Unsafe relationships
Do you know what red flags to look for in a relationship?
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Written by Sonder
Updated over a week ago

Relationships are what we as humans are wired for: we need connection to develop fully and to live rich, meaningful and fulfilling lives. Whether the relationship is a friendship or a romantic relationship, it feels great to connect with others and can help us to understand ourselves, build healthy self-esteem and to feel supported. Unfortunately not all relationships are safe, although this can be hard to see if you’re in the relationship. Here are some markers of unsafe relationships that you might otherwise miss, when you, or someone close to you, begins a new relationship.

Just remember that if you need support or someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.

Love bombing

'Love bombing' is the term given to the period of lavishing affection and attention upon a new partner in order to create a strong bond and make the recipient feel dependent on and obligated to the 'love bomber'. For many people this seems like the validation and admiration they’ve been waiting for, and often seems like a connection has formed much more quickly than it would usually take, and can seem “too good to be true”. Unfortunately, it is.


After the honeymoon or 'love bombing' period is over, a common red flag for unsafe relationships is attempts to cut the person off from their loved ones. This might look like degrading friends, family members or work mates, or using manipulative language to suggest that loved ones don’t really care, support or understand you. There may be anger or frustration if you choose to spend time with other people in your life, and jealousy of your relationships with others.


Isolation is part of a larger pattern of control exerted by abusive partners. An abusive partner will often insist on access to or control of your communication with others, demanding to read your text messages or emails, or telling you how to respond. Not only will abusive partners try to control who you see and speak to, but will also often exert financial control (keeping a close watch on or control of where and how money is spent), what you wear, where you go, what you eat, how you speak to them and others and sometimes even how much sleep you get at night.

Physical vs emotional abuse

In the past, abusive relationships have often been judged by how severe the physical violence was within the relationship. Now, though, we understand that emotional wounds can be just as painful and hard to heal as physical, sometimes more. Some abusive relationships don’t include any physical abuse at all. Signs of emotional abuse are having your boundaries ignored, feeling afraid of your partner and/or being constantly criticised, degraded, dismissed or manipulated by your partner.

Seeking help

If any of the above seems familiar to you in your own relationship or that of someone close to you, it’s important to speak with a professional to find out more and to get help. Help is available if you need it.

  • In Australia, Call 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732 or go to Domestic Violence Assist here.

  • In New Zealand, contact the Women’s Refuge crisis line 24 hours a day, every day on 0800 733 843; and It’s Not OK online or via their info line — on 0800 456 450, 9am to 11pm every day. Both services are free from any phone.

  • Our 24/7 Sonder support team is also available to help you whenever you need it.

“Why don’t they just leave?”

If you have a close friend or relative in an abusive relationship, remember that it’s not as simple as “why don’t they just leave?” Abusive relationships keep people in complex webs of psychological constraints that we often can’t see clearly or understand from outside the relationship. If they’re not ready or willing to seek help, just make sure that you’re there to be a support for when they are ready.

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If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Image credit: Vera Arsic at Pexels

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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