How To Leave A Toxic Relationship: Recognize The Signs And Walk Away

Updated January 11, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content warning: This article contains the mention of abuse. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse of any kind, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Toxic relationships can take different forms. Although the word toxic is a broad term, a toxic relationship generally refers to a relationship that is unhealthy in some capacity. Sometimes, people don’t realize that a relationship is unhealthy. While they may feel negative effects, such as stress or strained self-esteem, they may blame themselves, internalize what is going on, or try to fix things to no avail. What are the possible indications of a toxic relationship? Furthermore, how does one know when to walk away from a relationship? Below, we’ll look at toxic relationships and ways to safely walk away.

How Can You Recognize The Signs Of A Toxic Relationship?

Recognizing the signs of a toxic relationship can be the first step to ending a connection that hurts your mental health, whether the harm done is intentional or unintentional. 

Potential Signs Of A Toxic Relationship:

  • You’ve changed in ways that you don’t like. If you feel that you’re less true to yourself or feel that this partnership directly impacts your confidence and self-esteem, it may be a sign to walk away.

  • There’s instability or intense ups and downs. Toxic relationships are often unstable. This may mean extreme ups and downs in your relationship; maybe, a person oscillates between showing you love and affection and then becomes cold or treats you poorly. They may use kindness and express love just enough to make you think things are getting better, but the harmful patterns persist after the fact. This instability can be confusing and make it hard to let go, but it is often a sign of a toxic relationship and can cause emotional harm.

  • The relationship includes patterns of jealousy, controlling behavior, or possessiveness. Maybe your partner puts down your ability to make life choices, or they attempt to control you in one way or more. They may get jealous of other people in your life and get upset when you spend time with others you love. They may try to dictate what you can do or whom you can see, or they may manipulate you into doing or not doing certain things. 

  • There’s lying, deception, or uncalled-for accusation. One sign of an unhealthy relationship may be that your partner doesn’t trust you, or you don’t trust them, especially if there’s not an equal sense of effort for this to change on both sides. A lack of trust and the need to rebuild it can be valid. However, if a partner accuses you repeatedly with no cause, or if there are repetitive patterns of lying, it could be a sign that this relationship isn’t healthy.

  • There’s an unhealthy communication pattern. Perhaps, one or both of you turn to passive-aggressive behaviors rather than properly communicating with each other. 

  • You notice emotional or verbal abuse warning signs. Maybe your partner attempts to strip you of your self-confidence through belittling or name-calling. Perhaps they gaslight you, leading you to question your reality. Do you feel as though you’re no longer sure of yourself? Does the person belittle you or treat you as less than, even covertly? Do you feel as though you’re walking on eggshells around them? These may be signs of emotional or verbal abuse, which can have serious impacts on your mental health.

  • There are other forms of abuse. We talked a bit about emotional and verbal abuse, but other forms of abuse can also be present in toxic relationships. Not all toxic relationships are necessarily abusive, but all abusive relationships are toxic. Other forms of abuse to look out for include physical, sexual, and financial abuse. Financial abuse occurs in almost all abusive relationships and is a warning sign to consider.

What makes a relationship toxic can vary extensively, so these are only some possible signs you might notice. You might get in touch with how you feel, consider whether the other person is willing to make a change with you, and conder if the best choice you can make for yourself is to call it quits. It may also be beneficial to look at what a healthy relationship may look like in comparison. In a healthy relationship, you can feel safe and have a sense that you are respected as an equal. You can also maintain your sense of autonomy while feeling close to your partner and know that you are supported as an individual.

How To Walk Away From A Toxic Relationship

Sometimes you may need to walk away from a relationship, which can be a painful experience, even if the relationship was or is toxic. So, how do you do it? 

Some Steps To Take To Leave A Toxic Relationship:

  • Cut off communication. Many people find that it is helpful to cut off contact to fully engage in the healing process and not have reminders of the other person or temptations to return. If you have children with this person, or if there’s another reason that you must have some level of communication, you might try to keep it as minimal as possible and not engage with any attempts on their end to communicate further. Professional or legal help (e.g., very clear terms on child custody/visitation) may be beneficial in some cases.

  • Remain firm in your choice to walk away. You might remember that the other person may try to debate your departure. If you face the temptation to work things out but know it isn’t a healthy choice, you might set a firm boundary with yourself (i.e., “It’s okay to feel this grief and temptation, but I know that this is what I need to do”). 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 do this despite a lack of response on your end, it may be considered harassment. It can be challenging, especially at first, to adjust, but you will likely feel better in the long term.

  • Turn toward your support system. You may choose to have someone with you when you cut off contact or ask a friend to be there for you to call right after your final conversation. In the following weeks, days, or months, you can continue to turn to your support system. You may also find support groups, whether online or in person. Support can make a big difference when you leave a toxic relationship, and it might be something you want to increase in various areas.

If the situation is an abusive one or if you are at all concerned for your safety, you should put your well-being first. There is help available immediately if you feel in danger.

Healing After You Let Go

Healing after you let go of a toxic relationship can take time. You might experience grief related to the loss of the relationship, which could mean that you move through some or all the stages of grief, which include denial, bargaining, depression, anger, and acceptance. Depending on the circumstances, you may experience concerns such as difficulty trusting others and lowered self-esteem. It is possible to heal from the effects of a toxic relationship, and support can make a big difference. A therapist or counselor may help you move past the effects of a toxic relationship, which can be lasting. You may be able to find a therapist to work with in person, or you may opt to work with a therapist online. 

Online Therapy

Internet-based therapy is well studied and can help people who want to work on a range of different concerns with the help of a professional. BetterHelp has continued to improve throughout the years, and over 20,000 licensed, independent providers currently offer therapy through the BetterHelp platform. When you sign up, you will take a brief questionnaire to help our team match you with a professional who meets your needs. If you need to cancel your BetterHelp plan or change therapists at any point in the process, you can easily do so. Online therapy through BetterHelp is convenient and is often more affordable than traditional, in-person therapy without health insurance. Even better, financial aid may be available for those who need it.


If you suspect you might be in a toxic relationship, you are not alone. You can be matched with an online therapist with experience helping people navigate toxic relationships and the decision to leave. With BetterHelp, you can talk to a therapist completely online from home or from anywhere safe where you have an internet connection. Take the first step and contact BetterHelp today. 

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started