signs of a toxic relationship

Are You In A Toxic Relationship?

Relationships are so wonderfully complicated aren’t they? 

We spend our whole lives believing that a partner is the key to our happiness when the real answer is quite different.  

Another person can’t make you happy, they can only complement your existing happiness.  

Funny in 1956 and funny today.

And trying to make yourself happy is the real question in life most of should focus our efforts.  Then when we at least have an idea on how to get there…sure, go ahead and share the journey with someone worthwhile. 

Unfortunately thanks to:

  • Hollywood and Bollywood, 
  • pop culture, 
  • the rise of social media
  • hookup culture
  • the cloud of comparisons the internet has to offer

we’re all realizing that true love is a lot less Cinderella and a lot more Gone Girl meets My Crazy Ex Girlfriend. 

Guys are stupid, women are crazy and women are stupid and guys are crazy.  

While there might be someone for everyone, there isn’t everyone for someone and a lot of people end up in relationships that are far from ideal. 

I’ve been there and chances are if you’re reading this you might have ended up in similar territory.  Insecurity in a relationship are normal but when insecurities define the relationships…boy oh boy.

Toxic behavior, toxic love and toxic relationships get thrown around a lot these days on toxic Twitter, so lets try to tackle at least one of them.

Even if you’re the most normal, clean cut, honest and sincere person on Earth…chances are, you’ll probably fall into a toxic relationship at least once in your life.

What is a Toxic Relationship?

They’re lots of definitions of what a toxic relationship is, but unfortunately just like the word “shaming” has been used and abused online, every single argument or fight isn’t grounds for the Toxic Relationships awards. (Can we call these the Toxies?!?)  

Your doctor telling you that you’re too overweight isn’t fat shaming, and every fight with your girlfriend isn’t grounds for toxic behavior.

All couples fight, all have disagreements and and anything worth doing requires commitment, sacrifice and effort.  

However, when it’s more trouble than it’s worth and you spend more time walking on eggshells in fear of pissing the other person off, well…you might just be in a toxic relationship.  Constant fighting in a relationship is also dangerous if it hints at something deeper than just “You didn’t make the bed!”

For the purposes of this post:

A toxic relationship is any romantic relationships in which two people are constantly fighting, controlling or trying to compete with one another.  Or in simpler terms, a toxic relationship is one in which there is no respect for one or both partners. 

What Isn’t a Toxic Relationship? 

If you truly love and admire your partner and think that you’re blessed to have found your soulmate, chances are you’re not in a toxic relationship.  

Most happy marriages (which doesn’t seem to be the majority mind you based on 50% divorce rates) have squabbles and the occasional volcanic eruption, but for the most part are based on respect for the individual and the overall goals of the couple and their families. 

Yes, love can fade, mishaps happen, life has stress and things can be unpredictable.  Money, the news, families and personalities can all clash.

But if you in your heart of hearts have unconditional love for your partner the way you do for your mom or siblings, you’re probably not in “toxic relationship” even though the fights are getting a little too frequent.

Not all bad relationships are toxic but I’m pretty sure all toxic relationships are bad. 

Signs of A Toxic Relationship

If you’re unsure if you’re just “going through a rough patch” and don’t want to quit when it counts, I totally get it.  Nobody wants to risk their future on challenging times and there is no guarantee other relationships won’t have similar issues. 

If however you’re really pulling your hair out and this is starting to feel like more trouble than it’s worth…well, read on and see if all of this feels a little too familiar. 

1. First Reaction When They Call

One of the first signs of an unhealthy relationship starts at the most basic level…communication.

When your phone rings and you see that it’s him or her, are you easy, neutral or excited? Or is your first thought…”FU*K!”  

If the latter, well, starting short and sweet…you know that’s probably not a good thing. 

It’s fine if you’re a texter and she’s a caller or vice versa, but simple communication need not be so stressful. 

Side Note: If you have a friend or sibling who you think is in a bad relationship, notice how their facial expressions change when they answer a partner’s phone call.  

2. The Past is Always In The Present

  • You dated that person, what were you thinking!  
  • You liked my cousin or best friend first! 
  • You slept with so many people before you knew me.  
  • You’re just like your father.  
  • Your mom doesn’t like me. 
  • You’re not over your ex. 

Sound familiar? 

History is great to learn lessons for the future, but unfortunately in modern romance it also sometimes becomes part of the present. 

In many relationships a guy might like a girl because she’s this super hot dancer or model or whatever, and then never let it go that she always had romantic options and you know, took advantage of them. 

Or a girl might be in love with some Don Juan playboy, then go bonkers with insecurity and doubt from all his female friends.  

It’s totally human to have jealousy and insecurity, but if you jump into something or someone for the wrong reasons those things don’t just vanish with time.  Be honest about yourself and your relationships, which leads me to my next point. 

3. There Is No Respect for Him or Her

My mom says this to me all the time and I thought it was just typical auntie speak so I rolled my eyes throughout my teens and twenties when she’d preach it.  But now it makes so much sense. 

It really just boils down to respect. 

Think about it. 

Have you ever heard someone say “Man I love him so much.  Oh but I don’t respect him?!?”  

Let’s be honest…we all have friends who marry the first person they meet or hookup with despite a million red flags.  Maybe that’s you?  

You’re scared to be alone, or you think you’ll never find someone else again.  I get it.  

Starting over is scary.   But so is quitting your job to pursue your passion or starting a business.  But people do it all the time.  

If you never really respected the person beyond the first hookup, well, this is like building a foundation that’s ready to crumble. Other ways to see if you have a respect problem:

  • If you think you’re a hot shot at your tech job and her social media job is BS, chances are you have zero respect for your partners professions.  
  • If you’re a doctor and he’s a nurse, ditto.  
  • If he’s a comedian and you’re an investment banker, don’t pretend like you admire his early hustle when deep down you’re waiting for him to return to the corporate world. 
  • If your family is loaded and his parents are lower middle class, and you secretly never want to visit their house or bring them around…well, I mean…come on. 

Respect is such a simple thing, but it’s often overlooked due to physical attraction or insecurities.  

Don’t let it happen to you.  

Respecting a man or woman doesn’t just mean opening the door for them or paying the bill sometimes.  It means you look up to them (or evenly) and want to share this journey called life together. It means you have partners you admire and qualities you know will also make you a better person and vice versa. 

4. You’d Break Up, But You Don’t Want To Be Alone

I don’t understand why it’s so hard to admit “I’m lonely.” 

We’re all lonely bro. 

Sure, it might have taken you 25 years to get that first human to touch your lips, but so what? It also took you 22 years to get a paycheck, or an MBA, or a flight overseas. 

I also understand that maybe you’re 34 and you’re not going to meet another guy tomorrow who will then be ready to have kids by 36. 

But again, people do it all the time. 

And you know what’s worse than being single at 35 with no kids and a ticking clock? 

Being single at 45 with the same situation. 

So why do you want to double down on a losing bet? Marriage and kids ain’t gonna solve this headache Sharon. 

Also, while it might have taken you years to get comfortable with your toxic ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, trust me, as you get older, it thankfully gets way easier to know if someone is right for you. 

The best part of bad relationships is that they may not teach you what you want, but they do teach you what they don’t want.  

And using that lens is a surprisingly effective way to clear through the modern dating clutter to find someone who really makes you feel happier again. (Not happy in general, that’s all you fam). 

If you’re 40 and realizing this isn’t going anywhere, then:

  • Cut the cord (e.g. End it)
  • Hit the gym (we all need to go).
  • Sign up for the apps (online dating is now just dating)
  • Be honest about what you’re looking for.
  • Go On dates (get ready for tens or even hundreds of awkward encounters)
  • Ignore your ex’s hobbies on social media and let them make a fool of themselves.
  • Get to know yourself again. (hardest on this list)
  • Embrace boredom and being alone.
The truth here is so scary.

It won’t be easy, but take it from someone who has done all of the above it will probably be one of the best phases of your life in hindsight. 

5. You Keep Track of Everything

Scorecards are great for competitions, but unfortunately relationships aren’t basketball games and keep the shots on the court. 

I don’t know who has paid for dinner more between my brother and I, yet in toxic relationships this is the first quarter in which people start keeping score. Then it moves into things like:

  • I helped you get that job. 
  • Who connected you with that vendor? 
  • I fixed your dad’s garage. 
  • I made dinner last night, last month or last year. 

I’m not saying you should pay for everything in a relationship (one of my biggest peeves is that) but when you keep score of who does what for the other person it says a few things about your situation.   One, you’re helping with expectation (a problem most of us have) and two, the score says that one of you is winning. 

Winning what exactly? 

Ahh, so you’re comparing yourself to them.  One of you needs to have the upper hand. What else is going on? 

It’s normal to let these things come up (I mean, if you bought your wife a car for her birthday and got a cake at yours, sure, go ahead and feel a little angry) but when you track EVERYTHING CONSTANTLY is when problems arise.  Didn’t I make dinner for you last month? How can you say I never cook? 

Having conversations like these on a weekly basis are treading into toxic territory! 

6. One Person is Too Dependent 

I just love him too much. 

What does that even mean? 

I see it all the time however, especially in situations when one highly independent person dates or marries a highly dependent person. 

The independent person likes to continue to go out with his boys (or girls), hang out with colleagues and travel for work. The dependent person has morphed his or her world to match that of their partners. 

Problems ahead? You betcha. 

Now one person feels suffocated, while the other continues to feel neglected. That turns into arguments, fights and resentment. 

Every relationship needs balance.  

On the flip side both of you shouldn’t be doing your own things all the time and only meet at night or for sleeping, but make sure you get somebody who is on your wavelength. 

Whether that be communication styles and frequency (more on that below) or on simply existing together, most healthy relationships are ones in which differences can be celebrated rather than highlighted.  

It’s good your partner wants to go on that Yoga retreat for 5 days to improve his or her mental and physical well being, so rather than go nuts wondering why they don’t want you to come (Do you even Yoga bro?) appreciate the effort and let them shine?

Everybody agrees on a balanced life, so why can’t we agree on a balanced relationship?  

7. They Can Never Be Happy For You

  • You got promoted at work? Nice, so did your boss quit?
  • Netflix called for your TV show script? I mean, wow, I heard they’re super competitive, don’t get your hopes up!
  • Why do you even work with her? She’s such a bi***.  (But you always thought your boss was fine?). 
  • Your friends wedding was nice, but was it really required to spend so much money?

Attitudes are contagious and so is negative thinking.  

Just like one slice of pizza can ruin an entire day’s workout, so to can on 30 minute rant affect your entire outlook on work or family.  

Misery loves company, and if you found yourself younger being so happy go lucky and now jaded and resentful, this might be your relationships. (It could also just be the career grind as you get older, to be fair).  

In relationships, two negatives don’t make a positive but one negative definitely makes the whole thing negative!

I don’t know the science behind negative people, but it’s easy to spot genuine excitement versus resentment, jealousy or fear of you moving on.  You might be so excited you got that position you worked so hard for, but all they might hear is now you’ll have to travel more and meet other people.  

A good litmus test would be to share exciting news with your partner, and then share it with a friend completely unrelated to the accomplishment at hand. (e.g. If you passed your law exam, share it with your aunt or medical school friend).  

Isn’t it odd how your friend, family or acquaintance showed more excitement and sincerity than your husband or wife?

People who constantly belittle their partners, or even themselves are not the kind of toxic people you need in your life. Help them, or help yourself and move on.

The toxicity of our city…(System of Down reference anyone?) 

8. Controlling Relationships

You know what really grinds my gears? People who tell you where to go when they can’t even drive. 

In relationship speak, these are people who want to throw their weight around even when it’s not required. I don’t know what controlling behavior stems from, but I’m going to guess it has to do with insecurity and self doubt.

According to Psych Central: 

“Maybe people control because they are afraid of being abandoned. They don’t feel secure in their relationships and are often testing to see if they’re about to be betrayed. The paradox is that their behavior creates exactly what they fear the most.”

We see it all the time.  

  1. Your husband giving you career advice when he has no clue about your field.  
  2. You’re ok with the waiter taking five extra minutes to bring the water, but your spouse needs you to be just as irritated. 
  3. One of you has a headache, and now both of you better not go to that birthday party. 

Controlling behavior also stems from projection, in which maybe I never followed my dreams of starting a business so now I’ll be annoyed if you do.  We project our own insecurities and doubts on someone else and only feel validated when they have the same experience.  

How is that good for anyone? 

Read Next: Should You Date Someone Ten Years Older?

9. The Non Stop Messages

Radio was one of the earliest forms of modern communication.  Radio signals are made of radio raves. Earlier I said find someone who is on your wavelength.  

Coincidence? No wave! (ok sorry)

Point being, communication in relationships shouldn’t be so difficult.  Or at least day to day communication shouldn’t be this challenging. 

A good early sign for many relationships is if he or she is a constant effort on WhatsApp or texting.  You want to be at work (with it’s own stresses) uninterrupted and focused, but now you feel those 600 messages in your pocket. 

Uff, spare me the horror. 

If that kind of non stop, no time for anything else messaging is your cup of tea, then sure, find someone who is like that JUST AS MUCH.  But if not, live and let live? 

It only takes a second to plant a crappy thought in someone’s mind for the rest of the day, and renting out negative space in your mind’s real estate should warrant Park Avenue prices. 

I have friends and family who purposely put off talking to their spouse or consciously avoid 100 messages until they’re ready to tackle the whole thing on a coffee break, but again, why let it get to that? 

Sometimes silence makes the loudest noise, and true love, living together and companionship is knowing that life is not just movies, meals and talking all day.  Learn to appreciate (and value) your time away as that’s what makes your time together important.

You worked hard at school and work to be this well rounded individual that was so attractive to your partner in the first place, now why do they want to be front and center and make the rest of that so difficult? 

Focus on the quality of your communication, built on trust and respect, versus the quantity and frequency.  

10. The Social Media Whiner

Does your partner run to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to complain about “some people” every time you have some argument?

Do they constantly put up selfies of themselves looking for comments/feedback (especially when times are tough) to remind you that they’re so popular? 

Are they constantly looking for validation on whatever opinion they’re currently holding on to? 

I feel bad for people who air their dirty laundry in public because not only is it difficult for the other partner who is meant to see it, it’s also letting everyone else know that tough times are aplenty.  That continues to chip away at respect, doubt, insecurity and the rest of the toxic relationship cocktail. 

What did these people do before social media? What will they do after as organic reach continues to dwindle?

Also, if you hate your relationship so much, why don’t you do something about it? Oh that’s right…you won’t…you just want to make both of your lives miserable. 

While this particular reason might not stand alone as the litmus test of toxic behavior, it’s not a positive sign.  You might find it cute or funny at first but we wary of things to come!

11. You Can’t Be Alone, Together. 

A lot of girls might roll their eyes on this one, especially coming from a guy and say things like “If you want to be alone all the time, why not just be single?” 

Fair, but the news has never been stronger that we all need mental health, mindfulness and peace of mind now more than ever. 

Not to mention, willpower is limited but distractions are infinite.  Every time you put down your book or laptop to fight argue with your partner, you slowly deplete the dedication to finish that book or work (or even a TV show you were looking forward to watch). 

The average person sees thousands of signals, advertisements, updates, messages and more EVERY DAY.  

We need to learn how to have time to yourself.  And just like in relationships, yes, time with yourself should be quality time. 

Some days (not all) you do want to watch ESPN repeats while she wants to watch a romantic comedy.  Sometimes she may want to read a book after dinner while you actually want to Netflix and chill.  

Being together means well…being…and if you can’t coexist without putting pressure on the other that kinda sucks.  

Set aside time for the activities that mater and sure, be willing to improvise.  

Some days you just really need to cuddle it up and be pampered, but we’re all adults and we’re all trying to navigate this thing called life.  In college you and your bestie could just faff away on your phones all night and organically just break out into convo as and when, so why can’t you and your hubby do the same? 

Read Next: Who Makes You Mediocre?

Read Next: Nice Guys Finish Last But That’s the Point


You can’t help who you love, but you also need to learn to love yourself.  Being self centered gets a bad reputation because there’s a thin line between it being self centered and being selfish.

But if the list above made sense…well, you deserve better and you’ll realize it as you start taking care of yourself.   If you’re also looking for signs that your ex is miserable without you, you probably have it if you finally understand some of the tell tale-signs of a toxic person.

Disrespect, anxiety, always asking for help and advise could all be signs you’re in a bad relationship, or at the very least dealing with a toxic person.

Many of us are taught to be nice, treat others well and always putting folks before ourselves. Unfortunately this leads to mismatches in behaviors and expectations and before you know it, you don’t understand how you’re such a jerk and the mayor of Toxic town. 

If your relationship is more stress than it’s worth (and be honest if you’re just being a lazy baby) and you know in your heart of hearts a huge weight off your shoulders would be lifted if you just didn’t have it…well, you have your answer.  

Now go be an adult and make the changes necessary to fix your situation.

Sanjay Manaktala is a stand up comedian, host of the Birdy Num Num podcast, author of My Beta Does Computer Things and digital content creator.