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Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 20, 2020

What Is a Toxic Relationship?

Relationships — romantic, familial, and platonic — are a rich and meaningful part of life. Relationships can provide social enrichment and emotional satisfaction. They can also fulfill your need for companionship or life partnership. 

Beyond being emotionally rewarding, positive relationships can lead to improved health and overall wellbeing. Healthy relationships can even increase your longevity.

On the other hand, research shows that poor relationships may decrease your immunity or lead to depression. Strained relationships can cause severe emotional stress and degrade physical health over time—especially as you age.

Because of the detrimental effect of consistently negative interaction on your health, it is especially important to be aware of the signs of a toxic relationship. No relationship is without problems. However, when the negativity of your relationship becomes overwhelming, you may be in a toxic relationship. 

Although a toxic relationship can be challenging and scary, there are steps you can take to move forward. Recognizing the signs of a toxic relationship, knowing when to move on, and understanding when to get help can improve your mental and emotional health. 

Signs of a Toxic Relationship

A toxic relationship can impact nearly every aspect of your life — including the ability to complete day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. Several signs can help you recognize when you are experiencing a toxic relationship. Here are some of the signs to watch out for:

Lack of Trust

One of the most important components of a healthy relationship is trust. It is essential that you believe that your partner is concerned with your needs and wellbeing. In your healthy relationships, you may enjoy a sense of natural trust with your partner or friends. 

Because of this, one of the hallmarks of a toxic relationship is a lack of trust. This lack of trust can lead to consistent daily conflicts in your relationship. When a relationship lacks trust, you may test each other to try to ascertain the other’s degree of support and responsiveness. 

If you are unable to dismiss the concern that your partner may leave for a better alternative, you may be in a toxic relationship. Lack of trust can lead to a negative pattern of suspicion and jealousy.

Attachment Anxiety

Positive attachment is an essential part of a healthy relationship. When you’re in a secure relationship, you can enjoy comfort in your closeness and do not worry about abandonment.

One sign of a toxic relationship is attachment anxiety — when you feel preoccupied with attachment and a fear of rejection. You may also experience low self-esteem. 

If you obsess over your partner’s availability or monitor them for clues of infidelity and other signs of betrayal, you may be experiencing attachment anxiety. Attachment anxiety from either partner can be an indication of a toxic relationship. 

Romantic Jealousy

While some forms of jealousy are reasonable and normal — for example, if your partner were to become involved with another partner — unhealthy romantic jealousy can be a sign of a toxic relationship. 

Toxic jealousy may involve going through a partner’s belongings, looking through their text messages, or otherwise violating their privacy in an attempt to catch them cheating or in a lie.

Excessive jealousy from either partner is a sure sign of a toxic relationship. It can lead to further forms of abuse or overall damage to your well-being. 

Partner Violence

Any form of abuse or violence is a definitive sign of a toxic relationship. Unfortunately, intimate partner violence occurs at a high rate — especially among younger adults. Abuse can be experienced in the form of emotional, verbal, domestic, and many others. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing any form of domestic abuse, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. 

Dealing With a Toxic Relationship

It’s not uncommon to feel trapped by a toxic relationship. If you feel as though your relationship has become unhealthy, consider talking to a psychologist or psychiatrist. Your doctor may also be able to provide treatment for any physical symptoms of stress you might be experiencing. 

The right course of action depends on your experience. Some ways to handle a toxic relationship include:

Therapy

If you’re in a toxic relationship or are concerned you might be in one, consider getting professional help. You and your partner may be able to work through issues with a licensed therapist. If your relationship has become too toxic, you may find it easier to end the relationship and move on with the help of a therapist.

End the Relationship

If a toxic relationship is affecting your mental and physical health, it is best to end the relationship and find the space to move forward with your life in a positive way. As you end the relationship, there are steps you can take to make the process smoother:

  • Move beyond denial.
  • Keep a journal of your emotions. 
  • Identify the silver lining. 
  • Surround yourself with positive family and friends.
  • Take time to heal. 
  • Provide yourself positive affirmations. 
  • Rest.

Find Support

If you are in a toxic relationship or in the process of leaving one, it is important to find support. Find a local support group in your area, confide in a trusted friend, or reach out to a therapist.

If you or someone you know are experiencing a dangerous situation, always contact emergency services. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Communication Reports: “Romantic Jealousy and Relational Satisfaction: A Look at the Impact of Jealousy Experience and Expression.”

Gilbert, D., G. Lindzey, and S. Fiske. Handbook of Social Psychology, Volume 1, Wiley, 2010.

Journal of Health and Social Behavior: “Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy.”

Mikulincer, M., and P. Shaver. Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change, The Guilford Press, 2007.

Partner Abuse: “The Price of Distrust: Trust, Anxious Attachment, Jealousy, and Partner Abuse.”

PLOS Medicine: “Social Relationships Are Key to Health, and to Health Policy.”

PsychCentral: “You Deplete Me: 10 Steps to End a Toxic Relationship.”

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