Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship
A toxic relationship can hurt you.
They always seem to start well.
You talk all the time, they listen and understand you, and they’re just generally a fun person to hang out with.
However, after a while, things start to change.
The more you try to make it work, the more you start enabling the toxic behaviour.
Soon, it’s too late: you’re in too deep and they’ve hurt you beyond repair.
All your friends tell you that they were awful to be around. However, you don’t agree.
You want them back because this relationship is special and anything but abusive.
I know that feeling and I’m here to tell you that it isn’t true: there are warning signs of a toxic relationship that many people ignore or misinterpret completely.
15 Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship
1. They use your past against you.
“It’s when they feel that they have you caught in their trap that they start to show themselves—and their darkness.”
And that darkness might include bringing up things from your past or your family’s history, even if you didn’t tell them about any of it.
In healthy relationships, partners can talk openly about whatever issues may come up without judgment.
They don’t feel the need to engage in manipulative tactics where one person feels inferior to the other.
Whether your partner is trying to make you doubt yourself because they’re emotionally abusive or just plain insecure, it doesn’t matter:
Either way, it’s not healthy. (And yes, this could be a sign you might be dating a narcissist.)
2. They try to control you.
They try to control you.
This can look like demands for your time and attention, jealousy over your friendships and interests, or making decisions for you without your input.
An unhealthy partner wants to control what you do, who you spend time with, and how you interact with the world—without being a fair partner in return.
They make threats or use fear as a means of control.
If they’re threatening to harm themselves if you leave them (or if they threaten to self-harm in general), this is a huge red flag that needs immediate attention from more than just counselling therapy.
They might also threaten to “out” your sexual orientation before you’re ready or use violence against others as a threat (“If I ever catch him/her trying anything on me…”).
This is an intentional tool of emotional abuse meant to frighten and intimidate their monogamous partner into staying put because it’s easier from an emotional standpoint than having to deal with the fallout of leaving them first—and it’s part of the cycle of abuse all too often seen in toxic relationships.
3. They make you feel anxious.
It’s common to feel anxious in a relationship, especially in the beginning.
But if these feelings persist, you may be in an unhealthy relationship.
In a toxic relationship, your partner may make you feel like you don’t deserve trust or even that you’re not worthy of their time and attention.
Unhealthy relationships often involve guilt and shame.
You might feel like it’s your fault that your partner is angry or uncomfortable, or guilty because they are being treated unfairly by others when they are with you.
This can lead to insecurity and self-doubt.
Toxic relationships can cause physical signs of anxiety such as sweating, muscle tension and shakiness as well as emotional reactions such as fear and panic attacks.
Fear of speaking up for yourself can also cause feelings of anxiety about how others perceive you.
4. They make you go on the defensive.
If you find that you’re often being made to feel like you have to explain and defend your actions, this may be a sign of a toxic relationship.
Of course, it’s healthy for both partners to take an active interest in how the other is feeling and make sure that their behaviours aren’t hurting or offending one another.
When the relationship becomes so critical that you go on the defensive every time your partner brings up a concern, it can be really difficult to maintain a healthy balance.
This can make it hard to communicate with your partner effectively and leaves no room for mistakes or miscommunication.
Another way we may react defensively is by making excuses: “I don’t spend more than I need to because I’m just trying to save money,”
“I don’t hang out with my friends as much because I’m really into spending time together.”
Do any of these sound familiar? If so, you might want to take a deeper look at why this behaviour is such an automatic reaction for you and what it says about your dynamic as a couple.
5. Their apologies and excuses are never-ending.
If your partner is constantly apologizing for their actions, that may be a sign of a toxic relationship. It’s important to know the difference between an apology and an excuse.
An apology is genuine and comes from the heart, not from the mouth.
If your partner consistently makes excuses for their behaviour and does not accept responsibility for their actions, that can indicate toxicity in a relationship.
When you apologize to someone you love and really want to change, you take steps to do that.
You learn from your mistakes, change your behaviour and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
You don’t just say “I’m sorry,” because words mean nothing if they aren’t backed up by action or sincere apologies are rare in your relationship.
6. They don’t listen to you.
It’s frustrating to pour your heart out and feel like you can’t get a word in edgewise, or that the person isn’t even listening.
If you try to tell them something, they might not let you finish your thoughts.
Maybe they don’t ask questions about your day, or they spend time on their phone when you speak.
This is especially important if the person you are dating is a narcissist, as Mark Borg Jr., Ph.D.—co-author of Relationship Sanity: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Relationships—explains.
“The true sign of a narcissistic individual is that they believe that other people’s needs are more important than their own. They will initially be very caring and attentive in order to ‘woo’ their partner into entering the relationship, but once this occurs the narcissist will often begin to devalue others by criticizing their behaviour, appearance, or accomplishments for no reason at all,” he says.
7. They are extremely critical.
Criticism is another one of those things that most everyone does, but it’s still a common symptom of a toxic relationship.
In many cases, criticism is usually the result of insecurity or jealousy (we’ll get to those later), but at least in its milder forms, it can simply be a byproduct of daily life.
It’s like saying you don’t ever argue with your partner — it’s not realistic.
However, if you find that your partner is constantly pointing out your flaws and demanding that you change because they don’t like them, then you may be dealing with a toxic person.
Keep in mind that criticism can also take more subtle forms like “jokes” or suggestions to “improve.”
If they’re always harping on things like your weight, how much money you make or spend, or the way you dress, then those are all red flags.
8. They hold a grudge against you.
Have you ever been in the middle of an argument with your partner and felt like you were being attacked for something that had nothing to do with the problem at hand?
Whether it’s malicious or passive-aggressive, bringing up a past issue during a disagreement is not only frustrating but often leads to even more arguments.
If there are underlying issues that you haven’t resolved, they’re important to discuss; however, if your partner won’t let go of an argument, then it could be a sign that they’re holding onto resentment for something deeper.
Everyone has disagreements.
It’s completely normal.
The important thing is communicating in a healthy way and finding solutions together so issues don’t snowball into unresolved anger or resentment.
A toxic partner who can’t seem to forgive or forget will hold their grudge against you longer than necessary.
If they’re unwilling to work through problems together and get past things, this could be a huge red flag that signals toxicity within the relationship.
9. They make it all about them.
The sooner you can recognise the signs of a toxic relationship, the better.
“Toxic relationships are harmful to your health,” says Tammer Malaty, a licensed professional counsellor at Malaty Therapy.
“They may cause brain fog, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite or overeating.”
You may feel exhausted most of the time and have low self-esteem because nothing you do is ever good enough.
“You deserve to be treated with love and respect,” Malaty says.
Here’s what he looks for when assessing whether a relationship is toxic:
Your partner is selfish.
As in they never consider your feelings and only think about what they want.
They’re not contributing to the relationship as much as they could be.
Your partner makes it all about them.
They’re so into themselves that they don’t even notice how their actions impact you or others around them.
Your partner has an inflated sense of importance and superiority (aka things revolve around them).
They act like they’re superior or better than other people — including you!
10. The relationship is constantly in flux.
Healthy relationships are not static.
In fact, change is normal.
But, in a toxic relationship, this feels completely different because one person is always trying to control the other’s thoughts and behaviours.
They don’t give you the space you need to do your own thing or have your own interests (even if they’re simple things like going out with friends).
The relationship constantly shifts between being “on” and “off” — one minute you’re together, the next minute you’re not.
You feel like you can never get comfortable and that nothing is ever certain.
You may try to reason with them to help them see how their actions have hurt you or why it would benefit both of you if they could just let go of some control — but they’re so committed to having power over every aspect of your life that they refuse even to budge on a single issue.
Defining boundaries in relationships is important for everyone involved:
It’s something healthy couples can learn from each other, and it’s key for those who were raised in families where abuse was present or normalized since learning boundaries as an adult can be difficult when no examples were previously set for them.
So when these kinds of manipulations start occurring (or are already taking place) in a relationship, it becomes important to identify the situation before it gets worse.
11. Your partner doesn’t respect your boundaries.
A healthy relationship requires mutual respect.
In a toxic situation, you’ll often find that one person feels like they need to walk on eggshells to keep their partner happy.
The other person might be very critical or judgmental of them, or might just be completely indifferent to their feelings and needs.
This can include anything from not respecting your privacy, to criticizing you in public (or even in private), to showing up unannounced at your home or workplace.
If you feel like you’re constantly being criticized or walked all over for no reason, that’s a red flag.
12. Your partner is unpredictable and you can never be sure of his or her reaction.
Your partner is unpredictable and you can never be sure of his or her reaction.
It’s not that they’re moody, it’s more that they lose control of their emotions and act in a way that surprises you.
You may even feel like your partner goes from 0 to 100 in no time at all.
You’re afraid of what he or she will do if you upset them.
You start tiptoeing around your partner, worried that something might set him or her off.
You walk on eggshells to avoid any drama.
You often feel like you don’t know who your partner really is, or why he or she gets so angry about things that seem perfectly normal to you.
You may feel confused and helpless, like nothing you do pleases him or her.
13. Your partner keeps threatening to break up with you.
Some relationships are worth keeping, and others are best left in the past.
There’s a huge difference between having a mildly heated argument with your partner and being in a toxic relationship.
If your partner threatens to break up with you every time you disagree, that could be a sign of a toxic relationship.
This can be especially difficult if you feel like your partner uses this threat as a way to manipulate you into doing what they want instead of using it as an opportunity to resolve conflict.
If your partner consistently threatens to break up with you whenever they get upset, it could be an indication that there’s something deeply flawed about your relationship.
They shouldn’t use breakups as threats!
14. They’re trying to change you.
When you look at your partner, you should be proud of the person they are and the life they lead.
And if you’re proud of them, you should feel like you can talk about them without fear of judgment from others because you know they’re a good person.
If your partner is trying to change you (or vice versa), it’s an obvious sign that something isn’t right in your relationship.
In fact, when one partner tries to change the other, it can quickly lead to conflict and resentment.
You want someone who loves and accepts you for who you are. If someone is trying to change who you are as a person, they aren’t the one for you.
15. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells.
Have you ever been in a relationship where you feel like you can’t do anything right?
Where your partner is constantly criticizing and nitpicking at every little thing you do?
If so, then you may have found yourself in a toxic relationship.
A toxic relationship is one that is full of negativity and fails to support your well-being.
It might mean that your partner doesn’t respect boundaries, or maybe there is ongoing emotional abuse.
It could be the case that your partner is always demanding more from you than what you are comfortable with giving.
In any case, it’s important to identify these toxicity signs early so that they don’t develop into something more serious.
A healthy relationship isn’t always easy, but it should be fulfilling and rewarding most of the time.
In a toxic relationship, you’re more likely to feel drained, frustrated and unhappy.
Toxic relationships tend to escalate without warning and can leave you feeling overwhelmed.
These kinds of relationships are often full of drama—and they can make you feel like you’re constantly treading on eggshells or walking on pins and needles in order to not upset your partner.
Oftentimes, toxic relationships involve a lot of heavy lifting on your part: fixing problems, doing favours for your partner or listening to them complain about something that isn’t within your control.
You might also find yourself continually making excuses for their behaviour (they were just having a bad day).
And if that wasn’t enough, you may also have a heightened awareness of your own faults and shortcomings, especially when you’re with your partner (I’m just not good enough).
A strong relationship is built on a foundation of trust and support. If one or both partners don’t feel supported by the other person in the relationship, then it’s likely toxic.