Signs of toxic behaviour in a relationship or friendship

You have a right to feel safe and secure in any relationship, whether that’s with a partner or a friend

Written by spunout


The relationships we have with other people in our lives are very important to our mental and emotional wellbeing. They can impact how we are feeling and how we perform in other parts of our lives, like at school, college, or work

When someone is in an unhealthy relationship or a relationship that has turned toxic, it can be difficult to know what to do. Often we may not even see the signs that something is wrong straight away. It’s important to know that if you are in an abusive relationship, there is help out there.

You can find information on organisations who can support you if you are in a toxic or abusive relationship at the end of this article.

Toxic behaviour in a relationship or friendship

This type of behaviour can crop up in any relationship – it’s not just romantic ones that can turn toxic. Toxic friendships can also be difficult to deal with. No matter what type of relationship it is, you deserve to be treated with respect by the people in your life.

It’s important not to blame yourself if you’re in a toxic situation. It can be hard to see the signs when you’re in the relationship or friendship, and you may not experience all of these things. Just one or two can still be a sign of toxic behaviour.

Take our quiz to see if you can identify toxic behaviour.

They want you to spend all of your time with them

In a toxic relationship, the other person may want all of your attention. They easily get jealous of other friends or even family members in your life, and they’ll try to make you feel bad about spending time with people other than them. They may deliberately isolate you to gain and maintain control over you.

While time spent together is important in any relationship, you should not be pressured into sacrificing other relationships in your life for the sake of this one. No one should make you feel bad for wanting to see friends, and you deserve time to yourself to do the things that you want to do.

They try to control you

In a toxic relationship, the other person will often try to control different areas of your life – this can be your time and who you spend it with, where you go and when, what you eat, or how you dress. They could be criticising you, trying to make you more like them, or trying to turn you into the person they want you to be, regardless of how you feel. They might also try to manipulate you into giving them what they want by threatening to break up with you if you don’t go along with them.

The only person who can make decisions about your life is you. You should never feel pressured to dress, act, or be a certain way just to please another person.

They get angry easily

A toxic person can have a very short temper, and they might get angry with you often – you might even find that their anger is usually directed at you rather than at anyone else. It could be so bad that you feel like you’re always walking on eggshells to avoid upsetting them. They might be jealous of someone else in your life, or they might not like that you disagreed with them – whatever it is, you have a right to feel safe and respected, and someone who gets angry and makes you feel unsafe is not respecting you.

It is also a sign of a toxic situation if the other person is constantly bringing up old arguments or making you feel bad for things that have happened in the past.

They always accuse you of doing something wrong

If the person is always accusing you of doing something wrong, going behind their back, or betraying them in some way like cheating, then they are showing signs of toxic behaviour. This can happen even if they have no proof and you have always been honest with them. This is sometimes used as a way to isolate you and gain more control over you.

Trust is important in any relationship, but you are not responsible for making them feel better about their own insecurities.

They invade your privacy

In a toxic relationship, the other person might want to know everything about you. This means that they will cross your boundaries in order to get whatever information they need, or to monitor what you’re doing. This could involve snooping through your things, going through your messages, or even demanding passwords to your accounts so that they can keep an eye on you.

Your boundaries are important, and need to be respected. Everyone has a right to privacy, and you do not need to give anyone your personal information like passwords if you don’t want to.

They want to be in constant contact

Many people text each other throughout the day, but if the other person sends you messages all the time, even if they know you are busy or you haven’t responded for a while, they are going too far. If they send multiple messages to pressure you into replying and get angry with you if you don’t respond straight away, then they are showing signs of toxic behaviour.

We may have our phones on us all the time, but that doesn’t mean we have to use them. It’s okay to want some space and to not reply to messages straight away.

They force or pressure you to do things you don’t want to do

In a toxic situation, the other person will make you do things that you’re not comfortable with, even if you’ve made your feelings clear. If someone forces you to do something sexually, this is sexual coercion, which is a form of sexual assault.

If they pressure you to take and /or share intimate images or share images you sent them privately with others this is also a form of sexual abuse. Learn what to do if you receive unwanted sexts.

There are people you can reach out to for support if you have experienced sexual assault. If you would like to speak to someone about this, the Rape Crisis Centre run a National 24 Hour Helpline at 1800 77 88 88.

They are violent or threaten to hurt you or themselves

A toxic relationship can turn physically violent, and if you are feeling unsafe, then it’s important to know there is help out there. It is not okay for someone to be physically violent even once, nor is it okay for them to threaten you with violence.

Sometimes the person might threaten to hurt themselves if you try to break up with them or end the friendship – this is manipulation, and they are using it as a way to control you and guilt you into staying.

There are specialist domestic violence services throughout Ireland. The majority, including Women’s Aid are Safe Ireland members, an organisation that provides information and contact details of these services.

If you are experiencing any form of abuse in a relationship, you can contact the free Women’s Aid 24 hour helpline to talk in confidence at 1800 341 900, or contact Men’s Aid at 046 9023718 to find support for men experiencing an abusive relationship or the Men’s Development Network at 1800 816 588.

What to do if you are in a toxic relationship or friendship

If you are worried your relationship could be abusive, it can help to reach out to other people in your life and let them know what’s going on and how they can help. If you feel like you can’t talk to someone you know, or you need additional support, look into going for counselling or contact the following organisations:

  • TooIntoYou has more information on toxic relationships
  • Women’s Aid run a free 24 hour helpline for women and girls who want to talk in confidence about abuse in their relationship: 1800 341 900
  • SAFE Ireland (for women and children) provide contact details for centres around Ireland that can offer support and emergency accommodation to women and children
  • Men’s Aid offer support for men experiencing abusive relationships
  • The Men’s Development Network have a support line that you can call for free at 1800 816 588.

If you’re worried about your own behaviour and think you could be behaving in a toxic or abusive way, consider seeking help from a counsellor to help change your behaviour.

Feeling overwhelmed or want to talk to someone right now?

  • Get anonymous support 24/7 with our text message support service
  • Connect with a trained volunteer who will listen to you, and help you to move forward feeling better
  • Free-text SPUNOUT to 50808 to begin
  • Find out more about our text message support service

If you are a customer of the 48 or An Post network or cannot get through using the ‘50808’ short code please text HELLO to 086 1800 280 (standard message rates may apply). Some smaller networks do not support short codes like ‘50808’.

Our work is supported by