10 Signs of A Toxic Relationship: Spot The Red Flags

— by Dr. Sandip Roy.

  • “A toxic relationship can be like a ticking time bomb, waiting to explode at any moment,” says Lisa Concepción, narcissist abuse recovery coach.
  • “It is better for someone to break your heart once by leaving your life, than for them to stay in your life and break your heart continually,” says Terry Mark.

Did you hear about the silent partner—the one who talks the bare minimum, never disagrees, and does all that’s needed for the relationship?

Such a person feels lonely inside that relationship. Don’t let yourself sink into that swamp.

Find the early signs of a toxic relationship and either get out of it or ask them to change their attitude and behavior before you become that silent partner.

10 Signs of A Toxic Relationship

1. They Dismiss Your Feelings As Invalid.

A key early sign of a toxic relationship is the increasing lack of empathy and support from your partner.

You find they are dismissive of your feelings and needs. They show little to no interest in your life outside the relationship.

You often think, “Am I doing the relationship right?”

You feel unimportant, unheard, and severely lonely. And when you protest, you get accused of being oversensitive or overemotional.

“Toxic people … are blissfully unaware of the negative impact that they have on those around them.”

— Travis Bradberry

[See the 20 red flags of a narcissist.]

2. They Emotionally Leave The Relationship.

An emotionally withdrawn partner stops engaging in the relationship. They become distant, indifferent, and unresponsive to your emotional needs.

They are just not emotionally available for you. Your joys don’t excite them. Your sadness doesn’t move them.

They stop making plans together or cancel the plans you make. They don’t communicate as much as they used to. Often, they won’t even respond to remove your confusion.

You feel like you are the only one invested in the relationship, unsure of where you stand.

  • They take your efforts and kindness for granted.
  • You feel trapped. No matter what you do, it’s never enough.
  • They act like they are entitled to everything you do for them.
  • They act out of duty or expectation of rewards, rather than love.

To numb the pain, you become an emotional zombie — expressionless, emotionless, and detached from your feelings. 

Early Signs of A Toxic Relationship
A toxic relationship can turn you into an emotional zombie (Photo by RODNAE Productions, Pexels)

3. They Hollow Out Your Self-Confidence.

Another early sign of a toxic relationship is toxic communication.

They poke holes in your every opinion and idea, constantly criticize what you do, and make you doubt your abilities and self-worth.

Worse, many of them reveal the real sadist inside:

  • They feel a secret satisfaction from creating chaos in your life.
  • They push your buttons to provoke panic or rage.
  • They can lead you down into harm’s way.

When you resist, they escalate the insults — publicly calling you useless and worthless, who deserves to be beaten.

They can make you feel like a helpless animal trapped in an electrified cage.

The difference between healthy and unhealthy love | Katie Hood | TED

4. They Become Hostile, Cruel, And Abusive.

Toxic relationships can escalate into abuse—verbal, emotional, and physical.

  • They can become unimaginably cruel and harmful without a warning.
  • They can use anger, shame, and even alcohol or drugs to subdue you.
  • They can hurt you so much that you may lose all your hopes of getting out or getting better.

Toxic lovers can even use sexual abuse as a way to punish the other person. It may include coercion, non-consensual acts, and pressure to engage in unnatural carnal acts.

The toxic person you love is probably damaged beyond repair. Don’t try to fix them, or mistakenly think your love can fix them.

5. They Seize Your Autonomy And Freedom.

Controlling behavior is another early sign of a toxic relationship.

They control your autonomy and freedom.

  • They try to dictate your actions, decisions, and opinions.
  • They can show they own you, and try to isolate you from friends and family.
  • It’s not too alien to see them controlling whom you meet, what you wear, or how you spend your time.
  • They feed you bad things about yourself, lessen your achievements, and make you feel like a “loser” — to whittle down your self-worth and confidence.

All to make you do what they want.

This bad relationship can make you doubt everything good you ever felt about yourself.

“Toxic relationships are like a cancer that slowly eats away at you.”

—Dr. Ramani Durvasula

6. They Turn Jealous, Envious, And Resentful.

Jealousy, envy, and resentment are common in toxic relationships, especially in extreme or unjustified ways.

Your partner may become possessive, envious of your success and achievements, or jealous of your other relationships.

When you sit down and think about it, you find that most of their opinions and judgments of you aren’t relevant to your life. That person is simply using jealousy and possessiveness to control you.

Over time, you see the relationship getting worse and worse, snowballing into resentment and hostility. You do not realize that their behavior is most likely a projection of their own nature.

the way peeople treat you

7. They Lie, Cheat, Gaslight, & Triangulate.

“No matter how beautiful a lie is, in the end it hurts even more than the truth would have done.”

— Terry Mark

If your partner starts to lie or deceive you, it can be a sign of a toxic relationship.

This can include half-truths, outright lies, gaslighting, triangulation, and cheating.

Gaslighting involves spinning intricate tales to make you doubt your reality. Triangulation involves pitting others against you or creating rivalry.

Even when you catch and confront them, they can scream at you for being “always suspicious.”

So, you get punished for pointing out what they did wrong.

“A toxic relationship can be like quicksand, slowly pulling you under.”

— Terri Orbuch

8. They Cut You Off From Your Loved Ones.

A toxic partner may try to isolate you from your friends and family. They might discourage or prevent you from maintaining your support network.

They can make you feel like you don’t need anyone else but them, or that your loved ones are not good for you.

Their excessive demands on your time and attention make you feel guilty for spending time with others.

You feel helpless when others ask you for your opinions. You can’t make your own choices and decisions without being validated by your partner; they made you codependent.

This leaves you vulnerable, yet unable to share your struggles with others.

You get pushed into intense loneliness

Sadness, fear, alertness, and hostility form a feedback loop, reinforcing each other, as this study found.

9. You Are Always Walking On Eggshells.

This is a big red flag.

Walking on eggshells means constantly anxious about upsetting your partner or triggering a negative reaction.

This emotional hypervigilance is a high-stress state. You are always on guard, preparing yourself to deal with their anger, punishment, or harm at your slightest fault.

The perpetual threat of danger does not let you relax or be yourself. Your every effort is guided by one thought, “Will he approve this?”

You lose trust in yourself, and even in the very idea of love.

Love should not make you feel like walking on eggshells - PIN

10. They Keep Justifying Their Toxic Behavior.

Toxic partners blame other people or external circumstances for their mistakes.

They often don’t admit they did something wrong and even try to justify it.

They can create elaborate dramas to make themselves look spotless while pinning the blame on others.

Worse, it can rub off on you. You may find yourself making excuses for your partner’s toxic behavior.

You may try to justify their cruel actions or blame yourself for their aggressive behavior.

What To Do When In A Toxic Relationship?

Even when you keep wishing you were out of the toxic person’s reach, imagining life without them can feel overwhelming.

Here are some steps you can take:

1. Record the abuse

  • Controlling behaviors
  • Criticism, belittling, insults
  • Show of excessive jealousy and possessiveness
  • Attempts to isolate you from your friends and family
  • Any abuse that made you uncomfortable or ashamed

Seek help immediately at the first sign of physical violence. Contact your friends, family, colleagues, anti-abuse social groups, and legal authorities.

2. Develop a safety plan

If you are in immediate danger, call emergency services right away.

If you are not in immediate danger but still feel unsafe, develop a safe getaway plan:

  • Identify a safe place to go if you need to leave quickly
  • Create a code word to use with friends or family if you need help
  • Keep important documents and belongings in a safe place

3. End the relationship

You have to give up on people sometimes, not because you don’t care, but because they don’t.

A breakup can seem frightful:

On one side lies many fears — handling life’s challenges without them, autophobia, uncertainty about finding another person, people rejecting you, and financial hardships.

On the other side lies your safety and independence.

  • Stop hoping things will change for the better; they won’t.
  • Be clear and direct about your decision to end the relationship.
  • Set physical and behavioral boundaries and strictly enforce them.
  • Stay in constant touch with your support groups — friends, family, local authorities.
  • Get a restraining order if they violate your space or are “seen” around your whereabouts.

Not playing is the best way to win with a toxic partner. Give them the “gray rock” treatment until you have a getaway plan.

4. Seek Professional Help

If you are struggling to cope with a toxic relationship, seek professional help.

  • A therapist can provide emotional retraining and guidance as you go into the healing process.
  • They can help you see patterns in your past relationships and break those patterns moving forward.

It is never selfish to protect and prioritize yourself. You deserve your own love, care, and compassion.

“The most important thing you can do in a toxic relationship is to put yourself first. That means setting boundaries, seeking support, and taking steps to protect yourself from harm.” — Dr. Ramani Durvasula

  • Trust your instincts: If something doesn’t feel right in your relationship, it probably isn’t.
  • Don’t ignore red flags: Early signs of a toxic relationship can escalate quickly if left unchecked.
  • Notice if your partner treats you differently: This can be an accurate sign of their true character.
  • Take care of yourself: Prioritize your own well-being and don’t compromise your values or beliefs.

How To Know If It’s Time To Move On?

  1. You constantly think about the toxic person, always afraid of their wrath.
  2. Your attempts to change them add more stress and toxicity to your relationship.
  3. You believe you are not good enough, and that there is something wrong with you.
  4. You can’t bear how they make you feel, but you feel too helpless without them in your life.

“The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

— Maya Angelou

“You can’t change someone who doesn’t see an issue in their actions. You can only change how you react to them.”

 — Unknown

Final Words

From my clinical experience treating relationship abuse victims, I can tell you how to deal with a toxic person:

  • Do not try to make them see their faults
  • Do not ask them to change themselves
  • Do not get them to agree with you

You deserve a healthy, loving relationship. They are not your only option. So never let this person decide what you do with your life.

When you end this relationship, don’t feel guilty. You’re making your peace your priority. Your life is bigger than what they made you think.

Charles Orlando has a powerful message: “You don’t let go of a bad relationship because you stop caring about them. You let go because you start caring about yourself.”

√ Also Read: How To Quit A Toxic Relationship?

√ Please spread the word if you found this helpful.

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When it comes to mental well-being, you don't have to do it alone. Going to therapy to feel better is a positive choice. Therapists can help you work through your trauma triggers and emotional patterns.