What to do if you’re in a toxic relationship.

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What to do if you’re in a toxic relationship.

What is a toxic relationship?

A toxic relationship is a relationship that’s harmful, draining, or in some way negatively affecting the well-being of one or both partners.

There are many different kinds of behaviors that are unhealthy—aka toxic—in romantic partnerships, ranging from one sidedness or codependency to manipulation and full-on abuse. (Here’s our full guide to toxic relationships.)

A relationship doesn’t necessarily need to involve “bad” people for it to become toxic. It’s more about whether the dynamic between the two partners allows both individuals to feel individually happy, nourished, empowered, and whole—consistently, in both the good times and the bad times.

Generally speaking, a relationship that involves constant fighting, power imbalance, fear, or mistrust is likely toxic because of the way these dynamics can harm one or both people’s well-being and create instability in the relationship that isn’t sustainable long term.

Additionally, there is no room for aggression, threats, attacks, or controlling behavior in a healthy relationship—and if these dynamics are at play in a relationship, it may no longer be safe to stay in at all.

Am I toxic?

Maybe after taking this quiz or reading the above, you’re noticing some signs of a toxic relationship—but you’re the one exhibiting the harmful behavior. So you might be wondering: Am I in a toxic relationship, or am I the toxic one?

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According to psychologist Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, a toxic person is someone who consistently behaves in ways that harm others, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

If there are unhealthy dynamics in your relationship that have been patterns in your past relationships as well, it’s very well possible that your behavior is what’s causing the consistent friction. It’s also possible that you’re simply in a unique situation that you’re responding to in a way that’s harmful to others and to your relationship.

While no one wants to learn that they’re creating a toxic relationship culture, that self-awareness is the first step toward healing, breaking those negative habits, and outgrowing your harm-inducing responses.

“There’s a difference between being toxic and acting toxic. The first is when it’s ingrained in our personality, and we actively enjoy hurting others; the second corresponds to aspects of our behaviors,” Neo explains.

“The good news is, with a little self-reflection and asking for feedback from others, we can become aware of these habits and eradicate them so we can become better people.”

What to do if you’re in a toxic relationship.

If you’re in a toxic relationship, there are only two paths forward: Both partners need to commit to changing the relationship for the better, or it’s time to break up.

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“A toxic relationship can change if and only if both partners are equally committed to overcoming it with lots of open communication, honesty, self-reflection, and possibly professional help, individually and together,” trauma-informed relationship coach Julie Nguyen writes at mbg.

“It will require each of you to examine your actions and do inner work. If you or your partner is not willing to truly put in the effort, the relationship will not change and should be ended.”

If you think it’s a real possibility, here’s our full guide on how to fix a toxic relationship. Otherwise, here are the signs it’s time to break up.

The one exception? If there’s any abusive behavior—whether that’s physical or emotional abuse—it’s likely the relationship cannot be mended without significant intervention. Couples’ therapy can be a helpful first step, but remember, your safety and well-being are the No. 1 priority.

Leave the relationship if you feel unsafe; there are people and resources available to support you through the process if you need it.

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