5 Early Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship

Love is blind, when we are following in love, our partner seems to be perfect, we are ready to justify and forgive everything in order to stay in the relationship. However, it is very important to remember that ANY relationship does not cost our happiness, peace, and joy. If we do not feel comfortable, it is a good reason to reconsider our relationship and check it for 5 Early Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship kindly provided below by TOP experts of the industry:

Jeremy Shapiro, Ph.D.



Jeremy Shapiro, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and adjunct faculty member of the Psychological Sciences Department of Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Shapiro has worked as a researcher, therapist, and trainer in university, hospital, community mental health, private practice, and corporate settings. He has published 7 books and 40+ articles and has presented over 200 one-day workshops to therapists in over 40 states on topics including depression, violence prevention, psychotherapy methods, naturalistic outcome research, the psychology of money, and, especially, the focus of this blog: the maladaptive nature of black-and-white, polarized thinking, and the solution provided by eclectic moderation and balance.

What are 5 Early Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship?

It is sometimes hard to spot the beginning of a toxic relationship because toxic people aren’t clearly labeled and, in dating situations, they generally put their best foot forward just like everyone else. For example, narcissistic individuals often make great first impressions, which can go on for much longer than a first date. As a therapist, I have heard clients bemoan how wonderful their partner seemed in the beginning, which sucked them into a relationship that went bad but proved difficult to end.

In developing relationships, we need to strike a balance. We don’t want to be perfectionistic about choosing a partner because then we’ll end up with no one, but we need to be careful not to fall into relationships that involve more bad than good. So don’t overreact if your prospect disliked a movie or book you thought was great, lacks some information you think everyone should know, or doesn’t agree with all your political opinions. Be cautious and start eying the exits, however, if any of these 5 early warning signs appear:

1.The person makes little digs and putdowns that embarrass you or injure your self-confidence, or they compete by belittling your accomplishments and strengths to make their own seem more impressive. That is not the behavior of a partner but of a bully who needs to make other people feel bad about themselves so they can feel good about themselves. Also: Cloaking putdowns in humor and then saying “Just kidding” doesn’t make mean behavior OK.

2.The person is inconsiderate and rude to other people, even if they are nice to you. Genuinely nice people are consistently nice. Toxic people can be very kind when they want something from someone, and your date might want something from you, so it’s revealing to observe how they treat others, like servers in restaurants.

3.The person is suspicious and jealous when there is no reason to be. This often goes along with needing constant updates on your whereabouts and needing to control what you do and who you are with. This type of attention might feel flattering at first, because it seems to show the person really “cares,” but it is based on a distrustful view of you as a partner and is a classic warning sign of future abuse and domestic violence.

4.If you think about it, there are two main ingredients in love: Enjoyment of the other person–which focuses on what they do for you– and devotion to the other person–which focuses on what you do for them. In healthy relationships, there is a balance. In toxic relationships, there can be two types of imbalances. In one, the partner is so focused on how your behavior affects them, and whether you’re making them happy that there’s little focus on your well-being, so your needs get steamrolled. In the other type of imbalance, the partner is so selflessly focused on what you want and need that the relationship becomes an unhealthy exercise in making you dependent, rehabilitating you, and rescuing you. Both imbalances are toxic!

5.Empathy is probably the core relationship skill, and relationships that lack it will become toxic. Empathy doesn’t require lots of touchy-feely talks this isn’t everyone’s style–but it requires understanding that one’s partner might have a different perspective on a situation and be willing to work toward a solution that addresses everyone’s needs. The opposite is labeling the other person’s behavior as  “bad” and getting angry when they do something we don’t like–this type of reaction produces toxic relationships.

Anthony Smith

Anthony Smith is a licensed mental health counselor in Massachusetts with 20 years of experience. He has worked in facilities and in private practice performing therapy and diagnostic evaluations across a wide array of populations both demographically and clinically. This includes 17 years in the forensic arena, where he currently provides assessments for the juvenile courts of Western MA.

Aside from his interest in the intersection of psychology and law, Anthony is particularly passionate about differential diagnosis and supervision of new practitioners, which he writes about weekly for Psychology Today in his blog, Up&Running.

He regularly teaches abnormal psychology and creates courses on the life experiences of people with mental illness, along with supervising graduate student counselling practicums at Baypath University.

When not providing clinical services, teaching or writing, Anthony can be found hiking and fly-fishing around the Northeast and American West.

What are 5 Early Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship?

Nowadays, it seems most people seem to pay most attention for narcissism and controlling jealousy streaks as personality flaws to be aware of in relationships. While it is wise to be savvy to the signs of such malignant tendencies, it’s been my experience over the years that there are five other personality characteristics to be aware of that can signal pending doom should someone decide to wade deeper into the waters of the relationship in question.

1.Passive-aggressive behavior:

If you’ve ever given someone the silent treatment or were intentionally untimely for an appointment because you had a bone to pick and knew it would get under their skin, you’ve engaged in passive aggression. We’ve all done it at some point, even if it’s just talking about someone behind their back. This is passive aggression (no hyphen).

However, people with passive-aggressive (note the hyphen) personalities exhibit a vacillating pattern of passive aggression (no hyphen) along with a more “in your face” assertive style. For readers familiar with the TV show Seinfeld, the character of George Costanza was a classic illustration of this pattern, and it was clear how it affected his relationships.

Such people tend to bring unpredictability to relationships in that people around them don’t know how they’ll respond. Will they be contrite to your face after a disagreement, only to spread a vicious rumor about you later to “win the argument” in their mind, or will they erupt in a flurry of anger and not be able to let it go until you submit?

2.Push-pull dynamics and playing the victim:

This is a trademark move of people with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Being hypersensitive to rejection/abandonment, the person with BPD may perceive, for, example, your need to reschedule a date night as a sign you’re not interested and will soon dump them. Enraged with the idea you would do this to him/her, they lash out, even before knowing the facts, and make it seem as if they want nothing to do with you now.

Why someone who’s biggest fear is abandonment would act so aggressively, thus risking abandonment, may seem vexing, but it is no mistake. It is a preemptive strike and a way to save face in their mind; “You didn’t push me away, I got rid of you!”

More often than not, after realizing their over-reaction, they try to re-engage you; “I really like you, I can’t believe you did that to me. I’d like to try again, but you need to understand I’m not into playing games…” gaslighting you with the victim card as if to see if you’ll run to save them and tell them it’s not their fault.

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees they won’t continue to misinterpret things. Anyone struggling in such a relationship is encouraged to read Stop Walking on Eggshells to learn how to more successfully interact with people with BPD, and The Buddha and the Borderline to learn about what life is like with BPD.


Perfectionism can be pathological, and lead to inter-personally controlling behavior. Individuals obsessed with doing things perfectly tend to rigidly adhere to rules, details, schedules, and routines. Essentially, they are controlling their anxiety by controlling their environment, and people tend to get sucked into this vortex.

You probably know someone who can’t take their family on vacation without a minute-by-minute plan of what they’ll be doing; it’s the nemesis of a relaxing time. If you attempt to reason with the person that there’s plenty of time and no need to so carefully schedule things, chances are you’ll be met with a ridiculing, irritable reply that you don’t appreciate their trying to make sure the vacation time is maximized.

Also, perfectionistic people tend to hold the people around them to the same ungodly standards they hold themselves, and if you don’t live up to them, you may expect put-downs of being lazy and not trying hard enough. In effect, it’s communication that, if you want to be in a relationship with them you need to be prepared for their vision that, “You’re part of my life, you’re an extension of me, and will be just as polished.”


What may begin as an endearing tendency to defer to your wants not unusually evolves into an inability to make any decision in the relationship. “I don’t know, what do you want to do/eat/watch/listen to?” is the answer to every question involving a choice. Each decision they need to make must get run by you for approval or to verify they aren’t somehow making the wrong decision.

People with such dependency in relationships often come from families where independent thinking was frowned upon, and perhaps even punished. They fear any decision they make will disappoint you and that could lead to your leaving. Ironically, their actions tend to produce the thing they fear the most, in that most people can’t handle having a relationship with an adult they must guide like a small child, and there is a break-up.

Chronic yielding to your decisions and opinions early on may be a harbinger of the need to provide pedantic guidance for the duration.

5.Pervasive negativity:

Imagine meeting someone attractive and seemingly with the same sense of sarcastic humor you have. As you get to know them, the sarcasm isn’t only in their humor but is clearly a caustic interactional style.

If you gave them a million dollars the reply would be, “Great. A million bucks. Are you trying to kill me? Do you know the amount of taxes I have to pay on this?!” You’ll probably also notice they start to invalidate your struggles and enjoy one-upping you on hardships. “You had a double root canal, huh? Let me tell you about the time I tried to go on a cruise. They needed to pull into a port so I could get hemorrhoids cauterized in a third-world island nation. Nothing goes right.”

Such depressive personalities see the world through a grey lens at best, and, being the ultimate example of misery loves company, will do their best to slip those glasses over your eyes and drag you down with them as a partner in commiseration.

Robert C. Smith, MD, MACP


Robert C. Smith, MD, MACP is a University Distinguished Professor and a Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry Emeritus at Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA.  With many publications, awards, and strong grant support, he has been involved in teaching and research in patient-centered communication and in primary care mental health since 1985.

Dr. Smith and his group have been featured on The Today Show as well as featured and quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Elle, the Ladies Home Journal, Time, and Newsweek. The Author of

Essentials of Psychiatry in Primary Care: Behavioral Health in the Medical Setting 1st Edition

Smith’s Patient Centered Interviewing: An Evidence-Based Method, Fourth Edition 4th Edition

What are 5 Early Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship?

We typically think of toxic verbal and nonverbal behaviors involving someone we don’t like, at least at the moment when expressed. The speaker may, for example, be dismissive, disdainful, and dishonest. These behaviors often are well-recognized by the recipient and speaker alike.

Another type of behavior that is toxic to a relationship occurs when someone repeatedly talks without listening. These verbal and nonverbal behaviors, however, often go completely unrecognized by the speaker and sometimes by the listener, although the latter likely will experience distancing and boredom at times.

Here are five examples of toxic behaviors that occur when someone talks but does not reciprocate by listening.

  1. Asking how you are doing but quickly changing the conversation to themselves
  2. Looking away when you are talking or otherwise seeming impatient
  3. Relating any topic you raise back to their own experience
  4. Dominating the conversation with their own interests in time-consuming ways
  5. At later interactions, always returning the conversation to the same topic of their interest

For those who recognize these toxic behaviors in themselves, our work produced the following suggestions for those wishing to improve:1

  1. Make a conscious effort to let the other person occupy at least half the conversation
  2. Facilitate the other’s participation by drawing out what they say (“Tell me more about…”)
  3. Listen for comments where the person might have feelings or emotions (“…and then she died”)
  4. Ask about feelings (“How did that make you feel?” “What’s the emotion you had?”)
  5. Respond to feelings, recalled by the mnemonic NURS
    1. Name the emotion (“That was sad for you”)
    2. Understand the emotion (“I can sure understand, anyone, would feel sad”)
    3. Respect the emotion (“Thanks for sharing that, you’ve been through a lot”)
    4. Support the emotion (“How can I help?”)


  1. Fortin VI AH, Dwamena F, Frankel R, Lepisto B, Smith R. Smith’s Patient-Centered Interviewing — An Evidence-Based Method. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, Lange Series; 2019.

Alice E. Schluger, Ph.D



Health Psychology/ Certified Wellness Practitioner & Wellness Coach/Faculty-Health Psychology/Freelance Health Writer

Dr. Alice E. Schluger has taught online Psychology and Health Psychology courses since 2010. Dr. Schluger earned a Ph.D. in Psychology (Health Psychology specialization) from Capella University and a Master of Arts Degree in Community Health Education from New York University. She is also a Life & Wellness Coach and a Certified Wellness Practitioner with an established Wellness Coaching Practice for non-professional and professional dancers

What are 5 Early Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship?

1.Possessiveness – Your partner is extremely possessive and controlling of your time and whereabouts. He or she may appear jealous and try to control what you do and the people you socialize with.

2.Isolation – Another form of control is the attempt to isolate you from family and friends. They may criticize the people you associate with and even demand that you break ties with them.

3.Manipulation – If your partner doesn’t take responsibility for their own flaws or behavior, they may be trying to manipulate you. They may attempt to make you feel guilty and expect you to cater to their needs. They can be narcissistic, self-centered and try to blame you for things that you are not responsible for.

4.Abusiveness – Abuse can take many forms in a relationship, including verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. Sometimes this behavior can be subtle but it can also be volatile and highly unpredictable. It is usually a tactic to undermine your self-esteem. They may belittle you and make you feel inadequate so that you will become more dependent on them.

5.Lack of Trust – The essential foundation of any healthy relationship is trust. If trust is destroyed, you may become anxious and depressed. If you sense that your partner is dishonest, the intimacy in your relationship will be severely compromised. Lack of trust also leads to insecurity, which allows you to fall victim to more abuse, control, and manipulation.

Melody Stanford Martin



Melody Stanford Martin is a social ethicist and communications expert helping people of all ages develop skills of courageous dialogue and conflict transformation. Melody is the author of Brave Talk: Building Resilient Relationships in the Face of Conflict (Broadleaf Books, 2020) and the Founder of BraveTalkProject.com.

What are 5 Early Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship?

1.Failing to share power. When one person in the relationship is hoarding power – trying to control decision making, gaslighting, not creating space for the other person, or letting the other person have their own opinions, preferences, or voice – that’s a surefire sign that the relationship is in for a bumpy road and will likely develop toxic patterns.

2.Enmeshment. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between early butterflies and infatuation with enmeshment. The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines enmeshment as “a condition in which two or more people, typically family members, are involved in each other’s activities and personal relationships to an excessive degree, thus limiting or precluding healthy interaction and compromising individual autonomy and identity.” (https://dictionary.apa.org/enmeshment) Relationships where two people seem to have one identity or personality, where individuals are not free to live independent lives and be individuals, are in danger of toxicity.

3.Conflict fragility. Also known as the feeling of “walking on eggshells,” fragile relationships cannot hold the weight of conflict or they may fracture. If two people aren’t able, to be honest, tell the truth, or say hard things without negative repercussions, the relationship is not durable. Resilient relationships require space, time, and trust for conflict and disagreement, and allow conflict to be a natural part of the mix.

4.”Whiplash intimacy.” Relationships that last have an element of emotional stability, meaning two people can find a sense of peace and well-being together, even if one or both individuals have struggles. An early sign that a relationship may be headed for a toxic place is what I call “whiplash intimacy”, meaning there’s an ongoing cycle of intense or enmeshed closeness, followed by an explosive emotional expression, followed by fierce arguing and/or breakups, followed by passionate and often tear-filled reunion – and the cycle repeats like a rollercoaster. Often in these situations, partners will use intimacy as either a reward or punishment for the other’s behavior. While passion and emotion are wonderful human experiences, whiplash intimacy is not a stable way to build a relationship because it can create a sense of fear-based, conditional love that erodes trust over time.

5Resisting personal evolution. People grow and change over time. In healthy relationships, partners give each other the space and freedom to grow, explore, and change their beliefs, values, or interests. An early sign of a toxic relationship is one or both people forcing or controlling the other to stay “locked-in” to sameness. They might view change or personal evolution as a threat that may break the relationship, instead of encouraging their partner to grow. Lasting relationships understand that stagnation is not healthy; growth benefits both individuals as well as the whole.

Dr. Asha Shajahan, MD, MHSA


Dr. Asha Shajahan, MD, MHSA  is a board-certified family physician. She is an assistant professor in the department of family medicine and biomedical sciences at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. She also has a master’s degree in Health Services Administration.

What are 5 Early Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship?

1. Frequent Lying


3.Lack of Trust

4.Hostile Communication


Loren Soeiro, Ph.D. ABPP


Loren Soeiro, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in New York State and board-certified as an expert by the American Board of Professional Psychologists.  He has been a fellow of the American Academy of Clinical Psychology since 2013.

What are Early Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship?

“One of the clear signs of a toxic relationship is similar to what’s often referred to as gaslighting.  It’s when someone denies your reality and causes you to doubt your own judgment.  This might take place overtly when your partner flatly denies they said something you clearly heard them say, or covertly when your partner says you don’t have the right to feel a certain way, or that their actions were obviously fair and that your reaction is wrong — that you’re not entitled to react the way you did.  You do have the right to your feelings, and you have the right to be treated fairly by your partner, which often means having those feelings heard and understood.  If your partner is not willing to consider the value of your feelings or refuses to understand why you felt a certain way in response to their actions, your relationship may be toxic.”

“Watch out for pathological jealousy.  It may be normal to feel insecure about a new relationship, which often expresses itself in the form of worrying that your partner will become interested in someone else. But these feelings become toxic when they are expressed in extreme ways, or when they’re used to justify restricting your freedom.  It’s a very bad sign when your new romantic partner tries to constrain your social life or tells you that there are people in your life that aren’t good for you and whom you shouldn’t hang out with — up to the point of making it difficult to spend time with anyone else.”

Cathy Scott

Cathy Scott is a true-crime author and journalist who blogs for Psychology Today. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, New York Post, George magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, Reuters, and Las Vegas Sun. Best known for penning The Killing of Tupac Shakur and Murder of a Mafia Daughter, she taught journalism at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for five years until she left for New Orleans to cover the largest animal rescue in US history following Hurricane Katrina. Her most recent TV appearances include the Today Show, Dateline NBC, and Vanity Fair. Her latest book is The Crime Book (DK Books).

What are 5 Early Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship?

Having lived through — and survived — a toxic and violent relationship, I have since said it’s as if the violators go to the same school because the modus operandi is the same. I didn’t recognize early on the signs of my own toxic marriage because I was trying so hard to save it. Once a person can step back and take an honest look at it, you’ll see your partner as controlling, possessive, manipulating, and big on sabotaging your career, relationships, and successes. One of the top things I realized was the intentional isolation from family and friends and his efforts to push them away. Recognizing the signs of an abusive personality early on is half the battle. What victims of a toxic relationship need to realize is that when a kinship with someone you believe is a loved one heads in a toxic direction and you have no control over it, it isn’t you. It’s the other person. Getting out of that toxic relationship is difficult because the person has such an emotional hold on you. You may be belittled, and you may be told you’ll be nothing without that person. My best advice is to leave. You can’t fix it. Walk away, hold your head up high, and don’t look back.

Teyhou Smyth Ph.D., LMFT


Dr. Teyhou Smyth is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (#115137) and an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University.

Originally from the United Kingdom, Teyhou earned her B.A in Psychology from the University of Southern California and completed an M.A. in Sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Teyhou went on to complete a second Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy at the California School of Professional Psychology and holds a Doctorate degree in Pedagogical Sciences.

How to spot a toxic person?

It may not be obvious at first, but often there are subtle signs that indicate the presence of toxic characteristics.

  • Saccharine sweetness:

Someone who presents as artificial and overly sweet can sometimes be hiding underlying feelings of bitterness and passive-aggressive tendencies.

  • Lack of empathy:

People who lack empathy for others may simply not have the capacity for it, which enables them to engage in negative behavior toward others without feeling guilty.

That missing inner compass of empathy can allow for self-serving behaviors without regard for impact on other people.

  • Excessively judgmental:

Those who are chronically casting blame on others or seem to have a judgmental opinion about everyone likely has toxic energy.

  • Incites drama needlessly:

Beware of the person who tries to pick fights, is too easily insulted, or seems to thrive on anger and hostility.

It should be noted that there are endless reasons for varying human behaviors. Some of the characteristics above may represent non-toxic emotional challenges. Often the simplest question we can ask ourselves to consider if a person is toxic is, “does this person make me feel bad?”



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