This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “ACKNOWLEDGE the specific history and realness of my suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

One of the big questions that has yet to be answered is, “What is the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship?” Doubtless, if you’re in an unhealthy relationship, when you’ve raised concerns, you have been told your expectations are too high. How do you know if this is true? Where is the line between healthy and unhealthy?

The answer cannot be “if you’ve been hurt.” Unfortunately, in all relationships – even healthy ones – we experience pain. This comes from the reality that every relationship is two sinners trying to do life together.

However, pain does reveal where we need to begin to look. The key question is, “How is pain responded to?” Is pain followed by listening, genuine repentance, effort towards change, and accountability with others? If so, the relationship is healthy. On the other hand, if pain is followed by minimization, blame-shifting, and secrecy, the relationship is unhealthy.

“Here is a good rule of thumb: If you’re in a relationship that lacks mutual caring, safety, honesty, or respect and you regularly feel anxiety, fear, shame, anger, or despair, then your emotions are warning you that you are in a destructive relationship (p. 51).” Leslie Vernick in The Emotionally Destructive Relationship

The National Domestic Violence Hotline developed the diagram below (clearer image of both wheels here) to differentiate the key features of an abusive relationship. It is called the “Power and Control Wheel.” The more features on this wheel that are present in your relationship, the less safe the relationship is.


Which segments of the “Power and Control Wheel” fit your destructive relationship(s)?

In the margins around the wheel make notes about the specific behaviors or events that fit each segment.

This second diagram is intended to illustrate the key features of “mutual relationships” as the alternative to “power and control relationships.” Take a moment to contrast each segment of the two wheels. There is a good chance you have had a hard time putting into words what you were asking for in a healthy relationship; or, at least, that you felt selfish for having expectations of a healthy relationship.


As you study the two wheels you should (a) begin to identify the key areas of your destructive relationship that needs to change and (b) release whatever guilt you feel for expecting a relationship marked by these qualities.

This discussion of violence begs an important set of questions, “How do choices about staying or separating change when children are involved? When is mandated reporting required? How is that different from pressing charges?” There is much confusion on these questions. Here are some guiding principles and key terminology differences.

  • When there is reason to believe that a child is in an environment of harm, any adult aware of the situation is mandated to contact the local Child Protection Services (or functional equivalent for that jurisdiction). This requirement begins with reasonable suspicion and not known fact.
  • A parent, even an abused parent, who allows their child to continue to live in an abusive environment can be considered negligent if active steps are not taken to ensure the child’s safety. The adult being abused is not an exception clause for the responsibility of that adult to report abuse.
  • When minors are being abused or exposed to abuse, the legal requirement is “mandated reporting” by whomever has reasonable suspicion of the abuse. When an adult is being abused that adult must “press charges” in order for legal action to be taken.
  • For additional guidance on this subject visit

“We would add that while an abused woman with no children has strong biblical warrant to flee an abusive husband, she has additional warrant to do so if she has children (p. 137).” Justin and Lindsey Holcomb in Is It My Fault?

Another important question emerges as we consider abusive relationships, “Do relationships cross certain thresholds of destructiveness in which different sets of social rules or strategies become biblically warranted?,” or stated differently, “Does Scripture teach us to relate differently in destructive relationships than in ones marked by honor?” The answer is “Yes.”

Read Matthew 7:1-6. This passage is a progressive set of relational protocols based upon the degree of destructiveness sin is introducing to a relationship. In verses 1 and 2, Jesus is addressing relationship were the impact of sin is minor – “judge not lest you be judged… with the measure you use, it will be measured against you.” In verses 3 through 5, Jesus is addressing closer relationships where the impact of sin should not be avoided – “take the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of another’s… otherwise you’re being hypocritical.” In verse 6 Jesus is addressing destructive relationships where the other person is uncooperative with the restoration process – “do not feed wild dogs… do not throw your pearls before pigs.” For more on this passage see