While some toxic relationship signs are covert and can be hard to spot, others are glaringly obvious.
This doesn’t mean we’ll address them though. Often, we overlook signs of a toxic relationship because we love a person. Or, because we don’t want to change ourselves.
Although your love may attach you to a person, consider that the bond is destroying you mentally and physically.
These are 14 toxic relationship signs to check your relationship for.
An Important Note: Although you can read these toxic relationship signs to evaluate a situation yourself, you may consider getting the unbiased perspective of a therapist. If you’re in an abusive relationship, you can get resources and advice on taking steps to leave by calling a free hotline.
Toxic Relationship Meaning
To understand if your relationship is unhealthy, you might be wondering the toxic relationship meaning.
A toxic relationship is essentially an unhealthy relationship that can take many forms. A toxic relationship could involve conflicts that can’t be resolved. On the extreme end, it could also be classified as abuse.
A toxic relationship could be created by one or both partners. Typically, partners refuse to leave each other, even though their conflict or situations are irresolvable.
In a healthy relationship, partners will realize it isn’t working out and it’s becoming unhealthy. As a result, one or both partners will end it. In an unhealthy relationship, one or both partners aren’t happy, yet don’t want to end it because they love, care or are attached to one another. In some cases, partners may make repeat attempts to split, only to end up together again.
Many times, toxic relationships involve co-dependency. One or both partners feels they “need” the other, or they “need to be needed.” This could be one reason you might find yourself spotting many toxic relationship signs in every partner you meet.
To help you better understand the toxic relationship meaning, read the toxic relationship signs in this post.
Unhealthy Relationships and Toxic Relationship Signs
When looking at toxic relationship signs, you might relate to none, a few or a lot. A toxic relationship could check off one or many of the items on the list below.
Remember that each relationship is unique and as such, we can’t possibly list all the toxic relationship signs. Just because something isn’t on this list doesn’t mean it’s not toxic.
While we usually call other people toxic, we have to look at ourselves too. Do you see your own behaviors in any of the toxic relationship signs?
To truly take inventory of your relationship, it could be helpful to have an unbiased, outside source. Talking to a therapist can help you understand whether your situation is unhealthy. When appropriate, counseling can also help you see the role you play. Since we all can have some toxic relationship signs from time to time, a therapist can point them out easier, guiding you to fix them. If you can’t afford a therapy, ask your doctor about free local resources. Health community centres can also be a good place to ask. You can also search “sliding scale therapists” to find a professional who will charge affordably based on your income.
Ultimately, if you spot toxic relationship signs and things aren’t changing, you might decide it’s time to end it. That’s often the best decision for yourself and the other person. Remember that the difficult choice and the right choice are often the same choice.
You might feel bad about breaking up or divorcing. But it could literally be ruining your health.
In one study, researchers tracked 10,000 people for over 12 years. They learned that those in negative relationships had a higher risk for heart problems, including life-threatening cardiac issues. As if being emotionally unhealthy wasn’t enough, it might also make us physically unhealthy.
To get a jump start on emotional freedom after the split, read How to Get Over Someone You Love: 30-Day Breakup Challenge.
14 Toxic Relationship Signs to Check For
To drill down the toxic relationship meaning further, we can look at some toxic relationship signs. Ask yourself if you see these in your relationship. If so, what’s the impact?
#1 The Relationship is Confusing
If a relationship is confusing, that’s a good sign it’s not a healthy one.
Confusion often means you don’t know where you stand with the person. One moment you’re good, and the next it’s really bad. You can relate to the roller coaster of emotions an on and off relationship brings. After a bad argument, you’ve suddenly broken up again.
It doesn’t always include anger though. Maybe you or your partner are just hot and cold. One moment they really like you and the next, it seems like they’re pulling away. Despite your efforts to fix the situation, it keeps flopping back and forth.
A healthy relationship is one that’s stable and one you can count on.
The nature of gaslighting is that it’s confusing. Gaslighting is a common among toxic relationship signs. Gaslighting can take many forms, which we’ll discuss in this post too. Mainly, you’ll find your partner’s words confusing. What they say won’t line up to other credible information.
The list of ways your partner may confuse you is endless. Here are two common ones:
- Actions and Words Don’t Align. They may say one thing and do another. They may treat you like crap, but give you loving words all day. Or, they may do nice things for you, but say the cruelest things. It’s confusing because it’s almost as if they’re half good and half bad. We end up thinking we’re being too negative. We look at all their positive qualities on the other side. When we bring up our concerns, our partner gets angry and points to all their positives or things they “do for us.”
- They Deny Words or Actions. Gaslighters straight-up deny things. If you think “am I hallucinating?” but you only seem to be hallucinating with one person, it’s probably them. You might ask them to apologize for something they said one minute earlier and they deny saying it at all. In other cases, they completely make up stories. When presented with evidence against it, they’ll usually lying or make you question the credible information. This becomes confusing and can make it feel like you’re going *literally* crazy.
When trying to figure out whether someone is gaslighting you, what becomes even more confusing is their intentions. You may know that the person is otherwise “good” and doesn’t mean to make you feel this way.
But here’s something to consider: Some people are inherently manipulative. Maybe that’s their personality or the way they’ve learned to survive in the world. None of that discounts the effects of their behavior.
The term gaslighting traditionally applies to abusive situations where a person is intentionally making a person question their reality. Even if a person unintentionally gaslights you though, the effects of manipulation still translate.
#3 They Feel Like Coming Home
…and not always in a good way.
Toxic relationships can feel like you’ve regained a part of your childhood. You feel comfortable with your partner and they feel like home. That might be because they are like home—in the bad ways too.
Often we unconsciously go for partners that reflect our childhood or parents. If our parents tended to yell and punch holes in wall, we’re more likely to find a partner who does the same.
It’s no secret either—research shows that our early childhood experiences influences our relationships later in life. Ask yourself if your relationship is repeating any patterns you witnessed as a child? If so, you might have some healing to do yourself. If the situation doesn’t improve or is extreme, you might consider doing what you couldn’t do as a child: Protecting yourself and leaving.
#4 There’s Explosions
It’s hard to miss an explosion. If arguments or disagreements turn into explosive moments, that’s a sure-fire toxic relationship sign.
One moment they’re calm and the next their anger is at or close to 100.
Explosive moments could include your partner yelling or swearing when they get angry. They may blow up the situation, take things out of context or say things that are uncalled for. Instead of controlling their fit of rage, they steamroll through it.
Sometimes, we’re the explosive ones. When we’re the perpetrators, we may not realize it because we’re too caught up in our moments of anger. If we feel justified, it may feel good to get it out. It’s important to realize this inflames the situation, damages the relationship and is toxic.
Healthy relationships won’t always feel smooth, but you’ll have ways of dealing with it outside of acting hurtful.
#5 They Use Personal Things Against You
When you’re in a close relationship with someone, things are going to get personal. You might reveal some things you wouldn’t tell just anyone and that’s because you trust them.
You feel that trust ripped from under you sometimes though. Some personal conversations later turn into strikes against you.
Let’s say you told your partner about a one-night stand and now they call you slutty and believe you’ll cheat on them. That’s not okay.
Or let’s say you call out their bad behavior and they call out an embarrassing moment to shut you up. That’s also not okay.
Moments of trust don’t make up for hurtful gaslighting of secrets.
Nobody likes being name-called but a lot of us do it in relationships.
Despite it being a common way to get out your anger, it’s not okay.
Telling your partner, “you’re being such an asshole/bitch,” is not healthy. The same goes for dehumanizing someone by calling them a “pig” when they’re messy or “trash” when you’re upset.
If you’re doing this to your partner, ask yourself why? Realize it’s disrespectful and they don’t deserve that, even when you disagree with them. See the tiny holes it’s tearing in your relationship.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you might get upset and have a slipup. Your partner is hurt and you can’t take it back. At this point, we need to own up to our mistake. Genuinely apologizing is the most appropriate thing to do. Then, we try to slow our anger next time.
When we’re on the receiving end of name-calling, it’s hurtful, but may be easy to justify. Everyone gets angry sometimes, we tell ourselves. We’d like our partners to be nicer, but we can’t control everything they say. And, it doesn’t take away the other good things about them.
Still, we need to call out name-calling. It can slowly eat away at our trust. It lowers the standards of what a normal relationship looks like for us. This is one of the toxic relationship signs that’s often looked after but shouldn’t be.
Abuse is the most extreme of the toxic relationship signs. It’s also the #1 sign your relationship needs to end.
When it’s physical, abuse might be more obvious. Consider the other forms of abuse though, like emotional or sexual abuse.
Emotional abuse can include a lot more than threats, like:
- Put downs
- Negative comments/pressuring you about your appearance
- Belittling you
- Hitting your “sore spots”
- Making cruel “jokes”
- Controlling finances
- Telling you what to do
- Pitting others against you
- Blaming you
- Denying the abuse
Similarly, sexual abuse is more than forcing sex on someone. It can include pressuring you and coercing you when you don’t “give into” sex or sexual acts. For example, if there’s something sexual you’re not comfortable doing and your partner is angry you won’t try it, that’s not only toxic, it’s abuse.
If you’re going through an abusive relationship, know that resources are available. For more information, call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1–800–799–7233.
#9 Poor Communication
Poor communication is one of the most annoying yet common toxic relationship signs.
Communication problems happen in literally every relationship and doesn’t mean it’s toxic. However, when poor communication becomes a pattern that overtakes the relationship, you can be sure that’s not healthy. Whether our lack of skills or our partners, communication problems can lead to misunderstandings and arguments. Sometimes, you may agree to “forget” the issue because you can’t talk about it without arguing. In time, like other toxic relationship signs, this grows into resentment.
When considering if your communication is toxic, ask yourself if you and your partner are making efforts to communicate better? Is it working? If there’s evidence the partner is trying and it’s working, the relationship could work out if you work on the issue. If not, how long are you waiting to stick around before calling it?
#10 Avoiding Accountability + Hard Conversations
Another common among toxic relationship signs is avoiding accountability.
Many people who gaslight don’t want to talk about their behavior. They seemingly can’t. They’ll ignore it, avoid it, change the subject, close down, leave, fire up their jet pack — literally anything to avoid being held accountable.
At first, though, this can seem like poor communication. You think you just need to communicate the problem better. You think it’s your fault that communicating the issue makes them angry. Here are some other common thoughts:
- I just need to teach him to communicate better
- He will communicate more calmy over time
- I need to communicate this differently so he will act calmer and address it
- If I approach this more calmly, he will have this conversation instead of leaving
- I always seem to bring this up at a bad time, I’ll try better next time (ask “when would be a good time to talk about this?” and they might say “never)
If you’re not sure whether your partner has poor communication or is gaslighting you, ask yourself how far you get into difficult conversations. Are they willing to have them? Do they try? After they leave for a break, do they come back ready to resolve the issue?
Those are all marks of someone who is trying to improve their skills and have hard conversations. If they don’t improve, it’s likely they’re trying to eliminate your communication skills. If you don’t talk about problems, it’s easy for them to avoid.
#11 Negative Changes
Negative changes can be easy to see — at least for your friends and family.
You’re you one day and the next, you’re in a relationship with a completely different personality.
If someone has pointed this out to you, take note.
We can also look inside ourselves to think about ways we may have changed:
- Personality— If our personality has changed in negative ways, it could be a sign of a toxic relationship. Maybe you’ve become meaner to people or more careless as your partner rubs off on you.
- Mental health— It’s not a relationship’s responsibility to make you happy. If it contributes to unhappiness frequently though, that’s a bad sign. Have you been more depressed or sad lately? If no factor in your life has changed but the relationship, that might be something to look at.
- Beliefs— If your beliefs about yourself, the world, or others have shifted in the wrong direction, that’s a good sign you’re being manipulated. Maybe your self-confidence has taken a hit. Perhaps the word seems a lot more gloomy. You could have adopted some cult-like beliefs about society. Or maybe you suddenly believe all your friends and family hate you. One of the overlooked among toxic relationship signs is changing your values or beliefs overtime.
#12 They Go Missing
If your partner makes you consider filing a missing person’s report, that’s an obvious sign they’re toxic.
While people need to take space sometimes, there’s healthy ways to go about it. Your partner should tell you how long they’ll be gone and when they’ll be coming back. If they don’t, or it takes an unreasonable amount of time, that’s toxic.
You might experience or do this to your partner after an argument. After leaving in a rage of rage, you give them the silent treatment. You might even see it as a form of punishment for their behavior. This is one of the toxic relationship signs that causes a partner to be in a constant state of anxiety.
#13 Bringing Up Your faults to Excuse Their Own
Have you ever been having a discussion or arguing with someone about something hurtful they did and they keep bringing up the past?
Sometimes this is relevant. But many times, they’ve overplaying your wrongs to downplay their own. Let’s be clear: The fact you screwed up doesn’t make their actions okay either. While both should be held accountable, gaslighters tend to blow up small situations in comparison to their own.
In a relationship, your partner might bring up the time you forgot their birthday whenever you want to discuss why they’re always putting you down and making rude remarks. One of the toxic relationship signs is never moving forward because you keep getting stuck in the same problems, even if they have nothing to do with the present.
#14 Blaming Your Lack of Forgiveness On You
Forgiveness can take time and if it’s rushed, it’s ingenuine. Most relationships will require some form of forgiveness, even if it’s for things like slacking on chores or forgetting your anniversary one year.
Sometimes, you may be in a situation so heavy and deep that recovery takes time. Let’s say your partner cheated on you and you decide to stay and slowly try to build back the trust. While forgiveness is the ultimate goal, your partner shouldn’t expect you to reach it right away.
If whenever your partner does something hurtful, they expect you to “snap out of it,” that’s a form of gaslighting.
Does your partner say hurtful things, feel sad, say sorry and then suddenly get mad when you don’t accept it? When the apology isn’t the magic wand they expected it to be, they get upset again and turn back into the bad guy. Or they’re still sorry, but not that sorry because you’re overblowing it.
They might flip the table and suddenly make you into the manipulative person.
You’re allowed to take time to forgive someone, if at all. People shouldn’t bully you into otherwise.
Summary: Toxic Relationship Signs
If you’re curious about the toxic relationship meaning, the first thing to know is that “toxic” looks different in every relationship. Since unhealthy relationships can take many forms, it can range from some unresolved conflict to abuse. To help evaluate whether your relationship is crossing boundaries, use the toxic relationship signs above. Remember that not all the toxic relationship signs are listed. A therapist can look at your relationship from an unbiased perspective to help you understand if it’s normal.