11 Ways To Know If Your Relationship Is Toxic

… And What You Can Do About It!

Most of us have known high-maintenance people who demand a lot of time and energy, leaving the exhausting residue of drama and chaos in their wake. You know who they are.

Even though these people may claim to be your caring, devoted companions, they somehow leave you feeling drained, agitated, angry, or resentful when you interact with them. You might even feel wound-up just reading or thinking about them!

But when it comes to romantic relationships, it can be a bit harder to figure out if yours is healthy or toxic. After all, even the best relationships have sticking points, and your partner does make you feel good some of the time.

However, healthy relationships don’t come with a heavy cost. Instead, they leave you feeling happy, safe and genuinely valued. They give at least as much as they take, often even more. They listen. They care. They accept you for who you are and have patience with who you are trying to become. 

If you’re wondering if your current relationship is toxic, find out by asking yourself these questions:

1. Is your relationship one-sided or give-and-take?

Healthy relationships are not one-sided. Both people benefit from being with each other. In unhealthy relationships, one person always seems to give a lot more than the other.

2. Can you expect respect from your partner?

Healthy relationships are based on mutual respect. In unhealthy relationships, people ridicule one another, don’t listen to one another, put each other down, or act mean to one another.

3. Can you grow and change together?

Unhealthy relationships are threatened when one person grows or changes.

4. Is your relationships marked by possessiveness?

Unhealthy relationships are threatened by other people or circumstances.

5. Does your relationships nourish and add to your life?

Unhealthy relationships leave you feeling empty and drained.

6. Does your partner accept you and love you for who you are?

Unhealthy relationships require you to act, dress, or be the way someone else wants you to be in order to be accepted.

7. Are you given space (and support) to have a wide range of feelings?

Unhealthy relationships only have room for certain feelings. People in these relationships can be impatient or annoyed if you are sad or anxious, or if you need emotional support.

8. Are your differences respected?

Unhealthy relationships demand conformity. Healthy relationships embrace differences.

9. Do you feel safe and secure together?

In unhealthy relationships, trusts are broken, secrets are shared, and confidences are betrayed.

10. Are both of you committed to your relationship?

In unhealthy relationships, only one partner is.

11. Is power or status a factor in your relationship?

Unhealthy relationships look to take advantage of another person’s social standing in order to improve their own.

If you’re still unsure, check out this list to see if these experiences sound familiar. If so, your relationship might be toxic:

  • You’re constantly giving and rarely feel heard.
  • You have often wondered if you are mostly valued for something like your popularity, appearance, degree or job status, or something besides who you are as a person.
  • There seems to be a lot of expectations and rules that go along with being with your partner.
  • The connection with your partner feels tenuous and conditional, as though this person will disappear from your life if you do not meet certain expectations or follow certain rules.
  • Your partner is critical about other people you care about or other people in your friend group. You suspect your partner might even say similar things about you when you’re not around.
  • Your partner expects you to be available whenever you are needed, but doesn’t offer you the same courtesy.
  • Your partner finds your needs trivial, tiresome, or inconvenient.

How to take care of yourself:

It can be very hard to walk away from a relationship in which you have devoted a good bit of time, energy, feelings, and yourself. 

But sometimes things change, and what may have seemed attractive and satisfying at first can morph into something more toxic and destructive over time. Or maybe it’s been that way all along, and the things that first attracted you to this person have simply lost their dazzle.

Pay attention to how you feel when you interact with your partner. Everybody has bad days, but those are different from patterns of ongoing mistreatment that leave you feeling unappreciated, angry, and drained much of the time. Remember: Letting go of a toxic person can create space for a person who is more deserving of you.

Take care of yourself. This may involve exploring the beliefs that allowed you to remain in an unhealthy relationship for a long time. Sometimes distance and even a complete disconnect can be a big step toward peace of mind and self-respect.

How to be a healthy partner:

Many people don’t have great role models for healthy relationships, and if you find your own behaviors leaning toward the “unhealthy” characteristics, start taking steps to change them. This can take time, and often, some support from a caring, nonjudgmental practitioner.

Use the patterns described above to decrease the stress and unhappiness in your relationships and to become the kind of partner someone is lucky to have.

This article was inspired by material in High School’s Not Forever by Dr. Jane Bluestein and Eric Katz, MSAC. It was later revised for inclusion in The Perfection Deception: Why Trying to be Perfect is Sabotaging Your Relationships, Making You Sick, and Holding Your Happiness Hostage and was further adapted to apply specifically to romantic relationships for the YourTango blog in 2017.

Related resources:

Book: The Perfection Deception: Why Trying to be Perfect is Sabotaging Your Relationships, Making You Sick, and Holding Your Happiness Hostage
Book: High School’s Not Forever

Also see Healthy vs. Unhealthy Friendships. This piece formed the basis for the above article and was originally written to help young people sort out the quality of their peer relationships. It is equally applicable to friendships and special connections between adults.

© 2017, 2022 Dr. Jane Bluestein

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