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What is a Toxic Relationship? Understanding the Signs, Costs, and How to Get Out

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

Relationships are a fundamental part of human life, but not all relationships are positive or healthy. Toxic relationships can be detrimental to our well-being, and they can impact our productivity and ability to function in our daily lives. In this blog post, we will explore what a toxic relationship is, how it can affect us, and what we can do to get out of one.



Relationships are Essential to Human Experience


Relationships are an essential part of the human experience, influencing our emotional and psychological well-being, our sense of identity and purpose, and our overall quality of life. At their best, relationships can provide us with a deep sense of connection, meaning, and belonging, supporting us through life's challenges and enriching our daily experiences. However, relationships can also be complex and difficult, requiring patience, communication, and a willingness to work through conflicts and differences. In this blog, we'll explore the concept of relationships in more depth, including what they are, why they matter, and how we can cultivate healthy and fulfilling relationships in our lives.


At its core, a relationship is a connection between two or more individuals, characterized by a range of emotional, social, and physical interactions. Relationships can take many forms, from romantic partnerships to friendships, family relationships, and professional connections. Regardless of the type of relationship, however, all relationships involve some level of emotional investment and mutual support, whether through shared experiences, interests, or goals.


Perhaps the most important reason why relationships matter is their impact on our overall well-being. Humans are social creatures, wired for connection and interaction with others. Our relationships help to shape our identities and provide us with a sense of belonging, purpose, and meaning. Positive relationships have been shown to contribute to better mental health, increased life satisfaction, and improved physical health outcomes. On the other hand, negative or toxic relationships can have the opposite effect, leading to stress, anxiety, and a range of health problems.


In addition to their impact on our well-being, relationships are also essential for personal growth and development. Healthy relationships can challenge us to grow and change in positive ways, helping us to develop new skills, perspectives, and self-awareness. By engaging in open and honest communication, we can learn more about ourselves and others, identify areas where we may need to improve, and work towards becoming our best selves.


Of course, building and maintaining healthy relationships is not always easy. Relationships can be complex, fraught with challenges and conflicts that can test our patience, empathy, and resilience. However, by cultivating positive communication skills, practicing active listening, and setting boundaries, we can create the foundations for strong and healthy relationships that can support us through life's ups and downs.


Throughout this blog, we'll explore a range of topics related to relationships, including the warning signs of toxic relationships, strategies for getting out of a toxic relationship, tips for building and maintaining healthy relationships, and more. By better understanding the dynamics of relationships and the impact they can have on our lives, we can take steps to cultivate stronger, more fulfilling connections with others and lead happier, healthier lives.


What is a Toxic Relationship?


A toxic relationship is one that is emotionally, mentally, or physically damaging to one or both individuals involved. These relationships are characterized by patterns of behavior that are manipulative, controlling, and often abusive. Toxic relationships can take many forms, including romantic partnerships, friendships, and familial relationships.


Signs of a toxic relationship:

  • Frequent arguments or conflicts that never get resolved

  • Manipulative behavior, such as guilt-tripping or gaslighting

  • Controlling behavior, such as monitoring the other person's activities or isolating them from friends and family

  • Verbal abuse, including insults, name-calling, and belittling

  • Physical abuse, including hitting, pushing, or other forms of violence


5 Signs of a Toxic Relationship: Frequent arguments or conflicts, manipulative behavior, controlling behavior, verbal abuse, physical abuse
5 Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Differences Between Toxic Relationships and Healthy Relationships


When it comes to relationships, it can be difficult to determine what is healthy and what is toxic. Both types of relationships can involve intense emotions and experiences, but the key difference lies in the overall impact on our well-being and productivity. In this comparison, we'll take a closer look at some of the main differences between toxic relationships and healthy relationships, in order to better understand what sets them apart. By recognizing these differences, we can start to identify the warning signs of a toxic relationship and take steps to create and maintain healthy relationships in our lives.


Here are some differences between the signs of a toxic relationship and a healthy relationship:


Toxic Relationship:

  • Involves power struggles and control

  • Communication is often negative and critical

  • One person's needs are prioritized over the other's

  • There is little to no respect for boundaries

  • Jealousy and possessiveness are common

  • There is little to no support for individual growth

  • The relationship feels draining and depleting

  • The relationship causes stress and anxiety

  • The focus is on blame and criticism rather than problem-solving

  • Physical, emotional, or verbal abuse may be present

Healthy Relationship:

  • Involves mutual respect and partnership

  • Communication is open, honest, and non-judgmental

  • Both partners' needs are considered and prioritized

  • Boundaries are respected and honored

  • Trust and respect are present without possessiveness or jealousy

  • There is support for individual growth and personal goals

  • The relationship feels nourishing and fulfilling

  • The relationship promotes a sense of calm and happiness

  • The focus is on finding solutions and compromises

  • There is no abuse present in any form.


Signs of toxic relationships vs. healthy relationships
Toxic vs. Healthy Relationships

The Costs to Well-Being of Being in a Toxic Relationship


Being in a toxic relationship can have significant costs to our well-being, both mentally and physically. Toxic relationships can be draining and depleting, leading to feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. They can also negatively impact our physical health, leading to increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and potentially contributing to a range of health problems. In addition to these direct impacts, toxic relationships can also lead to reduced productivity and missed opportunities, as we may be preoccupied with the negative emotions and experiences associated with the relationship. Being in a toxic relationship can take a toll on your mental and physical health. In this section, we'll take a closer look at some of the specific costs to well-being that can arise from being in a toxic relationship.


Here are some of the ways that toxic relationships can impact your well-being:


Mental Health Costs:

  • Anxiety: Constantly feeling on edge or worrying about what your partner will say or do next can lead to anxiety and panic attacks.

  • Depression: Toxic relationships can erode your self-esteem and make you feel like you're not good enough. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression.

  • PTSD: Being in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This can lead to nightmares, flashbacks, and other symptoms.

  • Self-doubt: Toxic relationships can make you doubt your own perceptions and judgments. You may start to believe that you're the problem, rather than recognizing that the relationship is toxic.

Physical Health Costs:

  • Sleep disturbances: Being in a toxic relationship can make it difficult to sleep. You may lie awake at night worrying about what your partner will say or do next.

  • Substance abuse: Some people turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with the stress of being in a toxic relationship.

  • Physical health problems: Chronic stress can lead to physical health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and digestive issues.

  • Eating disorders: Some people develop eating disorders as a way to gain control over their lives in the face of an abusive relationship.

The Costs to Productivity of Being in a Toxic Relationship


Toxic relationships can also impact your ability to be productive and successful in your personal and professional life. Here are some ways that toxic relationships can affect your productivity:

  • Lack of focus: When you're in a toxic relationship, it's hard to focus on anything else. You may spend hours thinking about your partner or worrying about what they'll do next.

  • Reduced motivation: Toxic relationships can make you feel drained and exhausted. It can be hard to find the energy to pursue your goals or take care of your responsibilities.

  • Poor performance: When you're not feeling your best, it's hard to perform at your best. You may find that your work suffers, or that you're not meeting your own expectations.

  • Missed opportunities: Being in a toxic relationship can keep you from pursuing new opportunities or taking risks. You may feel trapped or too scared to try something new.

Here is what Bryant McGill says about toxic relationships:


“Toxic relationships are dangerous to your health; they will literally kill you. Stress shortens your lifespan. Even a broken heart can kill you. There is an undeniable mind-body connection.” - Bryant McGill, about toxic relationships
Bryant McGill's Quote on Toxic Relationships

What can you do if you're in a toxic relationship?


Getting out of a toxic relationship can be a challenging and sometimes frightening process, but it's essential for our well-being and happiness. There are a number of steps we can take to extricate ourselves from a toxic relationship, including setting boundaries, seeking support, creating a safety plan, practicing self-care, and cutting off contact if necessary. These steps require courage and perseverance, but they are crucial in order to break free from the negative impact of a toxic relationship and move towards a healthier and more positive future. If you're in a toxic relationship, the first step is to recognize that it's not healthy and that you deserve better, leading to a shift in your mindset. In the following section, we'll explore these steps in more detail and provide practical advice for anyone who is seeking to get out of a toxic relationship.


Here are some steps you can take to get out of a toxic relationship:

  • Set boundaries: Setting boundaries is an essential step in getting out of a toxic relationship. It's important to be clear about what you will and will not tolerate from the other person. This can involve saying "no" to certain behaviors or requests, and being firm in your stance. It's also important to communicate your boundaries clearly to the other person, so they know what is and isn't acceptable.

  • Seek support: Getting out of a toxic relationship can be challenging, and it's important to have a support system in place. This can include friends, family members, or a therapist who can provide emotional support and guidance. It's important to talk to someone you trust and who will support you through this process.

  • Create a safety plan: If you're leaving a physically abusive relationship, it's important to create a safety plan. This can involve packing a bag with essentials, having a place to go, and having a support system in place. It's important to have a plan in case the other person becomes violent or tries to prevent you from leaving.

  • Practice self-care: Getting out of a toxic relationship can be emotionally draining, and it's important to take care of yourself. This can involve engaging in activities that make you feel good, such as exercise or spending time with loved ones. It's also important to take care of your physical health, by eating well and getting enough sleep.

  • Cut off contact: In some cases, it may be necessary to cut off contact with the other person completely. This can be difficult, especially if you have a history with the person, but it's important to prioritize your own well-being. Cutting off contact can involve blocking the other person's phone number and social media accounts, and avoiding places where they may be.

Building and Maintaining Healthy Relationships


Building and maintaining healthy relationships, on the other hand, is essential for our emotional and psychological well-being, as well as our overall quality of life. Positive relationships can provide us with a sense of support, connection, and purpose, and can help us to navigate life's challenges with greater resilience and confidence. However, creating and sustaining healthy relationships takes effort and intentionality. In this section, we'll explore some practical tips for building and maintaining healthy relationships, based on the latest research and expert advice. Whether you're looking to strengthen your existing relationships or build new ones, these tips can help you to cultivate deeper and more meaningful connections with the people in your life.


Tips for building and maintaining healthy relationships:

  • Communicate openly and honestly: Effective communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship. Make sure to listen actively to others, express your own thoughts and feelings clearly and respectfully, and be willing to compromise when needed.

  • Practice empathy and understanding: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. By practicing empathy and trying to see things from another person's perspective, you can build stronger and more compassionate relationships.

  • Set boundaries: Boundaries are the limits we set on our own behavior and the behavior of others in our relationships. Setting clear and consistent boundaries can help to create a sense of safety and respect in our relationships.

  • Show appreciation and gratitude: Expressing gratitude and appreciation for the people in our lives can help to strengthen our connections and increase feelings of positivity and well-being.

  • Make time for connection: In today's busy world, it can be easy to let our relationships fall by the wayside. Make a conscious effort to prioritize your relationships by setting aside time for connection, whether that means scheduling regular date nights with your partner or making time for regular catch-ups with friends.

  • Practice forgiveness: Forgiveness is an essential part of building and maintaining healthy relationships. By practicing forgiveness and letting go of past hurts, we can move forward with greater compassion and understanding.

  • Seek help when needed: No relationship is perfect, and it's normal to experience challenges and conflicts from time to time. Don't be afraid to seek help from a therapist or counselor if you're struggling with your relationships. They can provide you with valuable insights and support as you navigate the ups and downs of your connections with others.


How to build and maintain healthy relationships
How to build and maintain healthy relationships

Losing the Bad Habit and Looking into the Future


Toxic relationships can have a profound impact on our well-being and productivity. Being in a toxic relationship can lead to mental and physical health problems, as well as reduced productivity and missed opportunities. If you're in a toxic relationship, it's important to recognize the signs and take steps to get out of the relationship. This can involve setting boundaries, seeking support, creating a safety plan, practicing self-care, and cutting off contact if necessary. Remember, you deserve to be in a healthy and positive relationship.


In conclusion, relationships are an essential part of our lives, providing us with a sense of support, connection, and purpose. While healthy relationships can have a profoundly positive impact on our well-being and productivity, toxic relationships can have the opposite effect, leaving us feeling drained, stressed, and unfulfilled. It's important to recognize the signs of a toxic relationship and take steps to get out of it, whether that means setting boundaries, seeking help, or ending the relationship altogether.


However, getting out of a toxic relationship is often easier said than done. Toxic relationships can become a bad habit, leaving us feeling stuck in patterns of behavior that are detrimental to our well-being. But just as we can develop bad habits, we can also develop good ones. By making a conscious effort to cultivate healthy relationships, we can create positive patterns of behavior that can have a lasting impact on our lives.


One tool that can help in this process is the app Insumo. Insumo is a habit-forming app that can help you develop new habits and break old ones. By setting goals and tracking your progress, Insumo can help you to develop positive relationship habits that can support your well-being and productivity. Whether you're looking to build stronger relationships with your partner, cultivate deeper connections with friends, or simply be more mindful in your interactions with others, Insumo can provide you with the tools and support you need to create lasting change. You can download the app here:




In the end, building and maintaining healthy relationships is an ongoing process that requires effort, intentionality, and a willingness to grow and change. By recognizing the signs of toxic relationships, taking steps to get out of them, and cultivating positive relationship habits, we can create more fulfilling and meaningful connections with the people in our lives. Whether you're starting a new relationship, working to improve an existing one, or recovering from a toxic relationship, remember that it's never too late to develop healthy relationship habits and create the life you want.


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