11 Warning Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship

Toxic Relationship

Ask anyone in a long-term partnership and, chances are, they’ll tell you that relationships are hard work. Misunderstandings and miscommunications happen, boundaries are crossed, and arguments ensue—after all, no person is perfect, and therefore no pairing is without its pitfalls. But, while everyone can make mistakes when interacting with their partners, there are certain unhealthy behaviors that should raise a red flag.

Here are 11 warning signs that may signal a relationship has veered into toxic territory. Take note of them as areas to focus on and correct for future interactions—or, in some cases, as signs that the person or relationship is beyond repair and should be abandoned immediately to avoid further harm.

While a small amount of jealousy can be normal and natural, excessive or unfounded jealousy can signal insecurity and deep-seated distrust. Click To Tweet

11 Warning Signs That May Signal A Relationship Has Veered Into Toxic Territory

1. Toxic communication.

As a cornerstone of every healthy relationship, communication is key. Hence, issues in this area can point to stalemates and dissatisfaction ahead. Constant interrupting or talking over the other person, for example, shows a lack of respect, as well as a lack of willingness or ability to listen to someone else’s point of view—which, in turn, makes understanding and empathy impossible. Rash reactions should be replaced with active listening. To avoid a communication breakdown, you can even have the listener repeat back what they heard to avoid any crossed wires or “lost in translation” moments.

2. A lack of support.

In a supportive partnership, you should always feel you have a best friend in your corner, cheering on your successes and commiserating over any disappointments. But, in a toxic situation, you may find yourself feeling the opposite—as if you have a secret saboteur on your side instead. If you’re hesitant or afraid to share good news with your other half, perhaps out of fear of his or her reaction, or if you hit a wall of negativity every time you’re in celebration mode, it may be time to look deeper at your relationship’s dynamics. A supportive partner stands by your side in times good and bad, so if that feeling is lacking, it may spell doom over the long term.

3. Jealousy or envy.

Some partners with less than supportive motives harbor a case of envy, which means they want what you have. Jealousy, on the other hand, usually involves a third party—perhaps a co-worker, friend, or even a stranger that the partner feels is getting special attention. While a small amount of jealousy can be normal and natural, excessive or unfounded jealousy can signal insecurity and deep-seated distrust. If your partner accuses you of cheating every time you run errands, it’ll be difficult, if not impossible, to convince them otherwise, which will likely sow seeds of resentment on both sides of the table.

4. Possessiveness or controlling behavior.

Signs of this type of issue can manifest in various ways—everything from one partner requiring frequent check-ins or monitoring movement via technology, to isolating a partner from friends and family, with the end goal of cutting off networks of support to make them more dependent on a significant other. Additional examples include telling the partner how to act or dress; requiring “permission” for basic tasks; or snooping through private possessions (like a diary), texts, or emails. Ultimately, possessive and controlling partners want to usurp freedom and autonomy, which makes an unsustainable setup for long-term happiness.

5. Lies and half-truths.

Outright lying begs the question: What is the partner trying to hide? Dishonesty may be covering up more serious infractions, such as infidelity—but, even if not, relationships require a foundation of truth-telling in order to build trust. Without these basics, it’s impossible to create a positive and peaceful connection in which both parties feel at ease. Alternatively, half-truths can be just as damaging, eroding trust over the long haul as a partner tries to control the narrative through means such as minimizing, “selective memory,” evading, and so on. When a partner says something that later turns out to be untrue or half-true, suspicion builds and eats away at mutual goodwill.

6. Imbalance of power.

Could anyone in the relationship accurately declare, “What I say, goes”? When one partner in the relationship seems to have all of the say-so, it creates an unhealthy balance that actually harms both parties. One person can get tired of having to make all of the decisions, for example, while the other can feel overlooked, unheard, or misrepresented. This ultimately leads to resentment and dissatisfaction for both. Though it’s possible to have a slight differential of power among partners, gaping imbalances can point to trouble.

7. Walking on eggshells.

If one partner is often worried about saying or doing something wrong, for fear of upsetting the other person or inciting anger or rage, it can be difficult to engage in open and honest discussions, and one person feels like they can’t truly be themselves around their partner. Though it’s a good idea to behave in ways that don’t intentionally harm or upset the other person, there is an issue when one feels like daily life presents a minefield—never sure if where they’re stepping might set something off and cause an explosion.

8. Withdrawal or isolation.

This related pair of relationship red flags is another that can be mutually harmful in couples. Those who withdraw or isolate are usually engaging in a form of self-sabotaging behavior, while the other partner feels shut out, hurt, or confused. If this is a go-to strategy for one or both partners, it can be difficult or impossible to reach real resolutions after disagreements, meaning they’re likely to crop up again. Meanwhile, stonewalling (shutting down all communication) can be a feature of more troubling tactics, including emotional abuse.

9. Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

Any of these three behaviors should sound the loudest of alarm bells, inciting the immediate end of a relationship. Abuse tends to worsen, not improve, over time, and can lead to severe consequences like injury or even death. Though the signs of domestic violence and sexual abuse are more well-known, emotional abuse includes behaviors like manipulation, verbal abuse, and gaslighting, plus many of the other behaviors on this list, like attempts to control. Even though not physically threatening, these are designed to be damaging to a person’s emotional well-being and should be taken very seriously.

10. Cruelty.

This can come in many forms—it can take place in public, such as belittling, shaming, or mocking the partner in front of others, or it may be done privately, such as criticizing or making cutting remarks behind closed doors. Either way, cruelty leads to distrust, anger, hurt, and even deeper effects like lowered self-esteem. A partner who’s healthy and supportive should be working to build you up, not tear you down.

11. Making excuses for your partner.

If your other half engages in any of the above behaviors—or other harmful actions—do you try to explain them away rather than confront them? For example, you may say (to yourself or others), “He was just having a bad day,” or “She was just drinking too much that night and overreacted.” If you find yourself searching for excuses for inappropriate or hurtful behavior, and especially if you need to frequently do so, it’s time to directly broach concerns that arise, rather than avoiding and justifying.

Recognizing the warning signs of a toxic relationship is just the first step. Understanding why your partner acts the way they do, why you put up with bad behavior, or why you sabotage your own relationships is a critical part of fixing a broken partnership. Mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or substance abuse can contribute to marital conflict.

In couples therapy at Amen Clinics, brain SPECT imaging often reveals that one or both partners are struggling with underlying brain health issues that impact their ability to have healthy relationships. Taking the steps to heal from any such issues can make a big difference in saving a troubled relationship. On the other hand, understanding the root causes of some behaviors can be what you need to gain the strength to walk away from a toxic relationship.

Marital conflict and troubled relationships can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.



  1. Just walked away from a angry, callous toxic person .

    Comment by Kathy Runion — July 8, 2022 @ 9:06 AM

  2. Re Communication. Not allowing interruptions can be worse as it discourages free flow of ideas and frustrates the other when one partner dominates the conversation. Balance is the key

    Comment by Steven Bulcroft — July 8, 2022 @ 9:08 AM

  3. Excellent article!

    Comment by Rachel — July 8, 2022 @ 10:26 AM

  4. More information on marriage counseling.
    Thank you

    Comment by Pam — July 9, 2022 @ 6:41 AM

  5. My husband & I have been married 19 months.
    We’ve. Been together 5 yrs. He’s been a widower for 11 yrs. I’m divorced. In the last year since married. His children do not want my name brought up and I am not invited to their homes for Christmas holidays or any other get together .
    My husband has asked them what happened?
    But he doesn’t want to pursue it any further.
    My children do not know that his children are unkind to me, than they would be angry with my husband. I have lost respect for my husband for not defending me although I do not want or expect him to “choose “, but I feel he does not honor me as his wife. I am 71 & he is 74.
    Thank you so much!

    Comment by Rose Cameo — July 9, 2022 @ 9:12 AM

  6. I know I am in a toxic relationship but how do I get out? I have put up with this for 20
    years, I am retired yet my husband refuses to support me. At this age, I cannot
    just go out and get a job and start over, even though I am a retired teacher. I bought
    the mobile we live in – and where I live, the husband can take 50%. Suggestions will be

    Comment by Rebecca — July 9, 2022 @ 2:05 PM

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