How to know if you’re in a toxic relationship

Written by Rosie Brooks Tips for couples

how to recognize a toxic relationship

Finding a partner or being in a stable relationship: both are processes full of obstacles, one of the worst of them is how to recognize a toxic relationship. However, relax: it can be avoided by paying attention to some important details.

Finding a partner, and enjoying life together is most people’s dream. But it can turn into a nightmare and we are not even aware of it. There are all sorts of people and we never know who we’re going to meet the next time. Will they make us happy or will we end up having to move to another neighbourhood.

Knowing how to identify the signs of toxicity is key in saving us from horror stories. Avoiding toxic relationships can be easy if you know how. In this article we want to help you enjoy your relationships wholeheartedly, whether it’s with a long term partner or casual partners, because these types of relationships aren’t exempt from these types of problems.

It could be a good idea to start with defining exactly what we understand by a toxic relationship. We talk about these types of relationships when either one person in a partnership, or both, suffer and don’t benefit from the relationship. It usually manifests with the following signs.


Especially regarding important stuff. For example when you come home with news of a promotion at work, and you just receive an “aha” as a reply. You’ve communicated something important, this type of response only comes from someone who you don’t matter to, which isn’t good; or someone who’s trying to hurt you, which is even worse.

Emotional blackmail.

This is always a bad sign. A lot of the time when this occurs it’s overlooked as being a one off. This is a big mistake. Emotional blackmail is never a one-off occurrence, and it usually gets worse over time. As soon as you see it happening its times to do something about it.

Loss of confidence.

If, since you’ve been with this person, you feel that you’ve got smaller, that you don’t feel as attractive as before or you feel less intelligent; it’s very likely that your partner is pounding you psychologically which can often be part of a toxic relationship. If you feel like this, it’s a clear sign that something is not right.

Excessive vigilance.

It’s fine to worry about our partner. But when you’re controlling each other all the time when you’re not together, you’re crossing the line. Looking over each other’s shoulders when you’re on the phone to see if you have a lover or casual hookups. If you ask your friends to confirm your fears, or you’re acting in a way which seems bordering on normal, you’re crossing the line.

The real problem about toxic relationships is not defining them as such. The majority of people are not capable of seeing it. This is a big trap. Toxic relationships grow organically, that’s to say, they start to become a normalised part of the way the relationship works. 

features of toxic relationship

What features do toxic people show?

  • Egocentric
  • Pessimism
  • Victimisation
  • Lack of empathy
  • Jealousy
  • Unhappy
  • Incapable of being happy for others successes


Why do so many partners show toxic signs and stay together?

The answer is that toxicity is often confused with love. As we said earlier, psychological blackmail plays a fundamental role in these types of relationships. One of the first things that a toxic person does to make us feel bad is to manipulate us.

An example of manipulation in a toxic relationship

In the following conversation we can see the principal characteristics of a toxic person and their arguments

  • Darling, tonight we’re going for dinner with my friends and their boyfriends, ok?
  • No, not ok, I don’t feel like it. Why are you looking at me with that face? You’re ugly when you get angry, haha
  • Very funny. You never go out with my friends, you always stay at home and we never do anything that I like to do.
  • But work is exhausting, I don’t stop all day long at the office and when I get home I’m knackered and don’t feel like doing anything
  • I don’t want to go out every night, although today it’s Mary’s birthday and we’re going out with the lads too, it would be such a laugh. And its Saturday and we’ve spent the whole week indoors

Don’t think only in yourself

  • The thing is, is that you do your own thing, you only think about yourself and you have no idea how rubbish I’m feeling, the week I’ve had, nothing, it doesn’t interest you and you don’t even ask
  • No, you don’t pay attention to me, you’re more and more distant and it pisses me off, but, at the same time I’m too proud to say anything to you and bit by bit I feel like I’m losing you and I don’t know what to do, I love you so much, without you I’d die
  • Darling if you’re not ok tell me, I don’t mind staying at home, but I need you to tell me. You mean so much to me, but I need your help, I can’t do it alone
  • Well, this week you didn’t seem particularly bothered about me, you’ve been out three times to dinner with your friends
  • But we were preparing the birthday party, I swear to you I didn’t know, if you’d have told me I would’ve stayed at home.

Let’s see…

In this conversation we can see how manipulation works. It starts off by talking about a concrete problem, going out to dinner tonight and, bit by bit, we see how the conversation starts to turn towards other things, that the guy is tired, not feeling good, that the girl doesn’t pay attention to him, and that, in part, she’s responsible for how he’s feeling.

details of toxic relationship

There’s other details, such as telling her she’s ugly at one point or throwing it in her face that she went out with her friends making her feel guilty, the essence of it is; toxic people usually divert the centre of the problem towards something that they feel comfortable arguing about.

It’s usually that they’re actually not ok, and they end up turning the argument to relationship problems that were thought to be solved or anything that appeals to feelings rather than reason, because it’s the terrain which they know they’ll always win the argument.

When we find a man or woman that we like throwing it in our face about something that’s not relevant, or something we know is not true, it can be difficult to say “this doesn’t have anything to do with what we’re talking about.”

The problem is obvious

When the problem is obvious, maybe thanks to reflection or our conscience warning us that something isn’t right, it’s almost impossible to redirect the conversation to logical terrain and rationality when the emotions box has been opened.

The new issue eclipses the actual issue and automatically we’re trapped in an argument we don’t understand, for which we’re not prepared for and we can’t win. At this point love gets twisted and is used as a projectile weapon to conquer the will of the other person.

This way of thinking and confronting problems is the basis of toxicity.

The relationship stops being conceived as something to enjoy. It’s converted into a perpetual test. You’ve always got to show your love and you can never convince the other person of it, in this way we become trapped.

How can we get out of a toxic relationship?

The best way, as with many other things, is prevention. We have to be alert when we see any of the signs we mentioned earlier, and if they appear, know how to respond.

Not everyone who might do something that seems toxic to us, is necessarily a toxic person. Our judgement is often mistaken, so the best thing to do is to talk openly with the other person about their idea of relationships, that they explain in detail what we’re likely to encounter, and, if we detect a toxic attitude, we’ll let them know. It’s a lot easier to do it when the relationship is beginning than when we’re already immersed in it.

If there’s no other way and we’re already deep in the relationship, the best thing to do is leave the relationship. We know that this can seem drastic; leaving at the first sign of a problem is drastic, but it’s the best way to give ourselves time to reflect.

When we make this decision it’s important to cut all communication, it’s a time to be with ourselves. We should make the most of this time to think without any distractions about what the relationship with this person brings to our life. Reflecting on all its aspects, both the positives and the negatives; and pondering whether it’s worth continuing the relationship.

need of a toxic relationship

The need of the other person

Leaving a toxic person can be as complicated as being in a relationship with them. In many cases they’re unlikely to leave us alone. Assuring us they’ve changed, they’ve understood what they did wrong and promising us that it won’t happen again.

Believing them or not is a question for you and you alone. We know it’s easy to get back together with an ex but you must be careful with this type of person, it’s easy for them to lie about the changes they’ve made and try to recuperate the relationship from the point where you left it.

And, curiously, toxic people are, in many cases, needy types from a sentimental viewpoint. The relationship rules their world. They need the other person, but they think that the best way to keep them by their side, is to make them as dependent as they are.

Because of this they need attention, because they confuse dependency with love, the more they are needed, the more they feel love and the more they show love. So, if we don’t show the same level of commitment that they do, they won’t be satisfied. And in general it’s never enough, so the best thing to do is to look for professional help or leave the relationship, because it’s not going to do us any good.

Toxic people are all around us, it’s possible that we will meet one, but it doesn’t have to be a drama, it’s always possible to carry on with our lives.

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How to recognize a toxic relationship
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How to recognize a toxic relationship
Finding a partner or being in a stable relationship: both are processes full of obstacles, one of the worst of them is how to recognize a toxic relationship
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