12 Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Relationship Rules
14 Jan 2024
11 min read
12 Toxic Relationship Signs - How to Fix Them?

When a couple splits, it’s easy just to say that it must have been a toxic relationship. But it’s not always the main reason for the breakup. Whether two simply decided they were incompatible or not ready for commitment, or one of them found someone else – all of these things are not toxic relationship signs.

But what are they then? Let’s define a toxic relationship first, then see what the signs are that you are probably in one with a toxic person and how to deal with the situation if so.

What Is a Toxic Relationship

“Toxic relationships wear people down and have serious effects on one’s self-worth and feelings of dignity. They can be traumatic and leave permanent emotional damage. If you think your relationship is toxic, start seeking help from blogs, books, and professionals. The fog of abuse is hard to see through, and getting clarity from outside is crucial.”

Dr. Jason Whiting, PhD, LMFT

Toxic relationships are best defined by how they are manifested:

  • Couples don’t communicate well
  • They don’t relate as a romantic pair
  • One or both refuse to see the other’s point of view
  • One or both do not care about or try to meet the needs of the other
  • There is lots of conflict and sometimes competition

Staying in a toxic relationship is exhausting and draining. After all, you envision a healthy relationship going forward, and your partner’s toxic traits will often not show up when they are on their best behavior:

  1. In the beginning, you may not fully realize you’ve partnered with a toxic person, as the initial stages of romantic relationships are filled with the glow of newness. It is easy to overlook or ignore the signs of a toxic relationship to come.
  2. As your relationship moves forward, you will begin to experience some toxic behaviors. There will be signs, and you should not be ignoring them.

And in case you don’t know what these signs are, here’s a rundown of the common ones.

Related reading: Toxic Love: Are You Feeling It?

Toxic relationship signs, unpacked

12 Most Common Toxic Relationship Signs

In general, all toxic relationships are characterized by a lack of mutual respect, poor communication, emotional manipulation, and often feeling lonely when together. However, the exact signs of toxic relationships are not limited to these manifestations. There are many more details and nuances you’ll know in this section.

If you are the victim of a toxic partner, you are obviously not in a healthy relationship. It may take a while to realize it, but there will be signs. And here’s a news flash: men do not have a “corner” on this market. Women can be toxic people too.

So, let’s see what toxicity in a relationship can look like. We’ve prepared 12 signs for you to review.

1. Feeling Like in a One-Sided Relationship

This may dawn on you slowly. But you begin to feel that you are always giving, and your partner is always taking.

You are making sacrifices and even ignoring self-care for the sake of your partner’s well-being. But your partner makes little to no effort to return the same.

In short, you are the giver; they are the taker. And you come to feel drained and exhausted trying to meet their needs, which can be quite demanding.

2. Not Feeling Valued

In a healthy relationship, both partners allow their mate to express their own feelings, opinions, needs, and wants. And both partners listen without judgment. What’s more, both partners value the other’s happiness enough to want to meet their wants and needs.

If your partner refuses to value you in these ways, you have a taker, not a giver. And that’s a highly favorable dynamic to turn one of the partners into a toxic person.

3. Lack of Freedom to Be Independent

One of the big differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships is the level of autonomy both partners feel they have.

It grows over time. If your partner exhibits controlling behaviors, they attempt to dictate where you go, what you do, how you dress, how often you see friends and family members, and more. This type of controlling behavior is, at best, borderline abusive. But frequently, it doesn’t stop there and absorbs all your life and freedom.

Gradually, you begin to feel that you have lost your sense of self and cannot pursue your interests and goals because of the disapproval of your abusive partner.

Related reading: How To Maintain Your Individuality While In a Relationship

4. Sensing Relief When They Are Not Present

Feeling better when they are not around is a big sign. When people are in intimate relationships, they want to be together, spending time and doing things together. But when being together becomes stressful and not pleasant, your current relationship is probably toxic – especially if the stress and anxiety go away once they are gone.

Ask yourself why you feel worse when they are present. Chances are you are less stressed, less anxious, and just freer. The problem is your partner brings negative energy into your space. Do you need such a relationship?

Partnering with a toxic person is a wrong way to a healthy relationship

5. Radical Changes in Your Sleeping and Eating Habits

You avoid going to bed, enjoy the peace and quiet, and fix some snacks to make yourself feel even better.

If you notice new behavior patterns in your sleep and nutrition, it may be a result of your need to have some peaceful alone time. In fact, you are de-stressing from the toxic behavior of your partner, who has gone to bed.

Certainly, that’s not a way to live. Even more, your physical health will suffer ultimately, in addition to the emotional baggage toxic relationships bring.

6. Feeling Disrespected

Their disrespect can take various forms:

  • Your partner is making decisions that affect both of you without consulting you
  • They have accepted a job in another city and assume you will simply pick up and move with them
  • They are reckless with your joint funds and impact your financial stability.
  • Your partner makes unkind comments to you regularly. This occurs in private and in public.

The latter is a form of verbal abuse. But no matter how their disrespect manifests, all these examples are the signs of a toxic dynamic you’d better avoid in your life.

Related reading: 14 Signs You Should Break Up and 12 Signs You Should Stay With Your Partner

7. Feeling Stuck

You may be stuck both physically and emotionally. This often happens in “deeply” exclusive relationships when you have set up housekeeping together, got married, and have kids. In short, you have invested a lot of time, money, and energy into the relationship and feel that you must “keep on” despite the unhappiness you often feel.

Emotionally, you have “left” the relationship too. But at this point, you don’t see other viable options. This is not a way to live – you are stalled and merely existing. You resent your partner for putting you into this position.

In this situation, it’s not just your partner who is toxic. The whole relationship is, and you need to ask yourself where your responsibility lies in all of this.

8. Gaslighting and/or Emotional Manipulation

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation. If your partner is a master of this, they will have you questioning yourself, your perceptions, your memory, and such. They will deny that something happened or a promise they made to you. They will convince you that your memory of an event is not correct. The goal is to get you to question yourself enough that they get a free pass on their frequent lying.

“If you loved me, then you would …” (fill in the blank).

If you are hearing this a lot, your partner is manipulating you. And they are making their love for you conditional on you doing what they want, even if it goes against your core values. Healthy relationships don’t work like this. And if you fall into this manipulation, you are not setting boundaries, and you are in an abusive relationship.

9. The Responsibility for Bad Behavior Isn’t Taken

It’s called the “blame game,” and it takes many forms. A toxic person blames others, including you, for the negative things that happen in their life. They have disagreements with co-workers, but these are all their fault. They lose a job, but it is the boss’s fault.

And it carries over to you too. Your partner is in school doing poorly. You didn’t help them write that paper; you didn’t give them the quiet time they needed to study; you didn’t wait on them “hand and foot,” so they didn’t have to worry about anything but their studies.

They have a bad falling out with a family member at an event. You didn’t step in to support them.

Related reading: What Is a Guilt Trip in Relationships

Unhealthy relationships are always about the lack of trust

10. Regular Suspicion and Lack of Trust

In a toxic relationship, one or both partners do not trust one another and let their suspicions control a lot of their actions:

  • They are getting into each other’s phones
  • They are “tracking” where their partner goes and who they are with
  • They are convinced that their partner is lying to them

Sometimes, the suspicions turn out to be valid. You may discover that your partner is cheating on you, for example. Then what? If you are committed, then couples therapy is probably needed. If your partner won’t go, you get into some individual therapy so you can explore your feelings and your options.

Now, suppose you are fully committed to your partner and are truthful about your whereabouts and your activities. And yet, that partner continues to violate your privacy because of their suspicions. They have trust issues that are probably deep-seated, which is a mental health issue, and therapy would be in order. If they refuse to get help and continue the behavior, you are in an abusive relationship. You cannot fix this.

Related reading: How to Build Trust in a Relationship: 15 Tips

11. Minimal and Often Negative Communication

Toxic partners engage in mutual avoidance of substantive conversation. You may want to have those conversations, but your partner does not. Or you are having issues with the relationship, but your partner talks only about these unimportant things, revolving around what is for dinner, where you are going, who is going to do what, etc.

There is a reason for their avoidance. They don’t want to address the problems in your relationship, preferring to ignore that they even exist. This is not abusive behavior, but in healthy relationships, people talk about their issues, come to compromises, and strengthen their relationship moving forward. If this is not happening, then seeing a relationship therapist might be in order. This is a form of passive-aggressive behavior.

Now, one of the clear toxic relationship signs is an abundance of negative talk directed at you. You don’t choose the right clothes, you are not supporting them, you are not meeting their needs, etc. In short, you only get negative feedback for all of your efforts to be your best self and the type of partner you want. This is exhausting, and no wonder you feel depressed much of the time.

Related reading: 11 Warning Signs of a Controlling Boyfriend and Why They Are Not OK

12. Domestic Violence

Intimate partner violence is a completely unacceptable situation in any relationship. If you are the victim of physical violence, you must break free of that situation right now. If you can’t bring yourself to do it, you are not alone.

You have to take a look at why you are staying in this relationship and get some professional help. Physical abuse is the worst type of controlling behavior and is dangerous.

5 Ways to Fix Toxic Relationships

“First and foremost, you should ask yourself how you feel in your relationship. If you don’t feel good about yourself, there is something wrong with the relationship. Watch out for any ‘red flags’ of abuse – blaming, shaming, insulting, demanding, and ridiculing comments from your partner. Watch out for often and excessive anger, frustration, and defensiveness. These are clues that something is not working and that you may be in danger.”

Amy Sherman, MA, LMHC

People who are committed to their other partners will want to fix their toxic relationships once they realize what they have. But it is not something that only one partner can do. Both you and your partner should be on board for this – otherwise, there is nothing to fix, and your unhealthy relationship must end.

Here are some strategies for fixing toxic relationships if you both want this.

1. Work On Your Communication Skills

You should break the habit of avoiding meaningful conversations. Even if lack of proper communication is just one partner’s fault, this is not the time to place blame. Find an agreement on improving your conversation dynamic:

  • Set a time and place for an open and honest conversation
  • Choose just one issue to talk about per chat
  • Allow each of you to vent your feelings on that one issue calmly
  • Pay attention to your body language. Does it make your partner feel safe, or are you defensive instead of open?
  • Once one partner has spoken, the other must repeat what they think they have heard. If there are any misconceptions, that’s the place and time to correct them.

By doing this, both partners can get into the habit of dealing with issues on a mature level. It gets easier with each conversation, so don’t give up after the first unsuccessful attempt.

2. Let Go of the Past

Aim at reaching a compromise for the future of your relationship, not blaming each other for past mistakes. If you have chosen to work on your toxic relationship, bringing up past mistakes is counterproductive.

Leave the past alone and focus on the present and the future. What would your ideal relationship look like? This is the stuff that your conversations now include.

Truly toxic people have a tough time with this. If things break down at this point, there is not a future. End it now.

3. Muster Up Some Compassion

Your toxic partner is not your enemy. They may have some deep-seated mental health issues from their past, including abusive relationships that have impacted who they are now. It’s important to acknowledge this before blaming them if you have chosen to stay in this relationship.

Instead of anger, try to put yourself in their shoes. It’s called empathy. They need to work on self-awareness, and it may involve therapy. Encourage them to get this therapy and support them in those efforts. But don’t try to force them into therapy – that never works.

Don't hide from responsibility that led you to a toxic relationship

4. Assume Responsibility for Your Compliance

If you have been the victim of a toxic partner, determine the role you have played in this:

  • Have you allowed your self-esteem problems to encourage their behavior?
  • Have you resigned yourself to emotional abuse?
  • What is your background for playing into this?

You need to engage in some self-awareness activities to understand what issues you may have from your past that have allowed you to be taken advantage of in this way.

Therapy may be in order for you too. Relationship issues are not normally caused by one person. One may be a toxic person, but the other is allowing it. Be ready to acknowledge and actively participate in all the activities needed to relaunch your relationship.

5. Give Things Time

Relationships are not fixed quickly, especially if they have been in a toxic spiral for a while. If your partner is committed, give them time to make the changes they need to make, keep the lines of open communication open, and support all of the efforts they are making.

There are no quick results when it comes to curing toxic relationships, so don’t expect them to do a miracle.

When It’s Time to Give It Up and End a Toxic Relationship

Here are some clues it’s better to stop fighting and accept that your toxic relationship is over:

  • You are constantly ignoring self-care responsibilities in favor of making the relationship work. You cannot continue on this track.
  • You are exhausted trying to serve their needs and continue getting nothing in return.
  • You are in a relationship with a narcissist and understand that their perspective on life and relationships will not change. Narcissism is a mental health issue, and the prognosis is not usually great.
  • Physical aggression continues to be a problem. You must get out.

Related reading: 36 Moving On Quotes to Help You Move Forward

You will have to get tough, and it will not be easy. Here is how you can help yourself:

  • First and foremost, get a support network. This may include family members, friends, and even co-workers who will see to it that you have plenty to occupy your time and energy in activities that are healthy and that boost your sense of self and self-esteem.
  • Establish a safe exit plan, especially if the relationship has involved physical abuse or violence. Have a plan in place in advance before you actually make your exit.
  • Make sure you get the professional therapy you need. A toxic relationship is not easily identified, explored, and determined to be a waste of time, energy, and emotional commitment. And once you leave that relationship, you will need after-care to avoid that and future toxic relationships.

That’s a Rap

If you have read this article with focus and the desire to analyze your own relationship, you will know whether it is toxic or not and what your options are if it is. You’ll now have all of the tools you need to make sure you are making the right choices.

Relationships Author
Geoffrey Williams
After taking a required Intro to Psychology course as an undergrad, I have never looked back. Since my doctoral program, I have specialized in adult relationship therapy. Through my studies and clinicals, I wrote several articles for professional journals and currently in the midst of writing a book.
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