A toxic relationship is one that makes you feel unsupported, misunderstood, demeaned, or attacked. On a basic level, any relationship that makes you feel worse rather than better can become toxic over time.
Toxic relationships can exist in just about any context, from the playground to the boardroom to the bedroom. You may even deal with toxic relationships among your family members.
A relationship is toxic when your well-being is threatened in some way—emotionally, psychologically, and even physically.
When people talk about toxic relationships, they almost always think about physical or emotional abuse, harmful behavior, or insecurity issues. Still, they fail to talk about the most important trait — toxic communication patterns.
The way you talk with and about your partner is a good indicator of how healthy your relationship is. Negative communication styles include being dismissive when your partner says something, showing contempt, hurting your partner through your words as a form of revenge, etc.
Healthy vs. unhealthy communication
When you read the shortlist above, maybe you thought, “I’ve done that once” or “I remember doing that the other day and feeling bad about it.” And now you’re worried that maybe you have bad communication in your relationship. Don’t worry — yet.
Just because you said something means once or were a little rude three years ago does not immediately indicate that you have toxic communication issues. It’s only human to get out of hand sometimes and lose control.
But when you notice that this is a pattern and that you are using it almost every day, that’s a problem. This could be because you have a low emotional IQ, which research shows could be the main reason for toxic communication patterns. However, this is something that you can work on and improve.
On the other hand, healthy communication includes transparency, trust, respect, and kindness. It is not enough to show your love and adoration to the other person just through actions – words are also important. Using healthy communication strategies can help you connect with your partner better.
What is an example of bad communication in a relationship?
Let’s use a scenario. You’re done with work on a Friday, and you’re excited to do something fun with your partner. You come back home to see them lounging on the couch, eating potato chips. You ask them if they want to catch a movie or go for a walk, but they tell you they don’t feel like it. You’re hurt and say one (or many) of these things:
“We never do anything,” “I hate you,” “You don’t care for me,” “I’m sick of you,” or you end up punching a wall, or throwing a fit, or crying, or maybe even snatching away their bag of chips.
All of these are unhealthy communication patterns. You’re not changing your partner’s behavior because they have no idea what’s going on. They don’t know that you had a busy day at the office, they didn’t realize how much this meant to you, and they have no idea what you expect from them.
Instead of using hurtful words, negative body language, or making assumptions, clearly explaining to your partner why you want to go out, how you’re feeling, and proposing a compromise can greatly improve your relationship.
10 Toxic communication patterns that ruin relationships
Here are examples of some communication patterns that can hurt your relationship. It would be helpful if you could avoid these patterns.
1. Getting too defensive
Getting defensive every time your partner brings up a problem is a common negative relationship pattern. When your partner tells you something is bothering them, the healthy way to respond is “I’m sorry this is frustrating for you”; the unhealthy way is to say, “This is not my fault.”
It can be easy to slip into the blame game, where you and your partner go back and forth in an argument, blaming each other constantly instead of working together to find a solution. Even if the other person is at fault, pointing it out when it doesn’t help you get to a solution is a problem of over-communication in a relationship. It often worsens the situation.
2. Using frustrated language
It’s normal to get frustrated, even for the smallest things. However, taking it out on your partner is not. Your frustration may result from many things, and taking it out only on your partner is unfair to them.
Frustrated language can look like “You always get on my nerves” or “You never take my side.” Using “always” and “never” makes your partner feel like they are constantly hurting you when that might not be the case. This type of language can also make you internalize the feeling that your partner is the root cause of all your problems when that’s not true.
3. Speaking for your partner
When you’re in a relationship, especially a long-term one, the lines between you and your partner get blurred. You might tell your partner’s stories or order their drinks at a bar.
While this shows how well you know them, it’s also bad communication in a relationship because you’re not open to your partner speaking for themselves. This can promote you being stuck in a rut and not allowing your partner to have the space for change or growth.
This shows that you don’t stop to consider that maybe your partner wants to try a different drink or tell their story in their way. This is an acute sign that you’re controlling your partner in a way that ruins your relationship.
If you identify with this, watch this video on how to change your controlling behavior –
4. Gaslighting your partner
On an extensive list of communication no-nos, gaslighting is very high up on the list as this can get very toxic very quickly. Gaslighting is when you make your question their sense of reality.
If your partner says, “You are being too controlling of my actions.” You respond with, “Are you sure I’m controlling? I’m just helping you make good decisions.
That means I care about you” then that’s you gaslighting them into thinking you’re not a toxic partner when you are.
When your partner brings up a problem, thinking about it carefully, and asking them to come up with a solution is the best way to avoid toxic communication patterns. It can be hard to spot gaslighting behavior, but being aware of how your partner feels and letting them express themselves freely is the best way to support them.
5. Being too critical of your partner
When you’re dating someone, it’s only human to hope your partner is perfect, and it can be hard to remember that it’s simply not possible — after all, they’re human too. You’re only reducing their self-worth by constantly criticizing them for the way they look or something they can’t control.
Talking to your partner about something that has no solution and will only be a detriment to your relationship is a sign of too much communication in a relationship. This type of unhealthy communication serves no purpose but reduces your partner’s self-worth and comfort.
6. Negative body language
Non-verbal communication is important in a relationship because it shows how someone feels about you. By putting out negative body language like eye rolls, physically distancing yourself from your partner, and avoiding physical intimacy, you’re only making your partner feel like you don’t want to be with them.
7. Sudden brakes
Hitting the brakes on all forms of communication with your partner without giving them any context puts a crutch in your relationships and communication patterns. Abruptly stopping all texts and calls and refusing to talk to them is one of the most common traits in toxic relationships.
The difference between healthy vs. unhealthy communication is how you explain your behavior by helping your partner understand why you’re distancing from themselves and improving your toxic communication patterns.
8. Steamrolling over your partner
Steamrolling is one of the most common toxic communication patterns. Not letting your partner express themselves freely will only inhibit trust and future communication. Psychologists say that steamrolling can signify narcissistic behavior and lead to cycles of rage and depression in a relationship.
Examples of steamrolling include defensive communication when your partner brings up a problem without letting them finish, talking over your partner, or abruptly changing the topic without listening to what they say.
9. Overstepping your boundaries
There are some things you never bring up in conversations with your partner. It could be a previous trauma they shared with you in a moment of vulnerability or something embarrassing about themselves they told you.
Sharing this kind of information is a sign that your partner trusts you – overstepping your boundaries and bringing it up repeatedly or using this information to call them out or blackmail them can be very traumatic communication patterns in a relationship.
10. Assuming your partner already knows
Explaining your feelings and problems clearly to your partner is important; this helps them empathize with you and understand where you’re coming from.
It’s important to remember that your partner doesn’t have telepathy – if you’re too caught up in your head and not communicating, it could develop negative communication styles.
Communication is critical – understanding what toxic communication is and constantly trying to avoid it is the best way to ensure your relationship is not a victim of unhealthy communication patterns.
Psychologists stress that toxic communication can lead to a relationship ending and bad terms. So catching yourself early and changing your toxic communication patterns can help save your relationship.
10 Toxic Communication Patterns That Destroy Relationships