Home » Blogs » Relationship Corner » Unhealthy Relationships: 16 Signs You Are in a Toxic Relationship
Relationship Corner
with Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

Unhealthy Relationships: 16 Signs You Are in a Toxic Relationship

signs you're in a toxic relationshipMost relationships begin with hope, anticipation, excitement, and optimism. The thought of two people sharing and building a life together can be exhilarating. Most of us enter into romantic relationships with ideas about what we do and do not want based upon on our own family relationships, what we’ve seen in the media, and our own past relationship experiences. Holding on to unrealistic expectations and inability to identify toxic changes in a current relationship can cause a relationship to be unsatisfying and to eventually fail. Healthy relationships consist of both partners respecting and accepting normal changes that can occur in relationships. The needs of one or both parties are subject to change during the course of the relationship. The intensity of love and passion can change with time. Future plans may not be as clear as they once were. In order for most relationships not only to succeed but thrive, partners must accept individual differences without entering a relationship with the primary purpose of changing the other person. In healthy relationships both parties are not only allowed but encouraged to express their personal wants and needs.

Unlike healthy relationships, unhealthy relationships are rigid and inflexible. The parties are unable to adapt to changes in the environment. One or both parties do not accept or respect the individual differences of the other partner. Respect does not extend in both directions. The parties are not able to express themselves without fear of negative consequences. One of the most damaging aspects of being in an unhealthy relationship is the inability of one or both parties to identify and acknowledge the negative effects the relationship has had on them. Too often, those on the outside looking in can see before the person in the relationship can that it is unhealthy. Failure to identify sufficient problems in a relationship can create feelings of anger and resentment when confronted with evidence from loved ones that the relationship is unhealthy. Some people in unhealthy relationships may even isolate themselves from their loved ones once confronted with examples of the relationship being unhealthy or harmful.

Here are 16 Signs That You Are in a Toxic Relationship

  • One or both parties are unwilling or unable to accept differences. In order for a relationship to be successful partners must acknowledge and accept individual differences without trying to change the other.
  • The relationship itself is inflexible. The relationship does not accept and adapt to changes, i.e., environment, finances, partner health, etc.
  • Expression of needs and desires is discouraged. Unhealthy relationships typically consist of one party having the opportunity to express his or her desires while the other partner’s expression of needs and desires is discouraged or ignored.
  • Blaming or failure to take ownership of relationship issues. Each partner in a relationship holds some ownership regarding the failure of a relationship. However, those that are unhealthy usually involve blaming one partner for the problems in the relationship.
  • The relationship is plagued with insults. One partner or both is unable to communicate dislike or frustrations without insulting the other.
  • Partners do not incorporate honesty in their relationship. Rather than being transparent despite the unpleasantness that can occur with honesty, one or both partners may engage in dishonest behavior in an attempt to satisfy their own personal needs.
  • Being selfish. When pronounced selfishness exists within a relationship, one or both partners may do or say things that will only benefit themselves. Selfishness prevents compromise, thus failing to address the needs of both partners.
  • ;Manipulating behavior. One partner or both engages in manipulating or coercive behavior to get what he or she wants without regard for how his or her actions may impact the other.
  • Emotional abuse. One partner or both consciously and actively hurt or attempts to hurt the other’s feelings. Emotional abuse is typically done on purpose so one or both partners can feel the pain the other or both are already experiencing
  • Fighting the same fight. Unhealthy relationships are unable to adequately resolve conflict. They constantly revisit past issues or problems without resolution.
  • Physical abuse. Partners are unable to resolve conflict in the relationship without resulting to physical violence. Physical violence in the relationship often is attributed to inability or unwillingness to express dissatisfaction or frustration with one’s partner or the relationship.
  • Poor communication. Partners are unable or unwilling to discuss issues in the relationship and develop ways of addressing those issues.
  • Cheating. One partner or both desires to or engages in intimate acts with someone other than their partner. Parties in an unhealthy relationship may feel the need to be with someone else so he or she can get their needs met, rather than facing the challenges, feelings of inadequacy, etc., in their current relationship.
  • Intense feeling of inadequacy. One partner or both may as if they “aren’t enough” individually but feel they need to be validated by someone else. One partner or both may feel the need to seek and secure approval from the other partner in order to feel good about themselves.
  • Masking. One partner or both wears a mask during the relationship to gain acceptance or love without understanding or feeling they deserve these things based upon who they really are.
  • One partner or both feel as if they can never do anything right in the relationship. Often unhealthy relationships consist of one or both parties failing to properly see what the other has brought and continues to bring to the relationship. Negative thinking includes believing he or she is the only one holding the relationship together.

Most of us enter into a relationship with hopes and dreams about our relationship, planning for a shared future. However, for most of us there will be both internal and external changes that require us to adapt both individually and within the relationship in order to remain healthy and sustainable. Relationships that are unable to adapt and adjust to internal and external changes are not permitted to grow, but remain fixed in a time and environment that no longer exists. Like most things that are not able to grow and thrive, failure quickly follows. Although change is difficult for a lot of people, it is often necessary to promote happiness.


Unhealthy Relationships: 16 Signs You Are in a Toxic Relationship

Bates-Duford, Ph.D., LMFT

My name is Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford PhD, LMFT, CRS, CMFSW, BCPC I have a PhD in forensic Psychology specializing in familial dysfunctions and traumatic experience. I work with individuals and families struggling with familial dysfunctions, trauma, rape, and incest. I also have a masters in Marriage, Couples, & Family therapy. I am a certified relationship specialist with American Psychotherapy Association (#15221). I have more than 15 years in the field of mental health, relationships, and behavioral sciences.

28 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Bates-Duford, T. (2016). Unhealthy Relationships: 16 Signs You Are in a Toxic Relationship. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Sep 2016
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.