11 Signs Your Partner Is Toxic, According To Divorce Lawyers

by Natalia Lusinski
BDG Media, Inc.

Even though you may not immediately realize it, you may be in a toxic relationship. After all, some partners are better at hiding their toxic behaviors than others. However, once you start to learn what these behaviors are, you’ll be able to recognize the signs of a toxic partner.

Jacqueline Newman, New York City-based divorce and matrimonial law attorney and author of the double book series Soon-to-Be Ex for men and women, believes there may be certain signs that you refuse to see, but are obvious to your friends and family around you. “One example may be the incessant need to apologize to someone who seems to be unpredictably and perpetually upset by little things you say or do,” she tells Bustle. “You may think or feel like things are OK, yet those closest to you notice that you don’t have the same happiness and zest for life that you usually do. From your perspective, you think that you’re on a cruise, but your loved ones think you’re on the Titanic.”

Of course, once you start to see the signs, you’ll then need to determine what to do next — perhaps you and your partner will see a therapist or you’ll decide to end the relationship. Below, divorce lawyers weigh in on signs of a toxic partner.


They Cause You To Feel Self-Doubt

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One sign of toxic behavior is if your partner insults you, but disguises the insults in constructive comments about your appearance, Newman says. “For instance, ‘You would look so much better if x, y, or z,’” she says. “Then, the comments graduate to making you the butt of a joke that is often followed up with ‘You know I’m kidding — don’t be so sensitive.’” Eventually, the comments get worse, making you feel bad and cause you to doubt yourself, she says.

As a result, you may say to yourself, “If the person who is supposed to love me thinks these things about me, what must everyone else think?”


They're Controlling

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“Many toxic relationships stem out of one person’s desire to control the other person,” Newman says. As you can imagine, controlling behaviors are exhibited in many different ways.

“A person may exert this control over the other person by being emotionally, physically abusive, and/or financially abusive,” Newman says. “If there is always an unequal balance of power in your relationship, you may want to examine whether you are in a healthy partnership.”


They Are Overly Critical

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Although you may appreciate some constructive criticism — at least now and then — if your partner is overly critical, it’s a warning sign. “No one likes to hear negative comments about themselves all the time,” Pawnee A. Davis, a divorce attorney in Maryland and Washington D.C., tells Bustle.


They Try To Alienate You From Friends And Family

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Within your relationship, do you have freedom to see your family and friends, or does your partner prohibit it? The latter is another sign of toxic behavior. “Let’s face it — in-laws can be annoying and everyone has that one old high school friend that you have known forever and adore, but your partner cannot understand why,” Newman says. “That is normal. What is not normal is when your partner tries to restrict you from speaking to or seeing your family and friends.”

She says that even if they don't want to spend time with these people, your partner needs to respect the fact that you do. “They cannot try to keep you all for themselves,” she says.


They Lack Compassion And Empathy

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Part of being in a supportive and loving relationship is showing compassion and empathy toward one another. But if that’s missing, it’s a sign that your partner may be toxic. “Without compassion and empathy, your partner has nothing stopping them from doing and saying things that are intentionally harmful to you,” Davis says.


They're Not Pitching In

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Every relationship should have good communication and compromising, but if the balance is off, it may spell trouble. “If you are doing EVERYTHING in the relationship and not getting anything in return, you are possibly in an unhealthy and toxic relationship,” Newman says. “Maybe you are the better cook and your partner is better at managing the money. That is fine — as long as the daily tasks are divided in some manner.” She says that not every relationship needs a 50/50 division of labor, but some division is essential.


They Prevent You From Having Financial Independence

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Couples handle finances differently — while some people merge their money, others still maintain separate bank accounts, too. Lisa Zeiderman, founding partner of Miller Zeiderman and Wiederkehr LLP and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, feels that financial independence is critical. “It is important for people to understand and be aware of their own and their partner’s income and expenses, as control of one’s life is deeply linked to one’s finances,” she tells Bustle. “Often, I’ll meet with clients who have been denied even the most basic visibility or control of their finances, and this is telltale sign that they are in a toxic relationship.”


Your Fights Are *Bad*

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Every couple fights and argues sometimes, but if you have *really bad* fights with your significant other, it’s a bad sign. “It is all about how you handle the fight that can be the difference between a healthy relationship and a toxic one,” Newman says. “For those that hit below the belt and really cut deep during an argument, that could be a sign of a toxic relationship. While people may forgive, they rarely forget.”

Davis, too, advises to determine if your partner says intentionally hurtful things to you out of anger or frustration. “It is normal and reasonable to get angry and frustrated with people in our lives that we care about, but that doesn’t give someone the right to take it out on their partner,” she says. “Once they say it, they can’t take it back.”


They Lie To You

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Trust and honesty is part of the foundation of a relationship, and if your partner is lying to you, it’s a sign of toxic behavior. “You know lying is a problem when you start to realize that you can’t trust what your partner tells you because they lie so much,” Davis says.


They Cheat On You

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While some people have open relationships, others do not, which makes cheating a sign of a toxic partner. “Cheating is self-explanatory,” Davis says. “A toxic partner cheats versus doing the right thing and being faithful.”


They Exhibit Misconduct Regularly

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When a significant other exhibits patterns of behavior, especially ones that are harmful, it’s another sign of a toxic partner. “Repetitive misconduct — alcoholism, drug abuse, adultery, physical, and/or mental cruelty — are damaging patterns of behavior,” Patra Sinner, Attorney and Board Certified Family Law Specialist, Sodoma Law, tells Bustle.

As you can see, there are several signs that your partner may be toxic. If you feel they are, it's important to seek help. As tough as it can be to end a relationship with someone who's controlling or unsupportive, know that you absolutely deserve to be happy.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit