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Intimate Relationships Continuum and Chart

Woman and man embracing
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
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? 


HEALTHYSTRUGGLINGUNHEALTHYABUSIVE
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