What does it mean to have a toxic relationship? What to do if you see one of these 18 signs

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

 

Look: every relationship has its ups and downs. 

But this doesn’t mean that they’re toxic. 

Having a toxic relationship means much more than the occasional disagreement. 

It means that your partner is sabotaging, bullying, or undermining you in some other way.

And the worst part?

You might not even be aware of it at first. 

That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the following 18 signs that you might be in a toxic relationship.

What to do if you see one? Read on to find out!

1) Your partner often raises their voice at you

Here’s the first sign your relationship is toxic: your partner often raises their voice at you.

It’s not uncommon for couples to sometimes yell at each other in a heated argument – but it’s NOT healthy when it happens all the time.

If your partner is yelling at you all the time, there’s a problem that needs fixing ASAP.

It doesn’t matter if he or she is angry, they should still not yell at you.

Yelling is a form of verbal abuse and it should never be tolerated in a healthy relationship.

What to do about it?

The first thing you should do is to try to calm down your partner. 

When the other person is yelling, it’s hard for them to listen – so you can’t reason with them. 

By trying to calm them down and prevent them from yelling, you’re actually doing your relationship a huge favor!

When they’re calm, tell them that it hurts when they yell at you. 

Give them specific examples of the times it happened and how it made you feel.

2) They put you down in front of other people

Does your partner pick on you and make fun of you in front of other people?

If so, this is a sign that your relationship is toxic. 

Let me explain:

In a healthy relationship, your partner supports you, encourages you, and lifts you up when others put you down.

But in a toxic relationship, your partner will often be the person who puts you down and makes fun of you.

They might do it indirectly, through jokes or sarcasm. But it’s still hurtful!

What to do about it?

Don’t put up with this. 

Try to find out why he or she is doing this. 

Is your partner jealous of you? Are they insecure? Is it something else? 

You can’t solve the problem unless you first identify what’s behind it. 

Once you understand their reasons, address them – and talk about a way to fix them. 

Tell them that you’re not going to listen to any more of their insults. 

Don’t let them bully you – if they can’t say something nice, they should keep their mouth shut. 

3) Your partner stops you from being friends with other people

Listen, it may be flattering when your partner wants to spend all their free time with you. However, if they want to control your every move, this is unhealthy.

In a toxic relationship, your partner might stop you from interacting with friends or family members.

They may try to control how much time you spend with friends – or even who your friends are!

What’s behind this behavior? 

Well, there could be several reasons. 

Maybe they’re insecure and don’t want you hanging out with anyone else because it makes them feel inadequate.

What to do about it?

If your partner won’t let you have any freedom, talk to them about it. 

Tell them that it makes you feel suffocated if they try to control every aspect of your life. 

Explain to them that you need space and time for yourself – otherwise, the relationship will never be healthy or fulfilling.

However, make sure you take the conversation seriously. 

Ask them what makes them feel insecure, and why they need to control you. 

Do this without getting upset or angry – explain your side calmly and kindly, and give them a chance to respond with the same level of maturity.

4) They constantly criticize you in private (and in public)

In a toxic relationship, your partner will rarely have anything nice to say about you. 

Instead, they’ll usually be laughing at your flaws, telling you what’s wrong with you – and finding ways to put you down.

And no matter how well-intentioned criticism might seem on the surface, it can do a lot of damage over time. 

It erodes your self-esteem and makes you feel incompetent and inept in areas where you used to be confident and competent.

What to do about it? 

I know what you’re going through with your toxic partner because last year my relationship was seemingly reaching a dead-end, too.

I’m talking do-not-resuscitate. Over and out. 

I was ready to walk away, but before I did that I took a step I’d never taken before. I reached out to a professional relationship coach. 

I had low expectations, but even my highest hopes were exceeded. The coach I spoke to at Relationship Hero quickly broke down the walls I’d built up in my relationship and helped me understand why things weren’t working out between me and my controlling partner.

This coach was tough but fair and genuinely helpful.

My coach took apart every single lie I was telling myself and helped me understand how to truly resolve things with my toxic partner.

My relationship isn’t perfect now, but it’s so much better than what it was. Most importantly, I’m hugely optimistic about the future again. 

Click here to check out Relationship Hero and see if they can help you too.

5) Your partner is constantly trying to control you

Here’s the problem: feeling controlled is one of the most dangerous red flags of a toxic relationship. 

It can be incredibly damaging to your sense of personal power – especially if your partner is someone you depend on for things like financial support, transportation, or even just daily tasks like grocery shopping. 

What to do about it?

Talk to your partner about it. 

Ask them if they’re aware of what they’re doing, and why they feel the need to control you so much. 

If you’re involved in a long-term partnership or are married, try to talk about it rationally, without getting angry or upset. 

Ask your partner if they are unhappy with the relationship, and let them know that things will be different for the better when they change their behavior. 

Explain that you need a little extra time for yourself – you can’t think rationally when you’re being told what to do every minute of the day. 

This is a good start.

6) Your partner gets jealous and paranoid

Everyone gets jealous sometimes, but when your partner exhibits jealousy and paranoia – it’s a bad sign.

Jealousy and paranoia are feelings of worry, distrust, and suspicion that stem from a lack of trust in your relationship.

In other words, if your partner gets jealous all the time, he or she doesn’t feel comfortable in the relationship and doesn’t believe a word you say.

Jealousy is a very destructive emotion – and it can often lead to harmful behaviors like:

  • Stalking/spying on you;
  • Threatening to leave you;
  • Harassing you.

They’re very unhealthy – especially when they’re constant.

What to do about it?

Get to the bottom of why he or she feels jealous and paranoid. 

Then, talk about the situation rationally. 

Explain why they shouldn’t feel jealous and that they have no reason to concern themselves with every single detail of your life.

Reassure them that you’re not interested in anyone else. 

Also, discuss with them what you can do for them to feel more secure in your relationship. 

After all, this is a scary thing for any couple to go through – and it’s extremely important that you trust each other.

7) Your partner’s mood and behavior change significantly for no reason at all

In a toxic relationship, you never know when your partner might start acting like a completely different person.

He or she could go from laughing and having a good time to violently slamming doors and breaking things – without ever making sense of the situation.

Let’s face it: this can be scary, especially when you don’t know what makes your partner feel that way. 

And the worst part is that this can happen over and over again – your partner won’t have any warning signs before flipping out or going into a rage.

What to do about it?

Ask your partner why he or she is behaving that way. 

If you can figure out what’s causing their moods and behavior to shift so dramatically, you might be able to get ahold of the situation.

Make sure your partner knows you care about them – and that his or her emotions are valid, even if they’re not always appropriate. 

Tell them how they make you feel – and why it hurts when they do things like throw dishes at walls, break things, or scream at you.

8) Your partner is emotionally abusive

Emotional abuse is defined as any form of verbal or non-verbal communication that manipulates, controls, or dominates others and causes them severe emotional distress. 

It’s especially tricky to identify because many people don’t know how to recognize it without being informed by a psychologist or counselor. 

But that’s not necessarily true – emotional abuse is far more common than most people think. 

And just because your partner might not look like they’re the type of person who would be emotionally abusive, they can still do it.

Examples of emotional abuse are:

  • Belittling you (sarcastically);
  • Saying negative things about your friends or family members;
  • Making fun of you in front of other people;
  • Treating you like a child (which can cause you to feel overly reliant on them);
  • Blaming you for things that are clearly not your fault;
  • Ignoring you or giving you the silent treatment whenever they get angry at something you’ve done or said;
  • Blowing up in anger and then acting as if nothing had happened.

What to do about it?

So how can you deal with an emotionally abusive partner in a practical way?

I know just the thing – the free Love and Intimacy video by the world-renowned shaman Rudá Iandê. 

While watching it, I felt like someone understood my struggles to find love (and keep it) for the first time – and finally offered an actual solution to dealing with a toxic partner.

But it all starts with your inner relationship. Once you learn how to love yourself, giving and receiving love becomes a whole lot easier. 

If you’re ready to take that journey, click here to watch the incredible free video.

9) Your partner gets mad when you say ‘no’ to them

In a healthy relationship, you should be able to tell your partner “no” whenever you want. 

If they get mad or upset every time you say no – they’re probably toxic. 

And it’s not normal for someone who supposedly loves and respects you to be upset with you every time you don’t agree with something they’re saying or doing. 

This is especially true when you’ve been together for a while and you’ve repeatedly made the same decisions together. 

But it’s also common for new couples – especially those who are still trying to find their feet in terms of the relationship. 

It’s a sign that they aren’t really sure of what they want, but they know they want to control you to make sure they don’t mess up.

What to do about it?

Talk to your partner and ask them why they get so upset when you say no. 

Explain that you’re not saying no because you don’t like them, or because you don’t want to try something with them. 

You’re saying no because it doesn’t feel right, or because it might be hard and stressful for you – even though that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or unfair.

10) You feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells around your partner

In a healthy relationship, you’ll be able to express your opinion without feeling like you’re putting your partner’s feelings in danger – and without having to worry about how they’ll respond. 

If you feel like you’re always walking on eggshells around your partner, that’s a red flag for your relationship. 

Even if you’re on the same page most of the time, sometimes things will feel uncomfortable or awkward. 

Once again, a toxic relationship can make it so that every little disagreement feels like it’s going to lead to a fight or a meltdown. 

And usually, it’s the person who is the most often criticized who will start to feel like they’re walking on eggshells. 

In fact, part of a toxic relationship might be feeling like you have to hide your true self from your partner.

What to do about it?

If you’re constantly worrying that you’ll get a negative reaction from your partner, you should ask yourself what started this. 

Was it something you said or did? 

If so, were you the one who brought it up or started the fight? 

Or has your partner always had issues with your personality and who you are as a person? 

If you can figure out what caused this problem, you’ll be better able to prevent it from happening again. And then you can work on fixing it. 

11) You often make excuses for your partner

Listen, if you’re making excuses for your partner all the time, that’s not normal.

You shouldn’t have to constantly be apologizing for them or explaining their behavior to others in order to feel okay.

If you constantly excuse your partner’s behavior, doesn’t that make you feel like they’re above the law?

It’s important to stand up for yourself, but it’s not okay to treat your partner in a way that you lose respect for yourself. No one wants to feel like they’ve let themselves and their values down. 

What to do about it?

If you find yourself making excuses for your partner, stop. 

Ask yourself if your partner is a good person – and whether or not they deserve the respect they’re asking for. 

It’s okay to let them know when their behavior is unfair or wrong – and it’s okay for you to feel like you’re not going to put up with anything you don’t agree with.

12) Your partner is gaslighting you

Gaslighting? What does that mean?

Gaslighting is a term that refers to manipulative behavior intended to make the other person question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity. 

In other words, gaslighting puts you in a state of confusion – and it makes you think that every little thing you do or say is wrong or meaningless.

If your partner is doing this to you, they’re trying to gain control over your thoughts and actions.

For example, they might say you’re being paranoid when it’s completely obvious that something isn’t right in the relationship.

It can be very hard to know if you’re being gaslighted – especially if your partner is brainwashing you or making it so you can’t trust your own thoughts and observations.

What to do about it?

When someone uses this technique on their partner, it’s hard to get out of the situation without assistance.

Speak to a professional about what’s going on – and ask them for advice on how to fix it or how to leave. I mentioned Relationship Hero earlier.

One of their coaches can figure out whether your partner is really gaslighting you, and they can help you learn how to be confident in your own mind and decisions.

Click here to check out Relationship Hero and see if they can help you too.

13) You feel like you’re never good enough for your partner

A healthy relationship should make you feel special and good about yourself. 

But if you feel like every step forward in your relationship gets canceled by two steps back, that’s a bad sign. 

It’s one thing if your partner has made a decision that you don’t agree with – but it’s quite another to feel like they don’t like you anymore and they’d rather be with someone else.

What to do about it?

You have the power to change how you feel about your relationship. 

If you start thinking of it as a bad thing, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The more you think about how much your partner doesn’t care about you, the more unhappy and bitter you’ll become. 

And that’s not going to make your relationship any better! The opposite will happen – in fact, it will probably get worse.

So, try to focus on the good things. Think about the reasons why your partner was attracted to you, and try to figure out what makes you a good partner.

14) There is an obvious imbalance in your relationship

Want to know another sign your relationship is toxic?

When there’s an obvious imbalance in your relationship. To be more precise, it’s when your partner always has to be right and you’re always wrong. It doesn’t matter how you try to make them see otherwise – they won’t listen. 

Or, when they never have to be responsible for anything. They expect you to clean up their messes, and they get mad when you don’t. 

If your partner is toxic, it might be all about them – and you might always find yourself apologizing for something or trying to fix things that are their fault. 

What to do about it?

You’re both adults – so why shouldn’t you both have responsibilities in the relationship

Do your fair share of work, and ask him or her to do theirs. 

If they say they’re going to do something, don’t do it for them – but if they forget and you realize it, politely remind them. 

15) Your partner plays games with you

Let me ask you this: Is your partner often going hot and cold with you? Is he or she ignoring you for days and then acting as if nothing has happened? 

Or, are they constantly telling you how much they love you one minute, and then being really hostile the next? That’s not a healthy relationship. 

If you’re always wondering what your partner’s next move is going to be, that’s a bad sign. 

That kind of behavior – playing games – isn’t healthy. 

What to do about it?

It might be time for a heart-to-heart talk about how things are going. If it’s not possible to talk about that, maybe it’s time to end the relationship. 

A partner who is constantly playing games is not good for you. If they’re unwilling or unable to treat you the way you deserve to be treated, it is time to move on. 

16) You stopped taking care of yourself

A toxic relationship is especially complex. It’s going to wear you down and make you feel like you’re not good enough. 

One way it shows up is that you stop taking care of yourself. 

You no longer eat well, you don’t sleep enough, and you stop going to the doctor or taking care of yourself in another way. 

Also, you might pick up on some bad habits, such as overeating, smoking, or drinking. 

What to do about it?

You need to stop thinking about your partner and start thinking about yourself again. 

It’s important to take care of yourself. It doesn’t matter how bad your relationship is – you have to keep yourself healthy so you can take care of it too! 

Start taking care of yourself again. Get some exercise, eat well, and cut back on your caffeine intake. 

17) Your partner is constantly ignoring your needs

Another surefire sign to tell whether your relationship is toxic is if your partner is ignoring your needs. 

For example, if you want to talk about a problem that has been bothering you, but your partner doesn’t want to listen. Or, if you want them to do something with you – but they blatantly ignore your request. 

What to do about it?

You’re going to have to sit down with your partner and say something about this. 

Use the words “please” and “thank you.” You need to be respectful of your partner and at the same time make sure they are also respectful of you.

Don’t expect them to change their behavior just because you asked, though – but it’s an important first step.

18) You and/or your partner are codependent

Codependency is toxic. Simple as that. Why? 

When you and/or your partner are codependent, it means that you think of each other as needed to be together in order to be happy. 

Maybe you rely on each other too much – or maybe you’re neglecting your own interests, goals, and relationships because you’re focused on your partner. Either way, it’s not good for you or your relationship.

What to do about it?

First, you need to be honest with your partner. Say that you feel addicted to them and need them too much. Ask them why they don’t want a more independent relationship. 

Tell your partner that you both need to figure out a way to separate and be individuals again – even if the two of you do end up staying together.

Can a relationship coach help you too?

If you want specific advice on your situation, it can be very helpful to speak to a relationship coach.

I know this from personal experience…

A few months ago, I reached out to Relationship Hero when I was going through a tough patch in my relationship. After being lost in my thoughts for so long, they gave me a unique insight into the dynamics of my relationship and how to get it back on track.

If you haven’t heard of Relationship Hero before, it’s a site where highly trained relationship coaches help people through complicated and difficult love situations.

In just a few minutes you can connect with a certified relationship coach and get tailor-made advice for your situation.

I was blown away by how kind, empathetic, and genuinely helpful my coach was.

Click here to get started.