Click play to listen to this article.
Toxic relationships suck. They torpedo your emotional and mental well-being and impede your personal growth. No one wants one, yet many people keep ending up in them, primarily because of a lack of awareness concerning what makes a relationship toxic in the first place. I see this same pattern unfold with my readers repeatedly: a lot of them were in a toxic relationship, and some are trying to rekindle one.
But the worst part is that most of these people are convinced that their relationships were healthy, despite being absolute trainwrecks. And as much as their erroneous belief bugs me, I’m honestly not surprised.
I mean, no one taught us how to differentiate between a toxic and healthy relationship. There’s no “Relationship 101” class in schools, our parents probably haven’t done a good enough job explaining the topic, and most self-help and relationship literature hasn’t helped either. So, of course, people will keep confusing a toxic relationship with a healthy one.
What Is A Toxic Relationship
Some define it as a relationship where you feel as though you’ve been run over, drained, and devalued. Some define it as a relationship full of emotionally and, not infrequently, physically damaging behaviors. And others define it as a relationship where two people don’t support each other and rather seek out conflict and drama. Then there are a thousand more theories thrown into the mix.
From my point of view, a toxic relationship is a relationship where one or both people are prioritizing love over healthy relationship components like respect, trust, honesty, loyalty, affection, empathy, and so forth.
Yes, you’ve heard it right. Love shouldn’t be the reason to stay in a relationship and trying to make it so equates to the most glaring warning sign of a toxic relationship out there.
If you pull it off, you’d likely stay in a relationship or try to rekindle one with someone who doesn’t have the same views as you, with someone who cheats, lies, or abuses you, or with someone who doesn’t treat you like you want to be treated. And in the end, you’d create a shallow, dysfunctional, and potentially abusive relationship with them.
Signs You Had A Toxic Relationship With Your Ex
While I can’t ascertain if your relationship was toxic or not, I can help you recognize the telltale warning signs that indicate it was. Below are 12 most common ones. As you’ll see, some of them are obvious, others less so.
Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to accurately determine the nature of your former relationship and make an intelligent decision whether to let it go completely and find someone new or attempt to rekindle it.
If there was cheating on either side of your relationship, I would immediately crown it as toxic. I don’t care if this cheating took the form of texting this one guy or girl in hopes of getting some affection or having a full-blown orgy with the whole neighborhood. Both options and everything in between are glaring warning signs of a toxic relationship.
Generally speaking, people with low integrity will begin meeting and lining up new potential partners when they feel like their relationship is getting nowhere or going downhill. And when their partner screws up by either restricting their freedom too much (See: needy) or by neglecting their emotional needs one too many times, they will cheat. Then comes the flood of lies trying to subdue the truth.
The typical strawberry jam on top of a cheaters’ peanut butter sandwich is that they take no responsibility for their actions after they cheat. In fact, they often justify them by telling themselves how anyone would react in the same way as they did if they were in the same situation.
2. Sacrificed Identities
After months of staying together, a couple’s identities (i.e., the shared values, beliefs, and lifestyle choices) will inevitably begin to fuse. This fusion is natural, healthy, and to be expected. However, if one person starts to sacrifice their entire identity for the other, then that’s a sign that your relationship is toxic.
Think about it: if someone just sacrificed the very essence of who they are to please someone else, what does that make a person? Spineless, weak, inferior, low-opinionated, needy, codependent, and toxic are just some of the terms that spring to mind.
So if you ever sacrificed your individuality for your ex, you’re no longer the person they fell in love with, and so it’s not surprising that you broke up.
Being codependent goes hand-in-hand with our previous point. If one of the people in a relationship is codependent, meaning they are hungry for their partner’s validation and approval and can’t get those things, internally, from themselves, that relationship is considered toxic.
Codependency stems from a lack of self-love and respect, and the people who cultivate it usually rely on others to fill a void within themselves.
Most codependents love and respect themselves so little that even when they receive love and respect from others, they can hardly believe it’s authentic. They usually just shrug their shoulders and think, “what? How can you love me? You’re full of crap. I’m unlovable!” It’s a sad reality for most suffering from codependency.
4. Bad Communication
Healthy communicators are not afraid to speak their minds about the issues they’re facing or the sentiments and feelings they carry. Bad communicators are. Their hallmarks are indifference, coldness, stonewalling, guilt-tripping, a refusal to open up, lies, deceit, passive-aggressiveness, attempts at making their partner jealous, and the willingness to go forward with their ideas or plans despite fostering a severe dislike for them.
For example, if your ex revealed what’s bothering them and didn’t hold anything back when you tried to communicate with them, then they are a healthy communicator. But if they never opened up emotionally and instead resorted to denying responsibility and emotionally shutting down, then they’re a bad communicator.
It’s that simple. Each of those traits is another warning sign of a toxic relationship to add to your list.
Did your ex even attempt to tear you down while you struggled with something, like losing weight, getting in shape, starting a business, or getting a degree? Did you even tear them down for those things?
Were they jealous of your success and wanted you to hang up your career or stop eating so well so they could feel better about where they were in those areas? Were you jealous about their success or ambition and wanted them to stop reaching for it?
Did they try to persuade or command you to put your career on hold so you could spend more time with them, even though that’s not what you wanted? Did you ever want to persuade or command them to put their career on hold to spend more time with you?
Did they try to make you feel guilty for working so many hours in hopes that you would cut it out? Did you even try to make them feel guilty for working so many hours in hopes that they would cut it out?
Did they try to change you in any shape, way, or form and not support the person you were becoming or became? Did you try to change them in any shape, way, or form and not support the person they were becoming or became?
If any of the above rings true, it’s a good indicator that your relationship was toxic.
6. Jealousy And Possessiveness
Did your ex ever give you a difficult time when you were out with your friends? Did they hate your guts when you said you’re going on the short bike ride by yourself? Did they throw a fit whenever the friend from next door called you? Were you ever acting in any of those ways?
Did your ex want you to snugly fit into their imaginary precepts, fucked-up narratives, and absurd expectations on how you should act and be and think? Did you ever want and expect the same from them?
Did they ever threaten to end the relationship if you weren’t prepared to change in the way they wanted? Have you ever done something similar?
As with our previous point, if any of the above rings true, it’s a sign your relationship was toxic.
Relationships are not a video game where you would track each character’s high score. If a couple keeps score on each other concerning how many kind gestures, loving words, or the chores their partner has done throughout the day, the whole relationship gets toxic.
The two supposed lovers turn away from each other instead of towards one another; they shift from being teammates to rivals, constantly locked in a fruitless battle of one-upping the other.
Here’s the reality: relationships are messy. Nothing is ever a 50/50 split. Some days you’re going to be doing all the work. Other days your partner will get the short end of the stick. These shifts will never change. And frankly, you can’t change them even if you tried. So let go of the games, let go of keeping score. You’re in a relationship to give to the other person.
If your relationship contained heaps of scorekeeping, it was probably toxic.
8. Constant Blame
Suppose your ex continually blamed you when they felt unhappy because of a mistake they made or an event they had. In other words, they couldn’t take any personal responsibility for their actions. If that’s the case, it’s a clear-cut indicator that they’re a narcissist. And when you’re with a narcissist, your relationship is undoubtedly toxic.
Narcissists are, by their very nature, unable to take any responsibility for their faults. They are abnormally optimistic, confident, and never doubt or blame themselves. You can probably sniff out a few at most self-development seminars.
A narcissist won’t take any personal responsibility or accountability because if they do, they would realize that they have imperfections like the rest of us, and that would freak them the fuck out. So they instead hide in their self-constructed armor of importance that prevents them from showing the world their endless shores of insecurities and shame.
9. Inability To Take A Joke
I don’t know about you, but I love to fuck around with my girlfriend. I love to call her all kinds of weird things and joke about some of her more annoying habits and quirks. It’s my way of showing affection. And the way she reacts to it is by laughing it off.
While some people would assume I’m an asshole, she knows I adore her and that everything I say, even if it’s a bit rude sometimes, is told out of my love for her.
Not all people are like that. Some people react harshly when you tease and banter with them or make them the butt of the joke. If your ex was like that or you yourself are, it’s a sign your relationship was toxic.
10. Buying Gifts To Solve Problems
When couples buy gifts or experiences to cover up their conflicts and relational problems instead of solving them, it’s a sign of a toxic relationship.
I see this time and time again. Two people get together, they face a problem, and instead of communicating and discussing it like adults, they start going on trips and showering their partner with new stuff and superficial pleasures, continuously covering up the real issues they should be dealing with.
This tendency is the equivalent of brushing a problem under the proverbial rug. And we all know what happens then: the problem re-emerges in the future, usually in a much more intense way.
Look, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong if you ever bought nice things or experiences for your ex, as long as you did it with the right intentions: to show love, respect, and commitment. However, the same behaviors become toxic as soon as those intentions become to please your ex or avoid dealing with deeper emotional issues plaguing your relationship.
11. Inability To Be Yourself
Healthy relationships bring out the best in both partners. They foster mutual personal growth and allow them to feel safe being themselves without shame, embarrassment, or any second thoughts when it comes to self-expression.
Conversely, toxic relationships do the opposite; they bring out the worst in both partners. They hinder personal growth, make partners feel unsafe, insecure, and ashamed of being themselves. In general, they make the people involved feel like they’re constantly walking on eggshells and can’t speak their minds or be who they are.
If you feel like you couldn’t be who you are in your relationship (or you haven’t let your ex be who they were), it’s a glaring sign that is was toxic.
12. Perpetual Overstepping Of One’s Boundaries
If a relationship was healthy, you respected your ex’s boundaries and vice versa. Asking for more alone time, telling your ex that they’re over-controlling, standing by your opinion, and not changing it to please them would all be met with respect and love.
Conversely, if your relationship was toxic, all of those boundaries would be instead met with anger, resentment, guilt-tripping, or passive-aggressiveness, which would inevitably lead to unnecessary conflict and drama.
Turning A Rekindled Toxic Relationship Into A Healthy One
Rebuilding a toxic relationship is possible, but it will take a long time to happen.
For one, both ex’s have to be open to getting back together and changing themselves in the process. And I’m sad to say, but it’s surprisingly hard to find people who are open to doing that. And there’s no other solution to turning a toxic relationship healthy until both people are willing to come together and change.
Both exes must also recognize the lack of trust, respect, and affection and be willing to work on it and communicate their differences healthily and without excessive blame, judgment, or name-calling. And don’t get me started on the sacrifices and compromises and, in some cases, even lifestyle changes that both people have to make.
Ultimately, saving a toxic relationship is not easy and often not even worth doing. Most people decide to let the whole “let’s rekindle our relationship” thing go — no shame in this. However, if you and your ex both really want to put in the effort, then it’s worth the inevitable struggle.
If you need more help getting your ex back, check out my Radical Re-Attraction Course. It includes hours of video and hundreds of pages of writing, and a community with exclusive weekly videos, private chat, and 1-on-1 coaching.
How To Deal With Uncertainty After A Breakup
Learn how to deal with uncertainty effectively and grow into a more resilient and less shitty person despite your breakup.
Don’t Take The Stages Of Anything Too Seriously
Learn five reasons why you should always treat breakup-related psychological stages as nothing more than a personality test or horoscope.
The Phantom Ex And The Soulmate
Learn about the Phantom Ex and Soulmate Syndromes and how to overcome them so you don't remain forever heartbroken and disappointed in love.
How To Be Insanely Productive Despite A Breakup
A breakup will stifle your productivity. But there are certain universal and tried and tested principles you can follow to boost it.
How To Identify A Healthy Relationship
Is your rekindled relationship healthy or not? Get your answer here, with this eye-opening guide to cultivating healthy relationships.