7 Subtle Examples Of Toxic And Abusive Behavior In Relationships

7 Subtle Examples Of Toxic And Abusive Behavior In Relationships

This article was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.

**Content Warning: This article discusses subtle signs of toxic and abusive behavior. If you are in an abusive situation, know that there is help. Please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (USA) or 0808 2000 247 (UK) for support and more resources.**

When most people think about abusive relationships, they often think about physical abuse or obviously damaging behavior. However, many abusive relationships involve more subtle behaviors that the target and others around them may overlook or excuse. Nevertheless, these behaviors can be quite damaging to one’s mental and emotional health and may leave scars that last a lifetime.

Therefore, these behaviors should not be ignored or dismissed. Read on to learn about the subtle signs that may indicate that you are in an abusive or toxic relationship.

Moving The Relationship Quickly

This is often the first sign that a person may be abusive. They may be quick to make the relationship more serious, whether you are ready or not to make that commitment yourself. This is because abusive people feel they need to control their partners, so they may pressure you to commit and shower you with love, affection, and gifts early on to persuade you.

These are the kinds of people who will say they love you on the first date or start talking about moving in together or marriage after only knowing each other for a few weeks. Though every relationship goes at its own pace, a partner who tries to move things this quickly is often attempting to gain control over their new partner.

Disguising Insults As “Jokes”

Insulting is bad enough, but it’s even worse when someone pretends they were just joking or that their comments weren’t a big deal. This means that not only do they disrespect you enough to emotionally wound you, but they are gaslighting you into thinking you are too sensitive or crazy for taking the insult so seriously. This is a subtle yet major red flag in any relationship that, unfortunately, many people dismiss.

Disregarding Your Boundaries

Boundaries are essential to maintain respect and love in a relationship. Therefore, it is not only vital to clearly state your boundaries with your partner but that your partner should respect them as well. If your partner consistently disregards your boundaries, then that means they have no true love or respect for you. The two of you will be unable to develop a healthy relationship until your partner learns to respect your needs.

Lack Of Empathy Or Support

The great thing about healthy relationships is that you find someone who can empathize and support you when life gets tough. But if you aren’t getting this support from your partner, then you aren’t receiving one of the most important human emotional needs.

Partners are a team that should support one another when encountering challenges and obstacles. It’s a two-way system, so one partner should not be doing all the emotional labor. Therefore, if you find yourself being supportive and loving but getting nothing in return, then you may be in a toxic relationship.

7 Subtle Examples Of Toxic And Abusive Behavior In Relationships woman

Embarrassing You In Public

Being in public should be a great opportunity to show the world how much you love your partner. So if your partner is embarrassing you in public instead, then this is a big sign of a toxic relationship.

Though partners have disagreements and may not like their partners every single moment, this is no excuse to belittle them in public. Abusive partners will insult, demean, criticize, or embarrass their partners in front of others to wear them down and show control. If no one intervenes or you don’t stand up for yourself, this may reaffirm their belief that they possess you and can do whatever they want. This is a huge red flag in any relationship and a very public sign that it is toxic.


There was once a time when jealously was glorified. However, now most people realize that extreme jealousy is incredibly unhealthy as it can indicate that someone views their partner as their property.

Though it’s okay for partners to feel some jealousy from time to time, jealousy that is frequent and intense may be a sign that a partner is trying to control or possess you. They become jealous because they believe no one else should be allowed to interact with you. As a result, they may begin to exhibit behaviors that isolate you from others, as they don’t want any possibility that you will be “stolen” from them.


We all know what gaslighting is but still can be susceptible to falling for it. Abusive partners gaslight partners in order to absolve themselves of any blame or responsibility. They will find any tactic to put the blame on you, no matter what the issue is.

To do this, they may deny your version of events or try to rewrite them to make them look better. Their tactics will encourage you to distrust yourself or convince you that you are losing touch with reality. This creates confusion and vulnerability, making you more emotionally dependent on the abuser.

Final Thoughts

When you are in a new relationship, it is not always easy to tell if your partner has abusive tendencies. Furthermore, contrary to common belief, abuse is not always physical. Mental and emotional abuse may be more subtle, but they can be just as harmful.

If you believe you are in an abusive situation, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (USA) or 0808 2000 247 (UK) for help. You can also seek the guidance of a therapist or psychologist for support and help when breaking away from an abuser. For more information on unhealthy and toxic behaviors in relationships, head to the link below:



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