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51 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

Toxic connections ring multiple alarms, if partners can only hear them.

Key points

  • Various scientific models of relationships, including Emotion-Focused Therapy, inform which traits characterize toxic relationships.
  • Many relationships may display one or two "toxic" issues, but those that contain multiple toxic signs are headed for trouble.
  • Calling each other "crazy" is a bad sign for a relationship because it means both partners have written off the other's point of view.

My all-time most popular post on is about 50 signs of a healthy relationship. Today, we look at the flipside—warning signs of a toxic relationship. While many relationships may display one or two of these, toxic relationships will often feature multiple alarm bells. (Where I've written your partner, read it as you or your partner.)

Relationship Warning Signs

  1. You never turn to each other for emotional support. You look to other people first.
  2. Your partner actively tries to cut you off from your support network of friends and family.
  3. Your partner implies that you are stupid, or that they are "the smart one” in the relationship; they try to dissuade you from trying something new because “you probably won’t understand it.”
  4. Your partner doesn’t respect your answer when you say “no” to something.
  5. Your partner implies that they only value you for one thing, whether it be sex, your looks, or your ability to earn money.
  6. You can’t identify any ways you’ve positively influenced each other. For example, you haven’t adopted any of each other’s interests or taught each other any new skills.
  7. You can identify ways you've negatively influenced each other, particularly harmful habits like heavy drinking, laziness, or smoking.
  8. Your partner doesn’t make you feel good about your body; they point out your thinning hair or saggy underarm skin.
  9. You don’t have a sense of relationship security—you’ve broken up or almost broken up numerous times.
  10. You end up doing things you’re ashamed of in the course of interacting with each other, such as screaming at each other in front of your kids.
  11. Your partner is dismissive of your emotions, especially fear, such as when you say you’re scared because they drive too fast or erratically but they won’t slow down.
  12. Your partner involves you in unethical activities, such as lying on official forms you both sign.
  13. You feel worse about yourself as a person than when you started the relationship—you’re less confident and can see fewer positive qualities about yourself.
  14. You don’t feel able to get your partner’s attention when you want to talk about something important.
  15. Your partner mocks you, such as poking fun at your voice or facial expressions in a mean way.
  16. Your partner doesn’t seem interested when you experience success, or they belittle your success.
  17. You don’t feel able to confide in your partner. If you were to reveal something that you’re sensitive about, you’re not sure if they’d react respectfully or helpfully.
  18. Your partner makes jokes about leaving you or teases you about what their "second" wife or husband will be like.
  19. When you’re not physically together, it feels like "out of sight, out of mind.” For example, your partner is on an international trip and says they’ll call when they arrived safely at the hotel but doesn’t follow through.
  20. When you and your partner disagree, they insist you do things their way or leave. It’s their way or the highway, and you don’t have a sense that when you disagree you’ll find a way of coming together.
  21. You’re not sure how dependable, supportive, or reliable your partner would be in a situation in which you really needed them; for example, if you or a close family member got cancer.
  22. You blame your partner for your life not being as satisfying as you’d like it to be—or they blame you.
  23. Your partner is dismissive of your interests and projects. They judge the things you do by how important they perceive them to be, rather than how important they are to you.
  24. Stonewalling. You or your partner flat-out refuse to talk about important relationship topics, such as the decision to have a baby.
  25. You don’t think your partner would make a good parent, if you're pondering having children in the future.
  26. There are times you avoid coming home because going to Starbucks, or a bar, is more relaxing after a stressful day than coming home to your partner.
  27. Your life together seems out of control; for example, you both spend much more than you earn.
  28. You can’t think of ways in which you and your partner make a great team.
  29. Your partner is the source of negative surprises, such as large unexpected charges on your joint credit card.
  30. You catch your partner lying repeatedly.
  31. Your partner goes out but doesn’t tell you where, or fails to arrive home when expected and has no explanation.
  32. You worry that your partner might get so angry that they’d hurt you.
  33. You have a sense of being trapped in the relationship.
  34. When you argue, one or both of you always just gets defensive. You can never acknowledge that the other person has some valid points.
  35. When you argue, you just blame each other rather than each accepting some blame.
  36. You’re very critical of each other, and you feel constantly nitpicked about the ways you’re not “good enough.”
  37. Your partner complains about you to their friends or family.
  38. You find yourself lying to other people because you’re ashamed of your partner’s behavior; for example, making excuses for why they haven’t shown up to an event as planned.
  39. You feel lonely when you’re together.
  40. If you had to rate your partner on a scale of 1 to 10 on qualities like warmth, trustworthiness, and dependability, you would rate them lower than 5.
  41. You can’t recall a time when your partner has compromised so that you could take up an opportunity.
  42. There is an absence of affection in your relationship—you rarely kiss, touch, or smile at each other.
  43. Your partner is coercive when it comes to sex.
  44. Your partner sees themselves as having a much higher "mate value" than you. They think you're lucky to have them, but not the reverse.
  45. Your partner keeps you at arms length emotionally. You don't have a healthy sense of interdependence.
  46. Your partner frequently compares you unfavorably to other people, especially friends' spouses or partners.
  47. When you argue, it quickly escalates to ultimatums or threats—"If you don't ..., I'll ..."
  48. You can think of several friends or colleagues whom you'd rather be in a relationship with.
  49. Cheating.
  50. The other “C” word: "Crazy." If you call each other "crazy" during arguments, it’s a pretty bad sign. It shows that you’re no longer willing to listen to each other’s point of view because you’ve written it off as irrational.
  51. Relationship violence.

This post was influenced by various scientific models of relationships, including work on Emotion-Focused Therapy, Gottman Therapy, and Garth Fletcher's Ideal Standards Model.

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