When Your Partner Is Toxic, Here's How You'll Know, According To Experts

I have been in a handful of relationships that were not great — relationships where, ultimately, my partners and I just weren't compatible. In some cases, the issue came down to having different expectations of what the relationship should be like, or just not having the right chemistry. But I have only ever been in one truly toxic relationship, and believe me, when your partner is toxic, it's totally different then just not being compatible. When you're in a toxic relationship, it feels like real damage is being done to your emotional and mental well-being, leaving scars that can last a long time. The good news is, toxic relationships have the potential to teach you a lot about yourself and what you absolutely will not accept in future relationships. But the first step to learning those important lessons is to know how to spot a toxic relationship — keeping an eye out for signs that, despite their devastating impact, can actually be pretty subtle — and what to do if you are in one.

To help with this serious and complicated issue, I reached out to Christie Tcharkhoutian, licensed marriage and family therapist and professional matchmaker at Three Day Rule, and Dr. Patti Feuereisen, a psychotherapist specializing in sexual abuse and author of Invisible Girls: Speaking The Truth About Sexual Abuse, for their advice on what to look out for if you think your partner is toxic, and what to do next if they are. Here's what they had to say.

What Is A Toxic Relationship?


According to Dr. Feuereisen, a toxic relationship is one that is “Clearly unhealthy, that feels wrong, that causes stress," and "a relationship that makes you feel sh*tty about yourself,” she tells Elite Daily. Tcharkhoutian adds that a relationship becomes toxic when “the mutual love, support, and commitment in a couple has deteriorated.”

The Relationship Is The Opposite Of What You Envision A Happy One To Be


The first step to identifying a toxic relationship, says Feuereisen, is to first consider what a “healthy” relationship means to you. “You need to know when you feel happy and fulfilled in a relationship. Does your partner look out for you, [do they] have your back... Do you feel loved, do you feel safe, do you feel deep comfort when with your partner?”

If you answered "No" to these questions, Dr. Feuereisen says this is the first sign that there might be something toxic about the dynamic of your relationship.

You Have The Same Fight Over And Over Again


There are also patterns of behavior that are common with a toxic partner, says Tcharkhoutian, like having the same fight over and over again. “You continue to have the same argument without anything being resolved: If there is no ability to resolve the same argument, this means that one or both partners are not able to make necessary changes for the relationship to grow closer and can lead to a toxic dynamic between two partners,” she tells Elite Daily.

You Don't Feel Safe With Your Partner


One of the clearest signs of a toxic partner is simply that you do not feel safe with them, says Tcharkhoutian. “A relationship is toxic when you are unable to be vulnerable and feel safe with your partner,” she says. “If the issues and arguments escalate to the point where you feel your partner would take advantage of your vulnerability, your relationship [is] toxic. Additionally, if you try to talk to your partner about something that hurts them and there is no remorse, only resentment that carries on without being resolved, this is a sign that your relationship is toxic,” she explains.

Your Partner Is Abusive


Finally, Dr. Feuereisen warns that any partner who abuses you or emotionally and mentally manipulates you is extremely toxic. “Obvious signs of a toxic relationship [are] if you are being emotionally abused, yelled at, sexually coerced, physically hurt in any way,” says Feuereisen. In that scenario she adds: “Run, don’t walk. You are in a toxic, abusive relationship.”

Your Partner Plays Mind Games With You


While some of these signs are more overt and obvious than others, Dr. Feuereisen warns that there is one more sign of a toxic partner that all too often flies beneath the radar but can be very damaging if a partner engages in it: Gaslighting. “If you start to doubt yourself because your partner makes you feel crazy," Dr. Feuereisen says that’s because you are being gaslit.

“You know what you are saying is true, you know how you are feeling is true, and your partner constantly tells you ‘Are you sure? Hmmm... I don’t see it that way. You know you get like this…’” she says. The danger of this behavior, Feuereisen explains, is that it begins to erode your confidence. “If you are told you are wrong over and over and over again, your sense of security becomes diminished and you start to question yourself,” she adds. This ultimately makes you more vulnerable to manipulation and your toxic partner’s control.

What To Do If Your Relationship Is Toxic


Once you realize that your partner is toxic, the experts say it’s time to take action. In some cases — and if there has been no abuse — Tcharkhoutian says you can work through the issues with communication and a willing partner. “If you feel that your relationship is toxic, it’s important to have a conversation with your partner about the dynamic,” she says. But she also suggests this should be done with the help of an outside resource. “It’s important to seek the help of a therapist to navigate the ways in which these toxic behaviors are created and how to reverse dynamics that you and your partner fall into when stressed,” she adds.

However, most toxic relationships are not salvageable, warns Feuereisen. So, in that case you need to put your health and well-being first. “Toxic relationships drain your energy, make you doubt yourself, take you away from your creativity, make you feel less desirable — you have many more downs than lows, but mostly toxic relationships hurt the core of who you are,” says Dr. Feuereisen. “It could be difficult to remove yourself from a toxic relationship, especially if you’re [stuck]... but know that you are free.” That’s the most important takeaway: You don’t have to put up with or stay in a relationship that is unhealthy.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.