Boundaries and Toxic Relationships 

By Amy Tai, Community and Justice Services (diploma), Program Assistant 

Relationships provide us with the support and encouragement we need to navigate stressful situations, solve problems and overcome obstacles. But what happens when our relationships are actually causing us more stress, problems, and obstacles?  

Dr. Lillian Glass defines a toxic relationship as “any relationship (between people who) don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness (Ducharme, 2018).”  

Toxic relationships often lack respect and care for another’s wellbeing. They can exist in almost any context from the workplace, to the playground, to the home and the bedroom. Some signs that you may be in a toxic relationship include: 

  • You feel drained and depleted after spending time with the person.  
  • You feel disrespected or that your needs are not being met.  
  • You feel like you have to walk on eggshells to keep from becoming a target of abuse. (Can be physical, emotional, or psychological) 
  • You are always to blame, even when you know, deep down, it is not your fault. 

Setting boundaries is a great way to get back some of that respect and take care of yourself, however, it can be even more difficult to do so within the confines of a toxic relationship. 

In simplest forms, boundaries are guidelines you place on yourself/other people to protect yourself from things you are not okay with. They help set the standard for how each person wishes to be treated within that relationship, ensuring each individual’s needs are met.  

The first step to setting boundaries in a toxic relationship is to identify your needs and determine what needs to change in order for those needs to be met in this relationship. Those changes will help you create those boundaries. For example, if you have a need for identity as an individual outside of that relationship, you may set a boundary that allows you more time and space to do things on your own.  

Unfortunately, simply setting a boundary does not ensure that it will be respected, but we can always control how we respond when our boundaries are crossed or ignored. If you find yourself in a toxic relationship in which your boundaries are not being respected here are some things you can try: 

  • Spend less time with this person, this can be as simple as turning down an invitation or in more extreme cases, can look like physically leaving the relationship. 
  • Choose not to participate in the same arguments. While it can be hard to simply walk away when someone is being disrespectful, it is not always productive to stay and argue when the other person refuses to see what they are doing wrong.  
  • Get support. You do not have to go through this alone. Toxic relationships are super tricky to navigate and it can be hard to look outside and get a fresh perspective on your own. Support can help you to stand firm in your boundaries and work through any feelings of shame to understand that this is not your fault and you don’t deserve to be treated this way. In cases where ending the relationship is necessary, support can be beneficial to healing and moving forward.  


Ducharme, J. (2018, May 28). How To Tell If You’re In a Toxic Relationship – And What To Do About It. Time.