Five Signs You May be in a Toxic Relationship


“To love without knowing how to love, wounds the person we love.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

For five years, in my late teens and early twenties, I was a part of a toxic relationship. It was my first real relationship and I had no idea what I was doing. While we did love each other, neither of us really knew how to love. We didn’t know how to communicate honestly, to ask for what we needed kindly, nor how to fight cleanly. By the end, it felt as though we were mortal enemies rather than romantic partners. Our relationship was marked by mistrust and manipulation. It seemed that we were playing a ruthless game of “I’ll hurt you more than/before you can hurt me”. Whenever we fought, we brought up old transgressions and threw them in each others faces. We had both been unfaithful, physically and emotionally. It was the loneliest experience of my life.

Despite all of this, I do not regret this relationship. It was a powerful teacher. It forced me to confront the ugliest parts of myself and taught me what not to do ever again if I wanted the kind of real love that in my heart, I knew was waiting for me. The winter that this relationship finally ended, I was living alone in a huge, drafty old house. I had nothing but time to think, cry, pray and read. This time of reflection was the beginning of my journey back to the light.

While I do not regret any of these experiences, I do wish that someone could have helped me to recognize earlier that I was in such a toxic relationship. There were plenty of red flags that I either did not see or chose to ignore. Such as…

  1. Isolating yourself from friends and family members.
  2. Feeling uncharacteristically depressed, anxious, moody, jealous, angry, etc. a lot of the time
  3. Being intentionally hurtful to your partner, and them to you.
  4. Constantly feeling the need to emotionally guard against your partner.
  5. Not trusting your partner to be kind, loving and faithful (whatever that means to you).

All of these are signs that you and your partner are working against each other, rather than working together to accomplish your life goals. Such relationships take a heavy toll on our health and vitality, and usually affect all other aspects of our lives. In some instances, the best thing to do may be to extricate yourself from said relationship so that both partners can spend some time healing. This is of course easier said than done. Ultimately, whether your goal is to stay together or to gracefully bow out, chances are you and your partner could benefit from support around how best to do this. Relationships are at the core of our lives, and learning how to love well is a lifelong journey. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help.

Tajah Sahar Schall MA, LPC, R-DMT

I provide somatic (body-based), social justice oriented counseling to individuals, couples and families of all sociocultural backgrounds. I support adolescents and their families through the unique and often difficult time of transition by incorporating movement, nature and rites of passage into the therapeutic process.


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