The Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship

Finding yourself constantly trying to people-please or being mistreated in your relationship? Red flags aren’t always easy to see, but must be addressed for…

Sometimes you find yourself putting up with a lot of shit from someone, in fear of losing them. As time goes on, you realize you’ve lost yourself in the process. People will keep treating you the way they always have if you prioritize not losing them over losing yourself.

I’m Ruairí Stewart, a relationship and self-esteem therapist. And I’m going to help you identify the warning signs of a bad relationship, whether friend, family, or lover. We’ll look at the impacts an unhealthy relationship can have on your mental health and physical wellbeing. We’ll also explore ways to change the relationship dynamic, so you can both feel accepted and respected. Are you ready to make some changes for the better? Let’s go.

Some people are trapped in toxic relationships for so long—they can’t even see the red flags: people-pleasing, exploitation, mistreatment. So what are the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship?

Telltale Signs Of A Toxic Relationship

Unhealthy relationships can take many forms, but there are common themes that center around safety, respect, and identity.


Do you feel unsafe or threatened in your relationship? For some people, it’s constant putdowns, insults, and demeaning behavior. For others, the arguments in the relationship become physically, emotionally, or verbally abusive. You don’t feel safe expressing yourself because of how your partner reacts and responds. They may get angry, shut you down, blame or intimidate you. It seems like you are constantly walking on eggshells. Issues around safety can also occur when your partner or friend struggles with destructive behaviors or addictions. 


“There will always be someone who can’t see your worth. Don’t let it be you.”

Your opinions are met with intense criticism or judgment or ridicule. Your partner doesn’t meet your needs, despite your efforts to communicate with them. They make no effort to make you believe your needs matter to them. They may even reject, ridicule, or belittle you for wanting these needs met. A partner or friend who doesn’t seek help or make any changes also demonstrates a lack of respect for your relationship.


You don’t feel you have your own identity or a sense of self separate from the relationship. Your partner denies you the freedom to make your own choices. You’ve effectively become their ‘caretaker.’

It is a heavily one-sided relationship, where they might exploit you to meet their needs, with no consideration to how you feel or what you want from the relationship. 

‘Gaslighting’ is a term used to describe a situation where someone is attacking your grasp on reality and making you doubt yourself, to the point you have no context of what feels real or not without that person’s input.

How do you deal with a toxic relationship?

Healthy relationships allow both people to have boundaries in place. A partner who consciously chooses to ignore or violate your boundaries is not respecting you or your needs. This is a red flag you can’t ignore. 

Remember, you are not bound to any person that’s keeping you feeling trapped and unhappy. Life-altering decisions can be hard to make but trust yourself to know what is best for you. You need to decide—can this relationship be rescued, or is it time to walk away?


Staying in an unhealthy relationship can make you feel exhausted, frustrated, and emotionally drained. Long term, these relationships can impact your mental health and self-esteem. 

With help from a trained professional therapist, you can identify the true nature of your relationship and find the path to a better outcome.

Toxic Friendship Signs

Friendships may not demand the same level of commitment as a primary relationship, but a toxic friendship can still make you feel bad. Toxic friendship signs tend to be a bit more subtle and don’t necessarily extend to full-blown abusive behavior. We do see the same general themes, including:

  • Unsafe behaviors
  • Lack of respect 
  • Attacks on your identity.


With toxic friends – there is no trust. It’s not safe for you to be yourself when you’re around them. You’re always on-guard, which loads on the stress. Their behavior might be passive-aggressive and resentful.


They exploit you when it suits them, and your needs are never met.

They expect your energy and time but provide little in return. In a toxic friendship, you don’t feel valued or respected. They might ridicule you to others, slander you, share your intimate secrets or put you down for putting yourself first.


Often you can’t say how you really feel around them—it’s their way or the highway. They might demand that you include them in your circle but actively exclude you from theirs.

How do you deal with a toxic friendship?

Having a friendship doesn’t mean you have to tolerate poor behavior just to stay ‘good friends.’ Being a good friend doesn’t mean their needs always come before yours. It doesn’t mean putting up with deception or dishonesty. Healthy friendships are built on a foundation of mutual respect—respect for each other’s boundaries, needs, and feelings.


Coping with toxic friends can make you feel drained. You’re giving a lot more than you are receiving. This quote from Maryam Hasnaa sums it up nicely:

“One of the biggest misconceptions about being a kind loving person is believing that you need to stick around and put up with anything.”

Can you work through the issues with your friend, or is it time to cut them loose? 

A professional therapist can help you explore the true nature of this dysfunctional relationship and guide you to a better outcome.

Serious Red Flags

In some cases, a relationship moves beyond emotional abuse and becomes physically threatening. There may be sexually abusive behavior. You should never tolerate these situations and need to remove yourself from the relationship for your own safety.

The signs of a healthy relationship

Ok – let’s finish by looking at what a well-balanced and healthy relationship looks like.

A healthy relationship is rooted in honesty, truth, and respect. It’s a safe environment, where both people can communicate their true feelings freely and without fear. 

The key to achieving a happy, functional relationship is communication. Be true to yourself and learn to communicate exactly what you think and feel. Don’t try to please others at the expense of your own happiness—that’s not your job.

Setting boundaries will help you prioritize your mental health and encourage positive changes. If your partner refuses to respect your needs, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship. Remember – you are under no obligation to fix someone else or be a martyr for the sake of the relationship.


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