How Toxic Friendships Affect the Quality of Your Romantic Relationship

How Toxic Friendships Affect the Quality of Your Romantic Relationship

Friendships and romantic relationships are two important elements of your life. Good friends provide support and help you enrich your life. Toxic friends come in all shapes and sizes, and they can negatively affect many parts of your life. Many people have noticed that toxic friendships bring drama, gossip, and negative feelings within the friend circle, but few have noticed its influence on the quality of romantic life.

Toxic friendships can cause fights and arguments, decrease intimacy, and create distance between you and your partner. How?


Signs toxic a friendship may secretly be affecting the quality of your romantic relationship:

  1. They are not accepting of your choice of partner or your relationship
  2. They criticize, and are judgmental of your partner
  3. They try to compete against your partner for your attention
  4. They try to embarrass you in front of your partner
  5. They occupy all of your free time (hanging out, talking on the phone, texting, visiting, etc.), and you have no time left for your partner
  6. They are disrespectful and rude to your partner
  7. They only focus on the flaws of your relationship, and seek to hear about the negatives over positives in your relationship
  8. They get mad at you when they are not invited to your romantic dinner or your couples vacation
  9. They get jealous of your happiness when your romantic relationship is going well
  10. They try to discredit your relationship, satisfaction, and happiness, and make you feel guilty
  11. They only see the negative side of their own relationship, and try to convince you to ignore all the good in your relationship
  12. They have unhealthy lifestyle habits, and try to pressure you to do things that are against your relationship ideology

If you can think of a friend in one or more of these scenarios, it is probably wise to determine what is important to you, and have a talk with that friend; it may be time to end that friendship. If you and your partner often argue because of that friend or their toxic behaviors, then that friend is affecting the quality of your romantic relationship.

How toxic friendships affect your romantic relationship

There is a social stigma around ending a friendship, but some toxic friends may bring more costs than benefits when it comes to influencing your mental health and relationship satisfaction. Those toxic behaviors may lead you to focus more on negatives than positives in your relationships.


You may no longer feel comfortable bringing your partner around your friends, or vice versa. You may withdraw from social events or recreational activities to avoid conflict and discomfort between that friend or friends and your partner. Between your partner and that friend, you may need to constantly please and comfort, which in turn may bring you more stress and anxiety. When your partner and your friend cannot get along with each other, you end up keeping your social time separate, and have less support from both parties.

Because you will be stuck in the middle, toxic friendships can bring you different degrees of distress, isolation, and feelings of inadequacy as a friend and romantic partner.


Romantic partners and friends can provide you different types of support, companionship, and love. When your friends and your partner enjoy each other’s presence, the quality of your relationships will become more satisfying. Your partner and friends will collaborate and work together to create a strong support network that encourages personal and relational growth.

When friendships and romantic relationships can coexist, you will be able to feel more supported, engage in more social activities, and form more meaningful relationships in your life. You will not only be able to balance your free time between friends and partner, but also develop a healthy boundary between social and private life.


More by this author

Moni Tang

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate

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Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]


Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.


In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]



Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.


Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.


In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.


With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via


[1] US National Library of Medicine: Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain
[2] Daily Mail: Nursing a broken heart? How taking a paracetamol could dull the pain of rejection
[3] Mother For Life: Oxytocin’s Role
[4] Psychology Today: Facebook and Your Brain
[5] Alex Korb: The Upward Spiral

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