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Is Your Relationship Toxic? A Guide to Spotting the Signs

February 27, 2024
Reviewed by: Rajnandini Rathod

Relationships can be a rollercoaster, with their highs and lows. It’s natural to face challenges, but understanding the difference between a rough patch and a toxic relationship is crucial. In this blog, we’re going to explore the signs that can help you distinguish between a healthy connection and a toxic one. Why? Recognising these signs is the first step towards building healthier, happier relationships. Now, let’s dive into how a toxic relationship can harm you.

Being in a toxic relationship can take a toll on your well-being. The emotional rollercoaster, constant conflicts, and unhealthy dynamics can have a significant impact on your mental and emotional health. It might leave you feeling drained, stressed, and anxious. Recognising these effects is essential for your overall happiness and personal growth. In this blog, we’ll be shedding light on ten signs that may indicate a toxic relationship, helping you understand when it’s time to take a step back and prioritise your own well-being. 

1. Every conversation turns into a fight

In a healthy relationship, communication is like the glue that holds things together, but when talking becomes a struggle, it can be a sign of a toxic relationship. It’s important to remember that difficulty in communication isn’t always one person’s fault; it can be a shared challenge. In toxic dynamics, both partners might find it hard to express themselves openly or listen without judgment. Misunderstandings can pile up, leading to arguments or even the silent treatment. 

2. Your partner tries to control you

If your partner tends to control aspects of your life, such as making decisions for you or trying to limit your choices, it could be a red flag. This controlling behaviour often stems from an unequal balance of power and a lack of respect for your independence. You might feel restricted, isolated from friends and family, or constantly under scrutiny. Remember, a healthy relationship thrives on trust, mutual respect, and shared decision-making. When control becomes a prominent feature, it can lead to feelings of suffocation and frustration.

Sometimes, controlling behaviours emerge from insecurities, past experiences, or a lack of effective communication skills on both sides. It’s a shared responsibility to identify these patterns and work towards fostering a healthier connection. Both partners may need to reflect on their behaviours, communicate openly about their needs and boundaries, and collaborate on finding compromises that respect each other’s autonomy.

3. There is consistent criticism and verbal abuse

In your relationship, it’s crucial to recognise the various ways emotional abuse can manifest, as these behaviours can have lasting impacts. One form of emotional abuse involves the use of hurtful words, such as constant criticism, insults, or derogatory comments. For instance, if your partner frequently belittles your opinions or appearance, it may be a red flag. Gaslighting is another subtle yet damaging form where your partner manipulates you into questioning your own perceptions. An example could be if they deny saying hurtful things, making you doubt your memory. 

Emotional abuse may also manifest in withholding affection, like avoiding physical contact or giving silent treatment when upset. Additionally, guilt-tripping, where your partner makes you feel responsible for their actions, is another concerning behaviour. By recognising these signs and fostering open communication, you can work towards creating a relationship environment that is supportive and emotionally healthy.

4. There is a lack of respect

A lack of respect might surface through constant belittling or dismissive behaviour. For instance, if your partner consistently mocks your opinions or minimises your decisions, it reflects a lack of respect. Disregarding boundaries can be seen when personal space and limits are ignored.

If your partner frequently invades your privacy, like reading your messages without permission or constantly questioning your whereabouts, it’s a clear boundary violation. On the other hand, a toxic relationship might make you feel like you lack personal space—whether it’s not having time for your hobbies or feeling pressured to share every moment. 

5. Unequal power dynamics

If one partner consistently makes decisions without considering the other’s input, it creates an unequal power dynamic. Imagine your partner making major choices about your shared life—like where to live or how to manage finances—without including your perspective. This lack of collaboration can result in feelings of insignificance and frustration for the disempowered partner. For example, if one person dominates conversations and dismisses the other’s opinions or needs.

An unequal power balance may also extend to issues of control, where one partner manipulates the other into compliance. For instance, if your partner uses emotional manipulation or threats to get their way, it establishes a toxic power dynamic that erodes trust and autonomy. In a healthy relationship, decision-making is a shared responsibility, and both partners feel heard and respected. 

6. Constant suspicion without valid reasons

If your partner questions your actions, friendships, or whereabouts without any basis, it creates an atmosphere of distrust. For instance, if they consistently accuse you of dishonesty or infidelity despite no evidence, it erodes the foundation of trust in the relationship.

On the other hand, if one partner withholds information or is secretive, it may create an environment of uncertainty. If your partner keeps important aspects of their life hidden, such as finances, friendships, or personal experiences, it can lead to feelings of betrayal and suspicion. Trust is fundamental in a healthy relationship, and when it’s lacking, it can result in heightened stress, anxiety, and strained communication. Building trust requires open communication, honesty, and transparency, and addressing these issues early on is crucial for maintaining a positive and non-toxic connection.

7. Making you doubt yourself using gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which one person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in another, making them question their perception, memory, or sanity. It often involves subtle and gradual tactics that can leave the victim feeling confused and uncertain about their own reality.

For instance, your partner may flat-out deny saying or doing something that you clearly remember. For instance, if they criticise you and later deny making hurtful comments, it makes you question whether your recollection is accurate. Or they may trivialise your emotions and reactions, making you feel like your feelings are unwarranted or exaggerated. For instance, if you express hurt over a comment, they might respond with, “You’re too sensitive; I was just joking.”

8. Your partner controls and limits other connections

Isolation from support systems is where one partner seeks to control and limit the other’s connections outside the relationship. They might discourage you from spending time with your friends, claiming that they are a negative influence or that the partner is all you need. Over time, this isolates you from important friendships and support networks.

They may monitor and control your communication channels, such as checking your messages, emails, or social media accounts. This invasion of privacy not only fosters isolation but also erodes trust in the relationship. Isolation from support systems can have serious consequences on one’s mental and emotional well-being. 

9. Constant negativity and lack of support

Constant negativity can create an atmosphere that can have detrimental effects on both partners. For example, they may often engage in frequent criticism, pointing out perceived flaws or mistakes. This constant negativity erodes self-esteem and creates a hostile environment.

Emotional support is a crucial component of a healthy relationship. In a toxic dynamic, one partner may withhold emotional support or dismiss the other’s feelings, leaving them feeling isolated and unsupported.

10. Repeated betrayals, lies and deceit

Repeated betrayals are a glaring sign of toxicity within a relationship, creating an environment of broken trust and emotional distress. Betrayals can take various forms, such as dishonesty, infidelity, or breaches of personal boundaries. In a toxic relationship, these betrayals are not isolated incidents but become a pattern of behaviour, leaving the betrayed partner feeling hurt, betrayed, and questioning the foundation of the relationship. 

Are you contributing to the toxicity in your relationship?

If you find yourself reflecting on your behaviour and suspect that you might be contributing to toxicity in your relationship, it’s crucial to recognise certain signs. Here is a list of questions that can serve as a starting point for self-reflection and fostering awareness of potential toxic behaviors. 

  1. Do I often criticise or belittle my partner during disagreements?
  2. Do I frequently try to control my partner’s actions or decisions?
  3. Do I consistently disregard their boundaries or invade their privacy?
  4. Do I actively listen and try to understand their perspective?
  5. Do I notice an imbalance in decision-making power in the relationship?
  6. Am I willing to take responsibility for my mistakes and learn from them?
  7. Am I transparent and honest in my communication?
  8. Have I inadvertently isolated them from their support systems?
  9. Do I often focus on the negatives rather than seeking solutions?
  10. Have I broken trust through repeated betrayals?

Addressing toxicity in your relationship

Upon recognizing signs of toxicity in a relationship, taking thoughtful and intentional steps is crucial for fostering positive change. Seeking professional help, such as couples counseling or therapy, can provide valuable guidance and facilitate productive conversations with a neutral third party. If the toxic behavior involves any form of abuse, prioritize safety by reaching out to friends, family, or local support services to create a safety plan. 

Begin by addressing the issues directly, acknowledging and taking responsibility for any behaviors that contribute to the toxicity. Initiate an open conversation with your partner, creating a safe and blame-free space to discuss concerns and encourage active listening from both sides. 

If, despite efforts, the toxicity persists, and safety is a concern, consider the possibility of ending the relationship. Prioritise your well-being and mental health, recognising that a breakup may be the healthiest choice. It’s important to understand that you are not responsible for fixing your partner’s behaviour, even if you comprehend its roots in past experiences.


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Karakurt, G., & Silver, K. E. (2013). Emotional abuse in Intimate relationships: the role of gender and age. Violence & Victims, 28(5), 804–821.