We as humans have a basic desire to be physically and emotionally close to others – it’s something we all need and crave. Unfortunately, this impulse to love and feel loved can often lead individuals into unhealthy and destructive relationships.

The term “toxic relationships” was initially used by Voices, The Journal of the American Academy of Psychotherapists in 1972 and refers to the desire that some people have to want to be with someone – often as a direct result of loneliness – no matter whether that individual is good for them and their health. They say that individuals in toxic relationships often have “deep resentment towards one another which they don’t want to reveal for the fear of being abandoned”. For these individuals, being in a toxic relationship is better than not being in a relationship at all.

Owing to this, it’s important to know what a toxic relationship is and to be able to identify the signs so that you don’t end up in one, and if you do you’re able to act appropriately.

It’s often thought that there are 3 kinds of relationships:

Good relationships

These relationships require very little work and effort to be maintained. Every relationship takes work, even when you’re truly compatible, and it’s without a doubt that maintaining a relationship requires effort from both sides. Even in good relationships, arguments can occur. Think about with friends and family; no matter how close you are or how much you like each other we still get into arguments with them from time to time whether it be about politics, a difference of opinion, or simply due to stress.

In good relationships, these arguments are worked through and often result in an even stronger relationship in the end. In all relationships, it’s important to be open, flexible, and to have an understanding of what the other person is experiencing. For those in good relationships, this is usually the case.

Challenging relationships

In these relationships, some work is definitely required and there are often challenges to work through, but these relationships are worth it in the end. In challenging relationships, just like good relationships, arguments can occur and, whilst they’re harder to work through, and more effort is needed, it’s often beneficial and worth it for both individuals in the end.

One example of a challenging relationship is long-distance relationships; they’re often difficult but both individuals have the same outcome they’re working towards and trust is present.

Toxic relationships

These relationships usually require a lot of effort and are often emotionally draining – they’re best avoided. There are several types of toxic relationships which will be explored later but, with all types, if it’s not recognized and if you don’t act appropriately then toxic relationships can cause emotional harm and be very draining.

While the ideal scenario would be to avoid toxic relationships altogether, in day-to-day life this isn’t as simple as it sounds. This is often because initially, the relationship may seem healthy and positive, but it can quickly develop into something unhealthy. If this is the case then it’s important to know the signs to look out for and to get yourself out of it.

Signs of a toxic relationship

Some of the key signs of a toxic relationship are if your partner:

  • Negatively impacts your self-esteem
  • Doesn’t support you
  • Causes you to have self-doubt
  • Makes you feel unsafe and insecure
  • Doesn’t listen to how you’re feeling, is unaware of your feelings, or disregards your feelings both at home or in public

Although individuals can also possess some positive traits in addition to the above, it’s important to think if your partner has any of the above characteristics. If so, it may be time to either put measures in place to improve your relationship or to end it.

Not all toxic relationships are the same but, according to Ralph Ryback, 5 core signs are thought to encompass most toxic relationships:

Constant critic

People in a toxic relationship find it extremely hard to distinguish between advice and criticism. The constant criticism makes the other individual feel worthless, and as if nothing they do is ever right or good enough, with the criticisms usually focusing on the person rather than the behavior. From the outside, it may be easy to see what’s happening but when you’re in a toxic relationship it can be very difficult to spot, and often you just continue to assume that you’re doing something wrong.


If a partner starts leaving rude, passive-aggressive notes around that house saying they’re fed up with you doing things then they may fall into this category as that’s a prime example of passive-aggressive behavior. With any issues, they’re difficult to approach which leaves you questioning what you did wrong, when it may be that you’ve done nothing wrong at all. Often passive-aggressive individuals will be sarcastic when you try to ask them straight up about the problem further enhancing your questioning of yourself.


While narcissism is a personality disorder, being in a relationship with a narcissist can be very difficult as the relationship often becomes very one-sided. They often look down on others and are virtually impossible to compromise with. Often lacking in empathy, they also often want to be the center of attention, making it virtually impossible for you to celebrate any of your own achievements (e.g. when it’s your night to celebrate your promotion they still try and make it all about them).


People with this characteristic don’t communicate properly and usually ignore any problems that are present. They don’t put much effort into the relationship and refuse to talk about serious things. As a result, things often get overlooked and usually become something bigger than initially because the longer it goes on the worse it gets. With communication being a vital factor for any healthy relationship, the lack of communication that evaders possess makes it very difficult to have a successful relationship with them.


Your partner doesn’t let you be yourself and doesn’t allow you to have any opinions of your own. They try to control and shame you, often resulting in a gradual decrease in self-esteem and worth for the other individual and therefore causing psychological manipulation.

If you or anyone you know is feeling unsafe in a toxic relationship, call 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 for TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, you can log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.

Fixing toxic relationships

Although you can’t change your partner and their behavior, you can change yours and how you approach the relationship.

One possible option is to confront your partner about their toxic behavior but this requires lots of confidence and belief that their behavior isn’t what you deserve. If they respond in a hostile way to the conversation and don’t think that they’re in the wrong, then perhaps it’s best to take a break from the relationship or maybe end it for good.

Often people stay in toxic relationships due to being co-dependant, often having low self-esteem and because they don’t want to be alone. If you’re experiencing low self-esteem Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend or Co-dependent No More by Melody Beatie are great books to read on the topic.

Maclynn Matchmaking

Here at Maclynn International, we combine psychological principles without a friendly and professional approach to carry out bespoke matchmaking. We help you figure out what you really want from a relationship and then help put the words into practice by hand-selecting matches from our private, offline network. For more information on our matchmaking services please enquire today – we look forward to hearing from you.