Signs of a Toxic Relationship

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Shorter Version

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The Key Signs of a Toxic Relationship

It is common for abusive and condescending people to view their partners as “inferior.” As a result, these individuals tend to be controlling, bossy, disrespectful, restrictive, and violent towards their partners.

If you are in a toxic relationship, your partner may roll his/her eyes at you, treat you like a child, insult and taunt you, bully you, “talk down” to you, and/or ignore you altogether. He/she may also use a sarcastic tone when speaking and responding to you. Moreover, he/she may constantly tell you that you are “stupid” and/or nothing without him/her.

Show me a sign

Want to know how to know if your relationship is toxic? A hallmark sign of a toxic relationship is a partner that degrades the other one by mocking, belittling, and ridiculing him/her – in private and in public. In severe cases, one or both partners may become violent towards each other if one of them refuses to do what the other one says.

Note: Sometimes, it’s just one partner who is the main contributor to the toxic relationship, however other times both partners contribute to the unhealthy relationship.

Either way, if any of these things are happening, you may be in a toxic relationship.

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Longer Version

Est. Reading Time: 9 Minutes

Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Are you wondering how to know if your relationship is toxic? These are some questions you need to ask yourself:

Does your partner have a habit of “putting you down” – in private and in public? Do you have a habit of “putting your partner down?” Do you feel like your self-esteem and self-confidence have taken a nosedive since you’ve been with your partner? Is your partner jealous, controlling, and vindictive towards you? Or do you get jealous when your partner talks to or spends time with other people? These are all some signs of a toxic relationship.

Do these signs of a toxic relationship apply to you?

Does being around your partner make you feel depressed, anxious, hopeless, and helpless? Do you fear for your life? Or do you and your partner fight a lot? Does your partner restrict who you talk to, what you do, and where you go? Do you have more “bad days” than “good days” with your partner?

Has your partner ever physically hurt you – i.e. kicked, slapped, pushed, stabbed, shot, pinched, and/or punched you? Have you ever physically hurt your partner? Are you vindictive, manipulative, and/or vicious towards your partner? And, have you ever contemplated leaving your partner, but just don’t know how? 

If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” your relationship may be toxic.

Tell someone about your toxic relationship

If you feel your relationship is unhealthy, dangerous, or toxic, it’s important you tell someone what is happening. Nothing will change if you remain silent and continue to put up with the disrespect and abuse.

There are ways you can share what’s really happening in your relationship with someone you trust. But first, it’s important that you know the tell-tale signs of a toxic relationship.

Once you can recognize the signs of a hostile relationship, you’ll be able to take the necessary steps to “free yourself” from the hurt, pain, and torment.

Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Your partner is always jealous and suspicious

If your partner is always jealous and suspicious, you may be in a toxic relationship. A jealous and suspicious partner may start fights and/or restrict your movements. He/she may also prevent you from leaving the house, check up on you frequently, or limit your access to money. They may also listen to your phone calls, read your email and text messages, smell your undergarments, and/or monitor your social media accounts.

If he/she sees you talking to another person, your partner may even try to scare the “perceived threat” off, so he/she doesn’t talk to you in the future. It’s important to understand that jealousy and suspicion stem from insecurity and low self-esteem. So, if your partner is always jealous and suspicious of others that come in contact with you, it’s probably because he/she is afraid of losing you.  

You also have a jealous streak

Many times, both partners play a role in a toxic relationship. Maybe, it really is only your partner who is jealous. Or, maybe, it’s you who is the jealous one – not your partner at all. The truth is we all experience visits from the “green-eyed monster” from time to time, especially when it comes to our significant others. That’s “normal.”

However, when you are so jealous of other people being around your partner that you “spy” on him/her and accuse him/her of cheating when he/she is not there is a good possibility you may be venturing into a toxic relationship. Jealousy, regardless of who is experiencing it, can lead to resentment, hostility, anger, depression, and anxiety. It can also lead to the end of a relationship if it gets out of control.

You feel like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner

Another sign of a toxic relationship is feeling like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner.  More specifically, when you feel as if you have to constantly watch what you say and do around your partner, you’re probably in or venturing into an unhealthy relationship. Why do you feel that way? Well, most likely it’s because your partner is very controlling, even if you don’t realize it.

It’s important to understand that control does not always involve physical violence – i.e. hitting, slapping, kicking, pushing, etc. It can also involve emotional manipulation or abuse. For instance, if your partner is controlling, you may feel as if you can’t share your thoughts, feelings, or opinions with him/her, so you make a conscious effort to not say anything that will upset him/her.

In other words, you are constantly afraid of speaking your mind because you never know how your partner will react to it. Control in a relationship is never a good thing. So, if you feel stifled in your relationship, there’s a good chance you are either in a toxic relationship or venturing into one.

You rarely communicate

If you and your partner rarely communicate and when you do, it usually ends in arguments, you may be in a toxic relationship.

In other words, if you and your partner hardly ever communicate – i.e. call each other, text, or respond to each other’s questions and concerns – you may be in an unhealthy relationship. In toxic relationships, communication is practically non-existent, and when it does occur, it is usually tense or hostile.

Another sign of trouble in the relationship is if you feel like your partner is keeping you “out of the loop,” when it comes to his/her life. This can lead to a disconnect between you and your partner. This disconnect could make you feel as if you are no longer in a relationship, even if you still are. 

There is constant drama

A relationship that is filled with constant drama can be toxic. In other words, if you feel like your relationship is more like a soap opera than a loving partnership, there’s a possibility you may be in a harmful or potentially harmful relationship. Harmful? Yes, harmful to your physical health and emotional well-being.

A relationship that is drama-filled, regardless of who is to “blame,” can cause high levels of stress. And, high levels of stress can leave to chronic health problems like high blood pressure, constant headaches and migraines, tense, and achy muscles (neck pain). High stress levels also lead to stomach issues (i.e. diarrhea, abdominal pain, and/or upset stomach), anxiety, depression, mood swings, anger, and frustration.

So, if every day, every couple of days, or every weekend, you’re arguing with your partner, or if something dramatic is constantly happening in your relationship, it may be time to re-evaluate if you are truly meant to be together.   

You feel trapped

If you are at the point where you feel trapped in your relationship, this may be one of the signs of a toxic relationship. This is especially true if you feel you can’t leave it for some reason. Maybe, your partner has threatened to hurt or kill you if you leave.

Or, maybe, he/she has threatened to sue for custody of your child or children or cut you off financially, if you walk out on him/her. Although he/she could be bluffing, you can’t take that risk, so you stay, and put up with his/her control and/or abuse. This type of behavior is not only unhealthy but also possibly dangerous.

Your relationship feels one-sided

A one-sided relationship is not healthy, so if it feels this way, there’s a good chance something needs to change. Or, you need to admit the relationship is not making you and/or your partner happy anymore. Maybe you’re the one who is always “catering” to your partner, or maybe, it’s vice versa.

Regardless, if both of you are not making an effort to care for and support each other, there’s a problem in your relationship. A relationship won’t survive if it only revolves around one person.

For instance, if you or your partner only think about your own problems, accomplishments, needs, and wants, the other one will eventually feel “unimportant,” “undervalued” and/or “used.”

Your partner continues to lie or vice versa

Lying is never good in a relationship. It doesn’t matter if your partner lies to you or you lie to your partner – it’s still a recipe for disaster. Many times, a dishonest partner will tell the other partner that he/she lied to protect him/her from something. However, the truth is a relationship that involves continuous lies is bound to fail. Why? Because the trust is broken.

No one is perfect and everyone (or mostly everyone) tells white lies from time to time. That’s just human nature, but when the lies are life-altering and repetitive, it’s a sign that something is seriously amiss in the relationship – and it’s either toxic or getting to that point.

No one deserves to be lied to over and over again. It’s stressful and anxiety-provoking, and neither you nor your partner deserves that. Lying is definitely one of the signs of a toxic relationship.

You and your partner are constantly competing against each other

Do you and your partner constantly compete against each other? If so, you may be in a toxic relationship.

Friendly competition between partners is typically harmless, however, when the competition becomes so serious that it leads to mocking, ridiculing, taunting, and/or bullying the other partner, it’s a problem. In other words, if you and your partner are always trying to “outdo” or “one-up” each other, then your relationship is probably unhealthy. This is especially true if someone’s feelings get hurt.

Laughing at your partner when he/she “messes up,” loses a competition, or fails at something is not only cruel, it’s emotionally damaging. If you are the partner being mocked, it can cause you to feel angry and hostile towards the other partner. It can also cause you to feel insecure about yourself, your abilities, and your relationship. 

Spending time together is depressing

If spending time together has become depressing, it may be time for you to make changes in your relationship OR move on to “greener pastures.” In other words, it’s not healthy for a couple to dread spending time together.

More specifically, if you constantly feel drained when you’re together because of negativity or poor communication, your relationship may be toxic. Maybe you’re always late to “dates” or maybe, your partner is. Or maybe, when you do spend time together you always have a lousy time…

When was the last time you smiled at each other? Or when was the last time you kissed or showed affection towards each other? And, when was the last time you actually looked forward to spending time together?

If none of these things are happening in your relationship, your relationship is sinking. Healthy, happy couples can’t wait to talk to and see their main squeezes. It causes them joy – not sadness, so if that’s happening, you need to sit down with your partner and talk about why you feel depressed when you’re together.

One or both of you have become uncharacteristically moody, angry, irritable, or insecure

If your relationship started off healthy and positive but has suddenly changed with you and/or your partner becoming uncharacteristically moody, angry, irritable, or insecure – something is seriously wrong.

Maybe one of you is unhappy in the relationship, which has caused the other one to become moody, angry, irritable, or insecure. Or, maybe one or both of you want out of the relationship but are hoping the other one ends it. Maybe you’re tired of dealing with drama and stress.

Regardless, if you and/or your partner feel uncomfortable sharing your concerns with the other, this is one of the signs of a toxic relationship.

“Fixing” a Toxic Relationship

Now that you have seen some signs of a toxic relationship, you may be wondering if you can fix it. The truth is, you may be unable to “fix” your toxic relationship. However, there are steps you can take to repair the damage in it if you feel it can be saved.

The key to “fixing” an unhealthy relationship involves good communication, lots of effort, compromise, trust, respect, patience, and a commitment to work on your issues together. 

It is important to understand that no matter how much you want to stay with your partner if either one of you is unable or unwilling to change, love alone will not be enough to salvage your relationship.

If, however, you are both dedicated to making changes in your relationship, you’ll need to develop clear and firm ground rules and open and honest communication. You’ll also need to be dedicated to “fixing” the problems in your relationship.

Actionable Steps

If you’ve seen signs of a toxic relationship, here’s how to fix it:


Check out more resources on the topic

Here are some more resources that discuss the signs of a toxic relationship:

Mind Games: Emotionally Manipulative Tactics Partners Use to Control Relationship by Pamela Kole.

Boundaries After a Pathological Relationship by Adelyn Birch.

Signs In The Rearview Mirror: Leaving a Toxic Relationship Behind by Kelly Smith. “

Understanding the mediating role of toxic emotional experiences in the relationship between negative emotions and adverse outcomes” by Tina Kiefer & Laurie J. Barclay.

“How To Tell If You’re In a Toxic Relationship — And What To Do About It” by Jamie Ducharme.


Determine if you are in a toxic relationship

It’s common for some partners to become so used to the fights, disrespect, “ups and downs,” and control that they just accept it and move on. This type of relationship is emotionally draining, physically risky, and toxic.

A good way to determine if you’re in a toxic relationship is to write down (or type out) a list of things that make you happy in the relationship and a list of things that make you uncomfortable or unhappy in it.
If the things you like about your relationship outweigh the things you don’t – your relationship may be “fixable.” However, if the things you dislike about your relationship outweigh the things you like, it may be time to move on, so you can find a partner who actually makes you happy.


Decide if you still want to be in the relationship

If you come to the determination that you are, in fact, in a toxic relationship, your next step will be to decide if you still want to be in it.

If the answer is “Yes,” you will most likely need the help of a trained relationship professional like an individual, couples, marriage, and/or family counselor. You may also want to sign-up for a couples retreat or couples seminar to help you work through issues in a calm, relaxing, and supportive atmosphere.
Understand that you and your partner will not be able to “fix” the problems in your relationship on your own. You’ll need an expert in this area to help you navigate the complex issues that are causing your relationship to be toxic.

If the answer is “No, you don’t want to still be in the relationship” – it’s best that you start thinking about leaving a toxic relationship.


Set clear and firm boundaries

Once you have addressed the issues you believe are turning your relationship toxic, and mutually decided to work on them, you will need to set clear and firm boundaries. This may be one of the hardest things you and your partner ever do in your relationship, but it must be done.
For example, if your partner constantly “spies” or “checks-up” on you, a clear and firm boundary may look like this:
“John, I know you worry when I’m out, so instead of calling me repeatedly throughout the day, I’ll call when I get to work, at lunch, and on my way home. I’ll also let you know if I’m going to be late. I need you to trust me because I’m committed to our relationship. If you continue to call continuously, I may not answer out of frustration, and you won’t know where I am, so please respect my wishes.”
***If your partner continues the behavior, you may need to re-evaluate if you still want to be in this relationship after all.
Once you have decided that you want to “fix” your relationship, you will need to set clear and firm ground rules of what you will and will not accept going forward.
~ Psychologist’s Tip


Rekindle friendships and spend time with your family

Now that you and your partner are devoted to “fixing” your relationship, it’s time to start re-focusing on you and your relationships with friends and family. Your loved ones are probably really missing you. And, you need them.

It’s common to push aside healthy relationships when your world revolves around an unhealthy one. Don’t stop spending time with friends and family just because they don’t like how your partner treats you and vice versa.
They are your support system and they love you. They can give you a shoulder to cry on and provide valuable insight and advice on how to “fix” or leave your toxic relationship.

So, go out to dinner with friends you haven’t spoken to in a while or attend family celebrations. In other words, go hang out with friends and family members at their homes – just chatting and “catching up.” Don’t lose unconditional love for a relationship that may be “conditional.” 


Accept that you can’t “save” your partner

If you want to “fix” your damaged relationship, you’ll first need to accept that you can’t save your partner. In other words, you can’t control what he/she says or does, or how he/she feels, so stop trying. You can only control your own emotions and behaviors. 
Also, you may feel as though you can’t live without your partner, but you can. You may not be able to live with him/her if things don’t change.

Remind yourself as many times as you need that you are not your partner’s savior. And, start focusing on your own needs. What can you do to improve yourself? What can you change to make you feel more confident and secure in who you are?  
Although you may want to “save” your partner, you can’t. You can only “save” yourself. Trying to save your partner will only lead to more hurt and pain – not a better relationship.
~ Psychologist’s Tip


Make time for yourself

Lastly, you may be able to repair your unhealthy relationship if you become more independent. How can you become more independent? Well, by making time for yourself, preferably every day, but at least once or twice a week.
This looks like going to a spa, working out at a local gym, going for a run or walk with a friend, or splurging on your favorite meal and/or sweet treat.

You can also purchase those tennis shoes or outfits, get a new haircut, manicure, and/or pedicure, read that juicy book you’ve been wanting to read for months, lounge in bed and watch Netflix all day, or go out with co-workers or friends for drinks and dinner after work.
***Remember, you don’t need to be with your partner 24/7 to be confident, happy, and secure – you can do those things all by yourself. 
You can’t love someone else if you don’t love yourself. It is important that you make time for yourself, doing things that make you happy.
~ Psychologist’s Tip
***If you’ve tried everything in this article, and nothing has changed, you may want to consider seeing a couples counselor, marriage counselor, or marriage and family therapist.

This relationship expert will help you address the issues in your relationship that are causing it to be unhealthy and toxic. He/she will also help you determine if you really want to stay in the relationship and work on the problems, or if it’s time for you to move on.

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About the Author

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Ph.D. in Family Psychology

Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
Full Bio | LinkedIn

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