to accept that it may be safer for a person to stay in an unhealthy or abusive relationship than to ask for help or leave.  Some youth stay in unhealthy relationships out of fear, the need to have somewhere to stay, or loneliness.  Building relationships with youth provides them with support when they are ready to ask for help. 


It can be difficult to know how to raise a concern about abuse and how to be a support for someone involved in an abusive relationship.

Some ways of bringing up a concern of abuse are:


  • Asking if violence or abuse is part of their life – they may say yes or no, but the more times a person is asked, the more opportunities that person has to disclose when they are ready.
  • Talking about your observations and saying that these are sometimes indicators of abuse.
  • Giving them information about abuse support agencies such as CONNECT.


Once someone has disclosed that they are involved in an abusive relationship, they can either choose to leave or stay in the relationship. In either case, people can be supported in creating a safety plan and learning about support services in their community.




For more information about healthy relationships, see:







For more information about types of abusive relationships, click here


For more information about bullying, click here


To learn more about recognizing abuse in others, see: ConnectNetwork.ca


If you are supporting someone or are concerned about a relationship that is becoming abusive, click here


For more information about family violence, click here


For more information about strategies for safety when supporting those involved in domestic violence, see: StrategiesForSafety.pdf




Connect Family & Sexual Abuse Network. (n.d.). Does someone you know need Connect? Retrieved from, http://connectnetwork.ca/does-someone-you-know-need-connect/


Government of Alberta. (2015). Alberta’s plan for promoting healthy relationships and preventing bullying. Retrieved from, http://humanservices.alberta.ca/documents/promoting-healthy-relationships-and-preventing-bullying.pdf


Government of Alberta. (1995-2015). Types of abuse. Retrieved from, http://humanservices.alberta.ca/abuse-bullying/15688.html