toxic communication in relationships
toxic relationships

13 Causes of Toxic Communication in Relationships

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Toxic communication in an unhealthy relationship involves releasing emotions in an unproductive manner. These emotions are often fueled by trauma, negative memories, fear, insecurity, and/or a victim mentality.

In this type of relationship, a romantic partner may be unaware that they are using toxic communication strategies and may be blind to their own emotions. If they are aware of the toxic communication patterns, they are often unwilling or do not know how to change their dysfunctional ways.

3 Toxic Communication Styles in Relationships

In toxic relationships, partners tend to communicate in three main styles – passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive. Each style involves flight or fight as the main response to emotions. The use of these unhealthy communication styles to communicate toxic emotions cause significant damage.

At the root of toxic emotions there is control, pride, rejection, fear, insecurity, and other volatile feelings.

At the root of toxic emotions there is control, pride, rejection, fear, insecurity, and other volatile feelings. The presence of such emotions cause individual to ineffectively communicate their feelings through manipulation, projection, yelling, blame-shifting, thought-policing, etc.

In a healthy relationship, partners are able to communicate their emotions assertively without hurting or blaming each other.

Read More: 10 Keys to Communicate without Arguing in Romantic Relationships

13 Causes of Toxic Communication

1. Control

Control can take on many forms and cause toxic communication styles. A controlling partner is often motivated by pride, fear, insecurity, and rejection.

  • Pride: The toxic person that is motivated by pride believes they have all the solutions and others don’t. This is dangerous because they often don’t see their actions as controlling. They feel like a victim when their partner doesn’t do what they want.
  • Fear: Control can be rooted in the need to have a favorable outcome. If an individual feels that things will end badly, then they’ll control a situation to help them feel safe. In a long-term relationship, a fearful person would control finances, household affairs, social affairs, and anything else that creates false safety.
  • Rejection: When someone is motivated by rejection, they control others to ensure that people don’t leave them. Or they’ll disengage to ensure they’re never too vulnerable, so your potential departure doesn’t hurt.
  • Insecurity: Control can be used to ensure that others see the insecure individual favorably.

2. Thought Policing

Thought policing is “any process of trying to question, control, or unduly influence another person’s thoughts or feelings.”

Insecure partners often feel the need to control their significant other’s thoughts and feelings, which is a harmful strategy that can result in baseless accusations. If you have ever been subjected to such an accusation, it can make you feel guilty and uncertain about your own thoughts or feelings. However, it’s important to remember that you have the right to think and process your emotions privately without external interference.

3. Manipulation

Manipulation is the act of doing or saying specific things to achieve a desired outcome. In relationships, manipulative behavior is used to persuade someone to do or say what the manipulator wants. The root cause of manipulative behavior is often the desire for control.

Manipulators often think that they’re controlling others for a positive reason. For example:

  • Manipulators tend to believe that they know the best course of action and that their actions are necessary.
  • They often fear the consequences of not taking control, and they may not trust others to make good decisions.

Alternatively, manipulators may attempt to control your thoughts so that you have a positive view of them, despite their unkind actions. This form of manipulation can involve lying, denying, dismissing, or ridiculing other perspectives.

To prevent manipulation, it is crucial to cultivate your own opinions and the ability to stand by them firmly. Additionally, it would be beneficial to avoid relationships with people who do not allow you the freedom to be yourself.

2. Blame-Shifting

When an individual in a relationship is struggling with shame, they may use blame-shifting as a way to alleviate their pain. By blaming someone else, they can absolve themselves of guilt and pain. This is often done through mind games, denial, lying, eye-rolling, belittling, and distorting the truth, and can push their partner to the breaking point.

Blame-shifting can also occur when someone is unable to recognize their own problematic behavior. This can create confusion and frustration for their partner, who may feel like they are going crazy or may even retaliate after enduring abuse. The blame-shifter may feel like the victim in this situation because they are unaware of how toxic their behavior has become. To avoid being caught in this dynamic, it is important to recognize the signs of blame-shifting and set healthy boundaries with your partner.

Related QUIZ: Do you blame shift and gaslight?

4. Projection

Projection happens when a person attributes their own emotions or experiences to others, distorting their perception of reality. For example, feeling insecure may lead someone to question others’ confidence, while feeling scared may cause someone to act tough and accuse others of being afraid.

Projection is at its worst when the projector verbally accuses others and forces them to see situations through their distorted perspective. The problem is that the projector does not realize that the root of the issue lies within themselves. Helping them see this can be challenging.

Projection occurs when someone feels overwhelmed by their emotions and believes that these emotions belong to someone else. For instance, if a partner feels inadequate, they may project their insecurity onto their partner unintentionally, causing the other person to internalize these feelings.

For example, a person who worries that they are selfish may view everything their partner does as selfish, needing to see the partner as the perpetrator of selfishness instead of themselves.

Projection can also happen when someone receives a negative answer. If the reasoning behind a refusal seems foolish to them, they may project their lack of trust and frustration onto the person who said no. This can escalate into belittlement, criticism, and even aggressive pursuit of compliance with their demands.

Read more: Example of Projection

6. Lying

The liar doesn’t tell the truth for one or more of the following 7 reasons:

  1. Fear of admitting the truth because they don’t want to feel guilt or shame.
  2. Inability to see the truth because they see things from a selfish perspective.
  3. Fear of you knowing the truth.
  4. Lack of realization or care that it hurts you.
  5. Need to defend themselves from scary emotions, including love.
  6. Fear of abandonment because they don’t want you to leave them.
  7. Fear that you’ll take advantage of how vulnerable and needy they are.

Read more: 13 Consequences of Lying In Relationships!

7. Stone-walling

Stonewalling is a form of communication where a person shuts others out by giving them the silent treatment, avoiding them, distancing themselves, or refusing to speak. This refusal to engage can cause partners to feel guilty, fearful, and angry.

While stonewalling can be used as a way to punish someone by shutting them out, it can also be a sign that an individual lacks healthy coping mechanisms or is having difficulty communicating their feelings. They may fear how their partner will respond if they were to express themselves.

8. Pride

A prideful heart can cause issues in relationships, and it can manifest in various ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Believing that one is always right and pushing their agenda onto others.
  • Feeling entitled to receive special treatment or certain things.
  • Thinking of oneself as a prize and expecting others to submit to their will.
  • Trying to “fix” others and become the most important person in their life.

Read more: 38 Signs Of Pride In A Person

9. Gas-lighting

Gaslighters use tactics to confuse and distort your reality, making you doubt your perceptions and feel ashamed or crazy. They may lie, manipulate, project their own issues onto you, call you names, change the story, get defensive when questioned, and accuse you of things you didn’t do.

These tactics help the gaslighter maintain control and avoid taking responsibility for their actions. Instead, they shift the blame and negative emotions onto you. This can leave you feeling confused, hurt, and questioning your own sanity.

Need help communicating in your relationship? Try the first 20 minutes of empowerment coaching with me for FREE.

10. Victimhood

A partner who believes they are a victim may view every situation as an attempt to hurt them, even if it is not intentional. This can be difficult as they may be overly sensitive to your actions, causing you to feel suffocated and as if your feelings don’t matter.

In a relationship, a person who struggles with victim mentality may exhibit the following behaviors:

  • They could criticize you before you have a chance to criticize them
  • Being hot and cold due to fear of abandonment
  • Lashing out when they feel attacked or vulnerable
  • Focusing on equality to avoid being taken advantage of
  • Blaming you for all problems in the relationship
  • Centering the relationship around their emotions
  • Using manipulation and control to make you meet their need for love, safety, and security.

11. Insecurity

Insecurity often leads to dysfunctional behavior in partners, causing them to hurt others and argue about unrelated issues.

The root causes of such behavior include:

  • Judgment and criticism: They may criticize others or you to feel more secure.
  • Imposter syndrome: Your partner may constantly feel inadequate and work to prove their worth, or expect you to constantly prove your love for them.
  • Fear of abandonment: They may constantly fear that you will leave them for someone better.
  • Perception of attack: They may feel that others are intentionally trying to hurt them.

Read More: Victim Mentality Quiz: 25 Signs + Overcoming Tips!

12. Hyper Sensitivity

Being in a relationship with someone who is constantly offended can be challenging and may cause you to feel like you are walking on eggshells. It is important that your partner seeks professional help, such as therapy, to address their underlying issues and mental health. It is crucial that you do not give in to their emotions and constantly try to make them feel better, as this can lead to burnout and a feeling of being controlled.

Couple’s counseling can be helpful in allowing both you and your partner to take ownership of specific situations. These situations can be difficult to navigate because you may perceive your partner as being overly sensitive when in reality, it may be you who is not fully understanding or taking their feelings into account.

13. Blindspots

When people have a hard time communicating due to blindspots it can quickly turn into a heated argument. The tricky part is we don’t know when we are operating from a blindspot. We often blame the other person and focus on their wrongs because we aren’t able to see our own unhealthy behaviors accurately! Most of us have grown up seeing our unhealthy behaviors, so we subconsciously find it NORMAL.

Read more: 7 Causes of Blind Spots

Everyone has blindspots, including myself! That’s why it’s important for couples to work on creating a safe, patient, and kind environment to explore unknown parts of theirselves. Also, try 20 minutes free of empowerment coaching now! I will help you navigate your relationship and help you learn more about your blindspots and self.

Free empowerment coaching to help you go deeper spiritually and achieve your goals.

31 Signs of Toxic Communication

The ultimate sign of a toxic relationship is physical violence and emotional abuse.

  • You feel confused and fearful in the relationship.
  • You feel like you need the other person for happiness and love.
  • Emotional and physical abuse are present in the relationship.
  • You constantly question if the relationship is healthy.
  • There is no growth or progress in the relationship.
  • Your partner uses intimidating body language.
  • You argue about the same thing repeatedly without resolving the issue.
  • There are no boundaries in the relationship, and the word “no” doesn’t exist.
  • Relational issues are swept under the rug, and disagreements are avoided.
  • Your partner sends intimidating and threatening text messages.
  • One partner preys on the insecurities of the other partner who feels disempowered.
  • You’re not allowed to spend free time with others or alone.

Read More: Toxic Relationship Quiz: Test If It’s Emotionally Abusive!


When is it time to end a relationship? My dear friend, don’t waste your beautiful life going around in circles with someone. It’s time to end an unhealthy relationship when your partner is unwilling to change, continuously lies, and reverts to the same negative behavior despite being confronted about it.

How can you improve toxic communication in a relationship? Toxic communication can be improved if both individuals are willing to put in hard work and remain open-minded. Both parties need to recognize their contribution to the communication problem and actively work to resolve the issue with maturity.

Is poor communication a warning sign? Yes, poor communication is a warning sign. It indicates that the individual may have unresolved trauma that affects their ability to communicate effectively. Alternatively, it could suggest that you have underlying issues that provoke a trauma response from others.

Christina Daniels is the founder of Adorned Heart. She is devoted to learning about human behavior and its affects on society. She received a B.A. in Psychology and M.A. in Public Policy. She hopes to use her life and academic experience to empower & heal the hearts of women!

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