Disclosure Response Team, Health and Wellbeing

Am I in a Toxic Relationship?

Are you in a happy and healthy relationship? Take the quiz… 

In a healthy relationship, both partners will share power and control equally. You should feel safe and secure in your relationship. Here are some key characteristics of a healthy, loving relationship…

1. Mutual respect

You respect each other just the way you are. You are not trying to change or limit each other. You respect each other’s space and privacy.  It is about having healthy boundaries where not all passwords and all aspects of your life need to be shared. You understand that it is not okay to go through each other’s phones, emails or social media accounts. You also feel like you are being listened to in a non-judgmental way; your partner understands where you are coming from and values your opinions.

2. Trust and support

You trust each other. You know that if the other person is doing something without you, they are not going to do anything bad. You understand that each of you have friends and activities you enjoy doing and you trust each other to carry out those activities. You respect each other’s opinions. Your partner also believes in you and supports your goals and ambitions.

3. Honesty and accountability

You are open, clear and truthful to each other without being scared of the consequences. You acknowledge each other’s attitudes and behaviours. When you need or want something, you ask instead of expecting the other person to just know what you want. You make big decisions together and value each other’s opinions.

4. Non-threatening behaviour

You feel safe in the relationship. You are able to speak whenever you do not agree on something, without being scared of the consequences. Your partner does not use intimidation or manipulation to convince you to get what they want. For example, they don’t throw things and they don’t threaten to hurt you, someone you love or themselves.

5. Separate identities

In a healthy relationship, people make compromises. This doesn’t mean that you should feel like you’re missing out and not being yourself, but does mean that you are considering each other’s needs and wants. Prior to being in a relationship, you will have both had your own lives including friends, interests and hobbies. This shouldn’t change as the relationship progresses. You should still be able to go out, do activities that you love and see your friends without feeling guilty.

6. Negotiation and fairness

You accept that there isn’t always a right way to do things and you are willing to see it from each other’s side. You listen to each other, even when sometimes you may not completely agree.

7. Consent

Anything that your partner asks you to do, you have the right to refuse or you can freely give your consent. The key here is freely. If you feel like there would be any consequences to your refusal, then that is not real consent, even if you have said yes, as it has not been given freely. In addition, if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, your judgement is impaired, so you cannot give full and proper consent. If you’re not sure what constitutes consent, please read ‘What should sex sound like?

Some alternative advice on healthy relationship behaviour…

Mark Manson has written an insightful blog on six healthy relationship habits most people think are toxic. He gives a personal account to reframe our ideals within a relationship, that these typically perceived ‘toxic’ habits can actually be healthy.


If you don’t feel secure, comfortable and loved, perhaps you may not be in the right relationship.  Here are some unhealthy relationship behaviours that could serve as red flags of an abusive relationship…

1. Wanting control

Your partner tries to control your behaviour, such as trying to stop you from contacting your friends and family. When you are out with your friends, you may experience feelings of guilt or fear even when you have done nothing wrong. Sometimes this controlling behaviour is so subtle, you don’t realise until you don’t have any friends left. Controlling can also be in terms of how you dress, how much money you spend, how much time you spend doing your hobby. Your partner encourages you to strain or end your relationships with other people, until eventually you feel that your partner is the only person you have.

2. Possessiveness

Your partner tries to control where you go, when, and why. They are constantly checking up on you, and keeping an eye on every little things, including going through your messages, emails, checking your internet browser and showing up unexpectedly at the house. They do not respect your personal boundaries and get extremely jealous of other people in your life. They try to control where you go and who you see, and get angry if you do not do what they say.

3. Putting you down in private and public

This includes your partner calling you names, ridiculing your thoughts or opinion and making you feel bad about yourself. Your partner also constantly compares you unfavourably with others, attacking your intelligence and looks, and blames you for all the problems in the relationship.

4. Manipulative actions

Your partner uses manipulative techniques to get what they want from you, even when you do not want to do it. This is usually done by targeting your beliefs or self-image. Examples include complimenting and bringing up something you feel guilty about e.g. “this meal is okay, would be better if you did this…”  Asking you for something, calling you selfish if you do not do it, or asking you for something in a social context because they know you would find it harder to say no with others around.

5. Intimidating you

Your partner may use a variety of tactics designed to scare you into doing what they want, including making threatening gestures, smashing crockery, punching the table, destroying property, shouting, throwing things and putting weapons on display. It is a clear message that if you do not do what they want, there could possibly be violent consequences.

6. Isolating you

This involves controlling what you do, who you see and talk to, what you read and where you go. Your partner is trying to limit you to outside involvement and tries to prevent you from continuing relationships with others around you, including friends and family. Isolation may also include them trying to stop you from using your vehicles or accessing internet or your phone.

7. No respect for you or your friends and family

Your partner verbally and physically over steps the line with how they treat you and the people in your life. This could be in the form of consistent non-constructive criticism about you or others. Also, this could be physical such as not giving you personal space when you ask for it, ignoring or exploiting your friends and family and their resources. When questioned your partner may shrug their behaviour off like its no big deal or use techniques such as a patronising tone to deflect the situation. However, confiding in someone and asking a second and objective opinion on the matter can be helpful and sobering.

8. Threatening 

Is to do something that could be emotionally or physically damaging if you do not do what they say. This include threatening to leave you, to hurt themselves, to hurt you or to hurt your loved ones. Threatening may also include yelling, sulking, deliberately breaking things that you value and saying things like “no one will want you.”

9. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt hoping to make the target question their own memory, perception, and a small, suffocated part inside of you wonders whether you are actually losing your sanity. Over time, this can slowly reduce your ability to make confident judgments.  Essentially,  a Gaslighter uses negative,  harmful or destructive words and actions to deflect the blame for their abuse  onto you.  This is often done by making you feel ‘overly sensitive,’ ‘paranoid,’ ‘crazy,’ ‘silly,’ ‘unhinged,’ or similar to make you to doubt yourself.

10. Physical or sexual violence

This includes any intentional and unwanted contact on you or close to your body, even if it doesn’t leave any mark or causes pain. Examples include: scratching, pulling your hair, punching, throwing something at you, forcing you to perform a sexual act, grabbing you to stay or force you to go somewhere.

Some toxic relationship behaviours are more subtle…

Mark Manson has written another an insightful blog on six toxic relationship habits that most people think are normal. He explains why each habit is toxic and gives practical advice throughout.

Listen to your gut

Often when a relationship is riddled with psychological abuse, there is no clear crossing of boundaries. Commonly, as your boundaries are pushed back as your tolerance increases making it difficult to detect toxic behaviour. However, as cheesy as it may sound, trusting your gut instinct can be effective. In an unhealthy relationship you may find your yourself trying to rationalise what may be irrational or inappropriate behaviour. Your gut instinct will often subliminally detect that something is not quite right.

If any of this rings true for you, then you might be in an unhealthy relationship. Please know that you are not alone and the Counselling, Health and Wellbeing team at Cardiff University Student Support are here to help.


WE KNOW, violence and abuse affects our students. IT’S NOT ON, and we are addressing it. WE CAN HELP, our Disclosure Response Team offer practical support. YOU CAN HELP, recognise the signs, tell us if you know a student is at risk.


If you are experiencing these signs, noticing and acknowledging them is the first step of ending an abusive relationship. No one deserves to be in a relationship they do not feel safe or secure. If you are able to recognise and relate to the signs in your own relationship, reach out and get help.

The Disclosure Response Team:
Let us know using the online disclosure tool.
email: disclosureresponseteam@cardiff.ac.uk
hours: Monday to Friday, 09:00 – 16:30
phone: 029 2087 4844
out of hours: 0808 8010 800 (Live Fear Free Helpline)
search:Violence and Abuse‘ on the student Intranet for more.


As an individual, you have the power to affect real change by leading by example. You can play your part by:

  • Support your friend if you believe they might be experiencing violence or abuse.
  • Be sympathetic and careful even when ‘joking’
  • Consciously challenge your stereotypical beliefs on sex, gender, and traditional roles associated with both
  • Speak up for what you believe in!
  • Become an empowered bystander. The Bystander Effect states that we are less likely to intervene and help someone when part of a crowd. As the number of people present increase, the responsibility is diffused and often this results in someone being left helpless. 


Your feedback and help please

Have you found this blog post useful?  Please help us by commenting in the comments bar below, and  if there is anything further you’d like to know ask your questions there too.

We’d also be grateful if you can share this information by re-tweeting or sharing with your fellow students who may find this useful – you can do this by using the share buttons or via twitter and facebook.


Best wishes,

Nichola (Placement Student) and Sophie (HEFCE Marketing Project Lead),
Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Team.


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