30 Signs You're in a Toxic Relationship
Relationship red flags
Signs of a toxic relationship are sometimes easy to spot—blatant infidelity or physical violence, for example. But there can often be more subtle signs that something's just not right between you and your partner—or between you and a close friend, a coworker, or a family member. (It's not just romantic relationships that can become toxic.)
No matter what form a relationship takes, it's important to pay attention to how it really makes you feel, says Andrea Bonior, PhD, adjunct professor of psychology at Georgetown University and author of The Friendship Fix. "Keeping a finger on your own emotions can help you develop insight about the people in your life, so you can choose healthier situations," she says. To help you do just that, here are 30 signs you've entered toxic territory—and what you may be able to do about it.
You're always walking on eggshells
You never get your way
A controlling partner may also ignore or overrule your opinions, even when you do have the confidence to voice them. "A lot of times it's a matter of imbalance," says Bonior. "One person is always calling the shots, always making the plans—for simple stuff, like where you're going to eat dinner, and for more important issues, like where you're going to live." If you're truly okay with letting your partner make the majority of the decisions, this arrangement can be fine, she says. "But often in a toxic relationship, one partner eventually gives up because they just don't feel heard."
You don't appreciate each other
Bad behavior is encouraged
Your partner gets physical
You may think you know what intimate partner violence looks like, but it isn't always as obvious as it seems. "Grabbing her arm and saying 'Get back here, I'm not done talking to you,' or gripping his face and saying, 'Look at me when I talk to you,'—these behaviors don't necessarily cause physical damage, but they do represent low-level boiling-over points of conflict," says Quirk. This type of behavior may be especially overlooked when a woman does it, she adds. "For a long time, society accepted it as funny or spunky, but we wouldn't look at it the same why if the genders were reversed."
You've broken a few plates
You've been lied to
Your friendship is totally one-sided
Maybe you're the one who always reaches out, or you always make more of an effort to actually get together. Or maybe your friend only ever wants to talk about him or herself, and never about you. "Some people just take from friendships without giving anything back," says Bonior. "If it's always about their needs and they never help meet yours, you have to ask yourself if it's really healthy for you." Cut your friend some slack if he or she is going through a hard time, but if it becomes par for the course, make your concerns heard.
Everything's a competition
Your partner tries to make you jealous
Your family oversteps their boundaries
We can't choose our family members—but we can strive to make our bonds with them healthier, says Bonior. "Many grown adults let their parents or their siblings treat them or talk to them in ways they wouldn't tolerate from anyone else," says Bonior. "But if their behavior makes you feel belittled or guilty, that's not okay. Just because she's your mom or your sister, she does not get a free pass." Set boundaries with family members—like what topics are off limits and what your expectations are for visits with them—and don't feel guilty about enforcing them.
Your pal is stuck in the past
You're always getting phubbed
All you do is gossip
You may have a great time with that friend at work who tells it like it is and always makes you laugh, but if that fun is had at the expense of others, you might want to reexamine your relationship. "People who are constantly wallowing in gossip and complaining about other people can really bring down your mood after a while," says Bonior. "Plus, there's the chance they're talking about you behind your back, too." It's true that gossip can help people form bonds in the workplace, but it can also pit them against each other and make for a very unpleasant environment. Try to steer things in a positive direction, and aim to make your friendship less exclusive and more inclusive.
Hanging out feels like a chore
Your flight-or-fight response kicks in
You're suddenly moody and insecure
Sometimes it's not your partner's actions that signal a toxic relationship; it's your own. If you suddenly feel paranoid and unable to trust your significant other, ask yourself why, says Bonior. "Are you getting more anxious because of something that has to do with you? Maybe you're in a bad place and are worried about other things, and it's spilling over into your romantic life. Or is there something about your relationship that's just not right? Maybe deep down something isn't adding up, and your gut is trying to tell you something." Open up to your partner and share your insecurities; if he or she gets defensive about your questions, that's another red flag.
Your partner teases you all the time
Your boss uses emotional blackmail
You feel isolated from other friends
An emotionally abusive partner doesn't always use anger to exert control, Bonior says. "Sometimes they use guilt or shame to make you feel like you've hurt them. They might say, 'If you go out with your friends tonight I'll be so lonely,' or 'I can't believe you did that without me.'" When you start dating someone new, it's normal to see your friends less often. "But if you feel isolated from other people, that's definitely a very troubling sign," says Bonior.
Your friends tell you something's wrong
Your fights don't get resolved
Fighting can be healthy as long as both partners truly feel better afterward. Arguments only become toxic when situations don't get resolved, says Quirk. "People hold grudges when they feel like their partner doesn't understand why they're upset, or they feel that things wouldn't be any different even if their partner did understand," she says. "In order to feel like equals, each partner needs the reassurance that, yes, their voice is heard, and yes, things will be different next time."
You don't talk about the serious stuff
"A lot of times, it's the stuff that goes unsaid that kills a relationship, not the stuff you argue passionately about," says Bonior. A person's reasons for not bringing up a big issue could vary; maybe they're scared of how their partner will react, they've tried talking about it before with little success, or they don't value their partner's opinion. If you find yourself withdrawing or avoiding a serious topic, ask yourself why that is—and what you can both do to make the conversation easier.
Jealousy gets the worst of you
You're always picking up slack
One of you lost weight
When one person in a romantic relationship sheds unwanted pounds, the dynamic between partners can change. Of course, this can be a good thing, especially if the change encourages both partners to be healthier, or rekindles romantic attraction. But sometimes, weight loss can have negative effects on relationships. In a 2013 North Carolina State University study, researchers noted that some partners felt jealous or threatened when their significant other lost weight, or nagged by a suddenly healthy partner who wanted them to follow suit. To keep this situation from turning toxic, researchers say, open communication is key. "Talk about it before and keep talking about it," says Charlotte Markey, an associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University who reviewed the study's findings.
You can't remember the last time you touched
You get (or give) the cold shoulder
Your personalities clash
"There are toxic people and there are toxic interactions," says Quirk. "And sometimes you can have a relationship where both parties are good people, but for whatever reason you bring out the worst in each other." It could be that you're anxious for a commitment and your partner doesn't want to feel pinned down. Or maybe you're hungry for attention and your partner isn't the type to dole out PDAs. "If you're not getting the cues or reinforcements that you expect, it can be disastrous, even though your partner isn't technically doing anything wrong," Quirk continues. Attending couples counseling may help you rework some of those patterns, she says, or it may help you decide when it's best to let go.