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Intimate Relationships Continuum and Chart

All relationships exist on a continuum, ranging from healthy to unhealthy, with abusive at the extreme end. Relationships are not stationary. Rather they evolve and change depending on different situations or stressors.

A couple may naturally move back and forth between the healthy and struggling zones. If relationship issues are in the unhealthy zone they may need external support or intervention like therapy to help them get better. Unhealthy relationships can quickly escalate to an abusive situation.

The Intimate Relationships Continuum is modelled after the Mental Health Continuum color spectrum. However, it does not imply that being injured or ill (orange/red zone) necessitates that your relationship is the same colored zone. It is important to understand that no matter what zone you may be in on the Mental Health Continuum, it does not provide justification for engaging in unacceptable behavior or mistreating a partner. If you are engaging in these types of behaviors, or believe yourself at risk to do so, seek help immediately.

If any part of the relationship is in the abusive zone, a person’s physical safety is the priority.

External support and intervention is critical.
If you feel you are in immediate danger, reach out to the authorities or call 911.

Intimate Relationships Continuum 
HEALTHY STRUGGLING UNHEALTHY ABUSIVE
Relationship Characteristics
Equality
Respect
Trust
Communication
Safety
Pressure
Dishonesty
Lack of communication
Manipulation
Guilt and shame
Isolation
Control
Volatility
Violence
The relationship supports each partner’s balance, well-being and sense of self. There is joy, peace, predictability and self-esteem. Partners have similar feelings about their relationship. The relationship changes from a place of relative stability and predictability to a place of tension and uncertainty. There are growing gaps between each partner’s feelings, needs and goals about the relationship. If action is not taken to restore the relationship’s balance, it can progress towards the orange and red zones. Examples of actions that can help include spending time alone or as a couple, attending a communication workshops, etc. The relationship affects and disrupts a partner’s balance, well-being, and sense of self. There is isolation, guilt, shame, unpredictability and low self-esteem. The relationship may follow repeated cycles of escalation, outburst, forgiveness and honeymoon. The relationship may quickly escalate to an abusive situation. Within the relationship, emotional, verbal, sexual, physical, financial, and/or social harm are occurring. This is known as intimate partner violence. The relationship is unhealthy and unsafe. It is important to protect physical safety before addressing the relationship.
Intimate Relationships Chart
WHERE DOES MY RELATIONSHIP STAND?
   HEALTHY STRUGGLING UNHEALTHY ABUSIVE
How does the
relationship feel?
Secure
Safe
Comfortable
Unsettled
Uncertain
Insecure
Hyper-vigilant
Unsafe
Fearful
How do we talk to
each other?
Respectfully
Active listening
Ignoring opinions
Cold or distant
Harsh comments
Mocking
Isolating or avoiding
Disrespectfully
Intimidating
Belittling
Name calling
How do we treat
each other?
Encouraging
Caring for self
Supporting dreams
Ignoring
Discouraging
Demeaning
Controlling
Rejecting
Manipulating
Hurtful
Ridiculing
How are we intimate
with each other?
Consensual
Mutual fulfillment
No pressure
No clear consent
Passive manipulating
Guilt
Coercion
Degrading and shame
Nonconsensual Violence
and force
How is our social life and network? Network of friends
and family
Pursuing own interests
Tense with friends and family
Withdrawing from social
situations
Questioning whereabouts
Friends and family are concerned
Avoiding social interactions
Isolating from friends
Surveilling (social media, in-person)
Preventing social engagements
Family and friends feel unsafe
How does our family get along? Secure attachment
Involvement in each
other’s lives
Strong and clear
boundaries
Limited engagement and time for family
Inconsistent parenting
Tension
Comparing and criticizing children
Uninvolved in each other’s lives
Scolding and intimidation
Harsh verbal punishment
Physical punishment
How do we handle
money issues?
Sharing financial
resources and decisions
Transparency
One-sided financial
decisions and spending
Scrutinizing spending
Restricting spending
Limiting/not sharing financial information
Moving money to prevent access
Blocking access
How do we
show anger?
Talking out problems
Taking a break
Yelling
Silent treatment
Indirect violence (breaking things, destroying property, slamming doors) Threatening violence (property, pets) Direct violence (shoving, grabbing, shaking, hitting)
Harming pets
  HEALTHY STRUGGLING UNHEALTHY ABUSIVE
Download the file Intimate Relationships Continuum and Chart