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How to recognize unhealthy online relationships

February 14, 2017
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A lot of our lives these days are lived online. And creating online relationships (romantic or otherwise) can be a great opportunity to meet people you may not have been able to meet otherwise. It’s important to remember that it’s very easy to bully online and online relationships, just like real-life ones, can be unhealthy.

Signs of an abusive relationship, online or offline:

  • When your partner hurts you in any way
  • When the person you’re dating insults you or makes you feel bad about yourself
  • When he or she tries to control you or keep you away from your friends and family

While there are similarities between abuse in real-life relationships and online relationships, the harm of online relationships is different. It’s easier for abusers to keep regular tabs on your whereabouts or online activity. The abuse occurs on the same platforms you use to interact with friends and family, making you feel like it’s inescapable. Once the abuse starts, it can escalate quickly. Finally, it may even happen in public spaces.

Signs you may be in an unhealthy online relationship. Has someone:

  • Made you share your passwords and/or other confidential information?
  • Shared private photos of you without your permission?
  • Kept tabs, spied on or stalked you online?
  • Made you unfriend people?
  • Pressured you to send sexual photos of yourself or sent you unwanted sexual photos?
  • Spread rumours or embarrassed publically online?
  • Sent messages or texts that made you uncomfortable, threatened or afraid?
  • Threatened to do any of these things, or other things that made you feel uncomfortable?

If you’re in an abusive relationship, whether it’s online or offline, get help. Take screenshots of the messages and posts that the person has sent you in case they later delete them. Talk to friends, parents, teachers or other people you trust. If your partner has threatened violence, contact the police.

If there is no one you can or want to talk to in person, call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. A number of crisis hotlines across the country are listed here.

Friends can play an important role in preventing or leaving an unhealthy relationship. What friends can do to help:

  • If your friend tells you they think they’re in an abusive relationship, listen to them and believe them.
        • There’s a lot of shame and fear in an abusive relationship. It can be even more hurtful if someone has built up the courage to talk about it and they are shut down or not believed.
  • If you suspect a friend is getting involved in an unhealthy relationship (as a victim or abuser), talk to them about it. If that doesn’t help, talk to others you trust who can help.
  • Don’t be part of the abuse by forwarding or sharing any embarrassing or sexual material that’s being spread around.
  • Call people out when they say or do things that make it seem like relationship abuse is okay or like someone “deserved” to be a victim.

For additional resources on online safety, visit

And remember, it’s never your fault. Talking about what’s going on and how it makes you feel is not being disloyal. Don’t blame yourself for the things you’ve done, like sharing passwords or photos. Nothing you do ever gives someone the right to abuse you.

This post is courtesy of the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Visit for the original tip sheet.

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