4 Red Flags of Toxic Relationships

These signs should not be ignored when they are seen repeatedly.

Posted Feb 28, 2021 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina

  • Four damaging patterns of behavior of the toxic personality include:
  • You witness frequent aggressive behavior.
  • The person does not see your point of view; lacks empathy or remorse.
  • You are frequently manipulated and deceived.
  • The person does not believe that rules apply to them.

The concept of toxic personality is complex, and there are a number of behaviors that become harmful to a relationship when they occur regularly. Four of the most damaging patterns of behavior for relationships are: 1) Frequent aggressive behavior; 2) Lack of empathy or remorse; 3) Manipulation and deceit; 4) Problems with rules. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of harmful habits but a description of the most serious red flags for relationship distress.

1. Frequent aggressive behavior

  • You repeatedly witness aggressive behavior. This is probably the most obvious and also most dangerous sign of a toxic personality. Living with an angry person makes daily life unpredictable, highly stressful, and likely to be physically unsafe.

Although the aggression might not be directed at a partner early in the relationship, it is likely to become partner-directed at some point in time. This turning point often occurs after commitments are made, and it has become more difficult to separate. If you are feeling unsafe in your home, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

  • You frequently hear about angry feelings, which are out of proportion to the event that triggered them. Listening to another person’s angry feelings can become highly stressful, particularly if it happens almost daily.  
  • Your partner regularly ends arguments with threats of leaving or by walking away without agreeing to talk later. Or they allow arguments to continue for days without resolution. These are signs of a poor ability to regulate one’s own emotions, which is a critical skill for resolving conflicts in a constructive way.
  • You often feel like you’re walking on eggshells, with the fear of an angry reaction to a comment that was not meant to provoke. This uneasiness leads to the lack of genuine interactions because you will withhold certain things to prevent an angry outburst.
  • Your partner makes repeated accusations that you are somehow ruining their life or effectively blames you for their own problems. Each person must take responsibility for their own life choices.

2. Lack of empathy or remorse

  • Your partner is rarely able to share sadness when you experience disappointment or loss. For example, they might not be able to acknowledge grief when you lose a loved one.   
  • They are not able to see your point of view in a disagreement. Referred to as cognitive empathy, this means being able to say, “I can understand why you might feel that way about the situation.”
  • Your partner is not able to apologize and show genuine regret when their actions have upset you, regardless of whether they meant any harm.
  • They show no sense of guilt when they have clearly caused harm to you or others. A complete lack of capacity for remorse or guilty feelings is a serious sign of a toxic personality.

3. Manipulation and deceit

  • You are frequently deceived, either through outright lies or more subtle distortions of the truth. Gaslighting is one form of deceit that has now become familiar to many people. Essentially, gaslighting is communicating: “Forget what you saw and heard; this is the real story.” The facts are distorted or withheld to their advantage, leaving you questioning your own memory. This behavior destroys your trust in the other person and can even make you question your own sanity.

4. Problems with rules

  • Your partner requires that everything is done in the way that they deem to be acceptable and has no respect for your personal preferences. Often this comes across as overly controlling and perfectionistic behavior, which is other-focused. This is particularly harmful when they feel justified in having everything done their way or to their standards.
  • At the other extreme with regard to rules is the person who believes that the rules don’t apply to them; they feel superior and above the rules. Still more alarming is the person with a total disregard for rules and laws. This attitude is usual associated with criminal behavior and legal problems.

To sum up:

The four red flags noted here are relevant to relationship satisfaction and particularly to the risk of relationship crises. Any of these behaviors (except for physical aggression) might happen on occasion, such as when highly stressed or exhausted. Telling a lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, not showing empathy when exhausted, or wanting some things done in certain ways are all normal behaviors.

If you are living with someone who regularly shows any of these problematic behaviors, you are encouraged to talk with trusted family members, friends, and/or mental health professionals. Talking through these types of situations with someone who has your best interests in mind can provide the perspective and the support needed to cope in the best way possible. If you’re just starting a relationship with someone who demonstrates these behaviors, don’t ignore the red flags.

Facebook image: Gorynvd/Shutterstock