How To Leave A Toxic Relationship: Recognizing The Signs

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Unhealthy or "toxic" relationships can take several forms. In some cases, individuals don't realize that a relationship is unhealthy. While they may feel the adverse effects, such as stress or strained self-esteem, they might blame themselves, internalize their experiences, or try to fix the relationship. Knowing how to recognize an unhealthy relationship and move forward in a healthy way can be beneficial in these cases.

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Interested in learning about signs of an unhealthy relationship?

Signs of an unhealthy relationship 

When considering leaving a relationship, you might benefit from looking at how your partner's behavior impacts you. Signs of harm occurring may signify an unhealthy dynamic. Whether the harm is intentional or unintentional, these signs could indicate a cause to seek support or move on from a connection.  

You're experiencing negative changes 

If you feel you're not yourself since you met your partner or that your partnership directly impacts your confidence and self-esteem, the relationship might not be healthy. If you've changed your personality, ignored aspects of who you are, or lied to appease your partner, you might experience long-term adverse self-esteem or mental health impacts.

Your relationship is unstable  

Unhealthy relationships are often unstable. Instability can look like black-and-white thinking, patterns of love followed by avoidance, or extreme emotional shifts throughout the day. A person acting in an unstable manner might give you mixed messages or cause you to feel uncertain about how they might act at any given moment. 

Your partner demonstrates jealousy, controlling behavior, or possessiveness

If your partner impacts your ability to make life choices or attempts to control you in multiple ways, they might be demonstrating controlling, jealous, or possessive behavior. Ask yourself whether your partner acts jealous of other people, tries to control your social media usage, or frequently asks you to stay home when you want to go out. If your partner tries to control your behavior to the point of isolating you, you may be experiencing emotional abuse.

Deception and dishonesty 

If you and your partner do not trust each other, deception or dishonesty may be present in your relationship. If your partner constantly lies or you feel you cannot be honest with them for your safety, you might be in an unhealthy relationship. 

Unhealthy communication patterns 

Studies show that long-term relationship success can often be attributed to communication, which may be more valuable than commitment. If you and your partner struggle to communicate healthily, it might lead to resentment, unresolved challenges, and emotional pain. Passive-aggressive, passive, or aggressive communication styles can all cause complications.

Learning to be assertive, direct, and empathetic may be beneficial. Many couples turn to couples therapy to learn these patterns in their relationships.  

Abuse 

Any type of abuse is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Patterns of behavior that are abusive can look like the following: 

  • Name-calling 
  • Gaslighting (leading you to question your reality)
  • Insults 
  • Shaming statements
  • Physical harm
  • Yelling
  • Sexual coercion
  • Isolating you from others
  • Blaming you for their behavior 
  • "Love bombing" after treating you poorly
  • Trying to control your finances
  • Threatening you or someone you love 

Many unhealthy behaviors and warning signs are associated with abuse. Abuse doesn't have to be physical: emotional, mental, psychological, and financial abuse are forms of abuse that may not involve violence. Although these types of abuse can lead to physical abuse, your experiences are still valid if they do not. A partner does not need to hit you to be considered abusive.  

Signs of a healthy relationship 

What a healthy relationship looks like can vary depending on the couple. You might notice the following traits in a healthy partnership: 

  • A sense of "peace" or "calm" 
  • Trust in your partner's place in your life 
  • The ability to spend time alone when needed
  • A lack of escalated arguments
  • A lack of abuse 
  • Sexual consent
  • Healthy boundaries
  • Kindness, empathy, and compassion 
  • A close emotional connection 
  • Equal amounts of effort contributed to the relationship 
  • Secure attachment styles 
  • Similar goals for the future 
  • Similar values and morals for the relationship 
  • Respect 
  • Healthy communication 
  • Honesty 
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How to leave a toxic relationship

Below are a few strategies for leaving an unhealthy relationship. If you're living in an abusive relationship and feel unsafe leaving or don't know how to begin, you can also call the hotline at the beginning of this article for immediate support and resources in your area.

Cut off communication 

Many people find it valuable to cut off contact with their ex-partner to engage in the healing process fully and not have reminders of them. If you have children with this person, or if there's another reason you must maintain communication, you might try to keep communication as minimal as possible and not make any attempts to connect outside of this purpose. Professional support could also be valuable if you're unsure how to distance yourself. 

Remain firm in your decisions 

If you are the partner initiating the breakup, your partner might try to make attempts to "get you back." If you know getting back together with your ex-partner is not a healthy choice, you might set a firm boundary with yourself and stick to your decision. 

In your final message or statement to the other person, you may say, "Please do not contact me," to clarify your boundaries. If they reach out repetitively after you ask them not to, despite a lack of response on your end, it may be considered harassment. 

Turn toward your support system 

It may be helpful to have someone you trust available when you cut off contact or break up with your partner. In the following weeks, days, or months, you can continue to turn to your support system for guidance. You may also find support groups for people who have left unhealthy relationships. Talking to others who have experienced your situation could validate your emotions and help you learn unique coping methods. 

If you were in an abusive relationship or are concerned for your safety, put your well-being first by contacting a hotline for support. In addition, let your support system know how they can support you as you take steps to leave your partner. 

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Interested in learning about signs of an unhealthy relationship?

Talk to a therapist 

Leaving an unhealthy relationship can be challenging. You might experience grief related to losing the relationship, difficulty trusting others, or lowered self-esteem. In these cases, a therapist or counselor may help you leave your partner, cope with the breakup, or talk about the factors leading up to your decision. If you're struggling with your breakup or feel unsafe in public, you can also try online therapy.  

Online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp can offer unique benefits to someone looking for on-the-go support. For example, many online platforms offer extra features like webinars, journaling prompts, or worksheets. Others might allow you to choose between phone, video, or chat sessions with your therapist, giving you control over how you speak to your therapist. For those looking for frequent support after a breakup, some platforms offer 24/7 messaging with your therapist. 

Studies also back up the effectiveness of online therapy. One study found that 71% of participants preferred online therapy to in-person options, citing it as more effective for their mental health concerns. Another study found that online therapy could be effective for those recovering from the impacts of domestic violence or abuse. 

Takeaway

You're not alone if you suspect you might be in an unhealthy relationship. Many people find support and relief by talking to a therapist online or in their area. Connect with a licensed provider to get started, or call a hotline for immediate resources.
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