How to Define and Navigate a Toxic Relationship

Whether it’s with your spouse, partner, friend, or co-worker, working to define a toxic relationship can be painful and uncomfortable. Discover the steps you can take to salvage the relationship or if it’s time to let go for good.

Toxic relationships can come in many forms and varying degrees of severity.

Most times, a relationship has already taken a turn for toxic territory before you even realize it’s destroying your overall health and wellbeing.

I believe that it’s essential to not only actively define a toxic relationship but also work towards finding a solution. Keep in mind that not all relationships are salvageable or in your best interest to continue pursuing them.

Note: there can be distinct differences between toxic relationships and abusive relationships, but not always. If you believe you’re in an abusive relationship, please learn more and seek support at

Also, I am not a relationship expert or therapist. This purpose of this article is to entertain and encourage you to do your own research. Please seek proper support as needed.

woman screaming out loud at toxic relationship

How do you define a toxic relationship?

According to Health Scope Mag, the textbook definition of a toxic relationship is a relationship characterized by behaviors on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally, and, not infrequently, physically damaging to their partner.

As I mentioned above, unhealthy relationships are not limited to romantic partnerships, but also the bonds you hold with family members, friends, co-workers, and more.

While every relationship is unique, especially depending on the specific dynamics of said relationship, there are some common red flags that signal a toxic partnership:

  • A lack of communication and trust
  • Consistent self-betrayal leading to a lack of opinion
  • Unequal exchange of energy more often than not

When I was in a toxic relationship in my early 20s, I didn’t realize it at the time. As a recovering people-pleaser, I was blinded by the idea that I could “fix” this person by pushing my opinions, clinging on too hard, and morphing myself to become someone I thought he wanted.

At the end of it all, I lost touch with who I was and what I valued as an individual. I poured myself into our relationship out of feelings of inadequacy, a fear of loneliness, and a deep desire to please.

Eventually, I realized my self-worth and ended the relationship for good.

couple holding hands in relationship

Common signs and patterns of a toxic relationship

You’re constantly losing yourself

Losing yourself can look like constantly changing who you are, what you value, and even your goals and ambitions to appease the other person or to make yourself seem more agreeable.

Honest communication feels impossible

A lack of open and vulnerable communication is a strong indicator that the relationship is toxic in some way. This absence of communication can happen for many reasons.

It’s all take, take, take

Healthy relationships require an equal energy exchange from both partners over the long run. Toxic relationships are often one-sided and exhausting.

Negative and hostile environments are the norm

Constant anger and bad vibes have a way of affecting everyone and every interaction. Pay attention to your gut feelings and how you feel after interacting with the other person in the partnership.

Judgement is constant and you feel you can’t do anything

Nothing will ever be “good enough” for the toxic individual, leaving you in their path when something isn’t completed to their (impossible) standards.

woman in the woods dancing

Handling a toxic relationship

When looking to handle and manage a potentially toxic relationship, it’s important to keep in mind that most people don’t change. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. I believe that some toxic relationships can become less volatile over time with commitment, compassion, and a lot of hard work.

There is a very serious exception to the above: if you have ever been physically hit or believe your relationship is abusive in any way, please seek support and guidance.

1. Actively work to fix the relationship

There are some instances that a chance in behavior on your end can help to improve the toxicity of a relationship.

Now, I’m not saying to bend over backward or change who you are as an individual to appease the other person involved. Instead, I encourage you to take a look at the quality of your communication and how clearly you’re expressing and communicating your emotional needs.

Changing your behavior might be enough to spark change in the other individual and help to heal the relationship as a whole.

Additionally, consider the below points as requirements to fix the relationship:

  • You’re willing to walk away if behavior doesn’t shift
  • Boundaries should be clear, strong, and consistent
  • Needs must be clearly communicated in a non-threatening way
  • Accept that you are not their caregiver in any capacity

If you’re hoping to fix your toxic relationship, read more on how to fix a toxic relationship.

2. Consider ending the relationship

Have you finally had enough of your toxic relationship? It might be time to put an end to it once and for all.

There are some important steps to consider when ending a volatile partnership, but I believe the most important factor to keep in mind is that you are worthy of having a supportive, loving relationship.

If your mental, physical, and emotional health is continuously taking a hit due to your toxic relationship, that’s a tell-tale sign that it’s time for you to move on.

To support you in the process of ending a relationship, consider the below points:

  • Get honest with your happiness (how happy are you, really?)
  • How would your life improve without this person involved?
  • What are the pros and cons of this relationship?
  • Details aside, would you be happier without the burden of this relationship?
woman with her hands over her heart

The quality of your relationships and self-care

Whether you decide to attempt to salvage your relationship or end it for good, the quality of your relationships is a direct reflection of your self-worth.

When we actively work towards improving the quality of the partnerships within our life – personally, professionally, romantically – we are, in turn, addressing and prioritizing our overall happiness.

As easy as it can feel to get stuck in unhealthy patterns and toxic relationships, this way of living can have a serious detriment to our lives. You must learn to take control of your emotional self-care to free yourself from what you no longer wish to carry.

Consider the impact of your short-term sacrifice for the development of your long-term health and happiness.



  • I really like this blog post because I think that due to what today is like, it is important you can easily define something/someone that might be toxic for you.
    I feel like if someone were confused by the relationship they were in, or if they needed some sort of guidance towards a situation, this post could help point them in the right direction.

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