There are many different types of relationships, including romantic, friendly, familial, professional, community, and online. Regardless of the type of relationship, each has great potential to be unhealthy and toxic. The word toxic has become a buzzword in modern society — but what does it mean? Further, what are the signs of a toxic relationship?

According to Merriam Webster, toxic means “extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful.” People use the word to describe relationships sometimes because they are literally like poison in someone’s life. It is normal for people to struggle to some degree with unhealthy behaviors and attitudes, but it is key to be aware that some behaviors are beyond normal and can be very harmful.

The problem is that people do not often know that relationships are this unhealthy unless another person points it out to them, or it becomes too painful to ignore. It is important to review the various signs that indicate that a relationship is toxic to know if it is time to end it or set boundaries. It is not good when these behaviors happen once, but when these behaviors continue, it becomes harmful to remain in the relationship.

Signs of a Toxic Relationship


Lies and other forms of deceit are one of the worst signs of a toxic relationship. Trust is one of the basic building blocks of good relationships according to the Relationship Attachment Model. Where there are lies and secrets, there is no trust. Lies cannot be tolerated in healthy relationships. People need to be open and honest as much as possible. When someone is lied to repeatedly, they will often stop trusting others and never believe anything they are told.


When trust has been built and then broken, people often feel betrayed. This could be a secret shared or infidelity. Any form of betrayal can break a relationship. Forgiveness is always possible in any of these scenarios, but when betrayal is repetitive, it can destroy a person’s sense of safety and self-worth in relationships. Once one has lost the ability to rely on and trust another, they can often put up a wall of “protection” in their lives, keeping other future relationships at bay.


To manipulate is to change by artful or unfair means to serve one’s purpose, according to Merriam-Webster. Some people are very manipulative. They can twist a story or a situation to lead the other person to feel a certain way or believe something that is not true.

An example would be if a man works late and his wife is upset about it. He could twist the story to make it seem like he has done nothing wrong, that she should be thankful for how hard he is working for the family. There are many examples of what this could look like, but the idea is just simply that one person manipulates a situation to get what they want, despite how it affects another person.


Some people are controlling over other’s time, resources, home, job, and other things. This control can get out of hand, like telling a person they can’t hang out with friends or not allowing one’s partner to know anything about the finances. One could dictate the family schedule or be obsessive about the cleanliness of the house. Some personalities are more prone to be controlling, but it can get out of hand quickly.


Selfish behavior is focused only on what is best for a person and not what is good for others. People who are selfish always pick the restaurants they want to go to without caring about the others’ wishes. These are people who only care about their time and not others’, people who make plans based only on what they want to do. Selfishness can destroy relationships over time.


Sexual, physical, spiritual, and emotional abuse are more common in relationships that people will admit. These are things that should never be tolerated, but these are often situations that are most difficult to leave. When someone is hurting you, remember to seek out help from a professional or law enforcement to be able to get out.


This is when someone is a master of deception and manipulation in a way that is meant to make another person dependent on him or her. It is a form of psychological abuse where one makes another question his or her sanity and perception of reality. An example would be if a wife cheats on her husband, and then she makes him believe that the whole thing was his fault.

Another example could be if a family goes bankrupt due to dad’s gambling problem, and he makes mom think that it was her that drove him to gamble. The goal of this behavior is to gain power over another person.


Some put up walls when feeling uncomfortable or hurt, and this withdrawal can even lead to the ending of relationships. It is not healthy to pull away when a situation needs to be resolved. The withdrawal will not solve any problems, and it only puts wedges between people. Constant withdrawal and pulling away from any conflict can be very toxic and hurtful to others.


This behavior is when a person depends on another for their happiness, enabling addictive and harmful behavior in order to keep them around. Codependent people may lie for their loved ones and friends to “protect” them. They may repeatedly bail a person out of jail or financial binds. They will go to great ends to “save” or protect these people because their identity is wrapped in this relationship.

Lack of support

If someone does not support another person’s dreams, values, and goals, then they can be a hindrance in that person’s life. This could also include not defending another when hearing someone else talk badly about them or never being interested in asking about things that may be important to that person.

Poor communication

Poor communication could be bad listening skills, failure to listen, yelling, name-calling, making assumptions, interrupting, expecting others to “mind-read,” and using a disrespectful tone of voice. Engaging in constant conflict could be another example of poor communication. When people cannot communicate respectfully and effectively, healthy relationships are not possible. This type of communication can only make relationships worse.


Bitterness, growing resentment, and unforgiveness are the opposite of love. Love holds no records of wrongs, and bitterness does the opposite. When someone hurts you, the pain can be terrible. People who do not hold to Christian values do not often see the importance of forgiveness. When one wrongs them, they lose complete trust, and in extreme cases, cut people out of their lives with little chance of redemption.

Though all relationships have ups and downs, toxic relationships are consistently draining and unpleasant. The negative moments outweigh the positive moments in these situations. They can be physically and emotionally draining for all parties.

Though no relationship is perfect and without its troubles, toxic relationships cannot be ignored. It is time to walk away from a relationship when these behaviors continue and do not improve. It also could be time to walk away if the person exhibiting these behaviors is not willing to get professional help.

Other types of strict boundaries can be put into place by communicating directly and assertively to the person displaying toxic behavior. You can say something like, “You can’t speak to me like that” or “Do not blame this one me. It is not my fault.”

Other ideas could be “I won’t tolerate this treatment anymore,” “You need to get help,” or “my opinion matters, too.” The goal is to show yourself enough respect to stand up to another person, and if you are the person with the toxic behavior, committing to seek professional help and make the necessary changes.

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