14 Signs Of A Tumultuous Relationship And 5 Tips To Fix It

Suffering and Healing | | Expert Author , Counseling Psychologist
Updated On: July 15, 2024
14 Signs of a tumultuous relationship and 5 tips to fix it
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Most of us love roller coasters in amusement parks but when our relationship becomes a roller coaster, it is barely a joy ride anymore. That is precisely what a tumultuous relationship feels like. A couple who has such a relationship feels constant chaos and turbulence with no harmony in their union. It is a distressing experience, to put it mildly.

It’s even bad for your health. A study was done in 2007 to analyze the association between negative aspects of close relationships and increased risk for coronary heart disease. They found that those who reported “adverse” close relationships had a 34% increase in the risk of developing heart problems. Relationship coach and sex educator Kelly Gonsalves shares the main causes of unhappiness in relationships: Ongoing, unresolved conflict, stress from other parts of life, unhealthy communication patterns, codependency, loss of individuality or independence, lack of intimacy and honesty, and insecurities.

You might wonder: But do tumultuous relationships last? A survey found that 60% of people are likely to stay in a relationship they don’t find fulfilling because they’re used to compromising. A sad statistic. This is why, today, a trauma-informed counseling psychologist Anushtha Mishra (M.Sc. Counseling Psychology), who specializes in providing therapy for trauma, and relationship issues, writes to help you better understand what a tumultuous relationship is, the signs of it, and how to fix it.

What Is A Tumultuous Relationship?

Table of Contents

Tumultuous is basically another word for disruptive or troubled. So a tumultuous relationship means a union that is defined by disorder and chaos. It’s an unhealthy relationship characterized by the following:

  • There are extreme highs and lows that tend to repeat
  • Such volatile relationships can become toxic, meaning there is no mood regulation
  • You can’t predict when either of you will get upset
  • Extreme emotional angst is common when a couple has a tumultuous relationship
  • Uncertainty is a huge part of this kind of dynamic and such constant instability is very hard on human beings

A study shows that uncertainty can spike our stress hormones. If the brain cannot reduce uncertainty, it burdens the individual with an ‘allostatic load’ that contributes to systemic and brain malfunction (impaired memory, atherogenesis, diabetes, and subsequent cardio and cerebrovascular events). Of course, any healthy relationship includes conflicts as well but the difference is that it’s not all the time and not to such an intense degree.

It might be hard to even recognize when you are in a volatile romantic dynamic. It leads to disillusionment in a relationship when you realize that it has been unhealthy all along.

Related Reading: 7 Reasons You Feel Uneasy In Your Relationship And 3 Things You Can Do

14 Signs Of A Tumultuous Relationship

Tumultuous relationships are unhealthy in the long run. No one can stay and handle that much stress with their partner. There can be tumultuous patches in a relationship but it cannot be a constant state of being. There needs to be some balance during the healthy amount of challenges both partners face, where they feel heard and have emotional attunement with each other.

It’s important to know if you are in a toxic relationship because only then can you work toward making it a healthy one or walk out of it. Below are a few signs to look out for if you feel you are in a rocky relationship like this.

1. You are stuck in a vicious cycle of fighting

A vicious cycle is a pattern of thoughts and actions where both partners get stuck in fighting, revenge, and, possibly, negative thinking associated with their partners. Arguments start becoming more and more common, and the good times start becoming less and less.

If this describes your relationship, then I am sorry to break it to you, but you are in a tumultuous relationship. Being stuck in this cycle of fighting for a long is detrimental to both the relationship and your overall health.

A study was done to understand conflict resolution styles in marriage. It was found that satisfied partners use the collaboration style whereas partners in unsatisfied marriages use an avoidant style in managing conflict just as you would observe in a tumultuous relationship dynamic. Negative spousal behaviors and unresolved conflicts contribute significantly to the mental and physical health of both partners.

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2. Manipulation has now become a habit

If you ask me to define a tumultuous relationship in one word, it would be manipulation. You wouldn’t even notice those manipulations but they have been the base of your relationship. If you often feel guilty and wonder if it is your fault all the time, then it is a sign that you’re going through manipulation. Such chaotic relationships are unhealthy in nature.

Love bombing is a form of manipulation among others, such as passive-aggressive behavior, gaslighting, silent treatment, and covert or overt threats. If these actions are present in your dynamic, then you are a couple who has a tumultuous relationship.

3. Strong highs in the relationship – the euphoria

Toxic love is usually associated with strong highs where both partners feel extremely passionate, and the lowest of the lows often leads to depression and a general feeling of being stressed out for a long period of time.

It’s almost like a pill, a drug. The reward centers of the brain light up when the highs are super high. The highs and the positive feelings may be short-lived but individuals often stay in these dysfunctional dynamics which are sustained by the anticipation of the next endorphin rush.

4. Codependency is another sign of a tumultuous relationship

Codependency in a relationship in its simplest form is unhealthy clinginess where one partner, or both, doesn’t have self-sufficiency or independence. The paradox here is that you are not compatible or don’t feel happy together, yet you are too attached, in love, or dependent on each other to part ways.

A study published in American Psychological Association found that people are motivated to stay in relatively unfulfilling relationships for the sake of their romantic partner if they think their partner needs them too much.

The longer you stay in a relationship that is disordered, the more toxic and self-destructive it becomes. It’s not just a vicious cycle of fighting but also toxicity. It is time you reflect if this is just attachment, love, or addiction. Codependency is a major red flag and has no place in a healthy relationship.

Related Reading: 15 Indisputable Signs Of A Codependent Relationship

5. Pretense is now a daily thing

You might portray that you are in one of those Instagram #couplegoals relationships but inside your heart, you know you are just pretending. If you are wondering, “What does it mean to have a tumultuous relationship?”, then this is your answer.

The bar you have set is too low if being pompous in a relationship is acceptable for you. In a healthy union, there is sincerity and honesty. There is very little to no space for showy and flashy gestures but rather consistent and dedicated efforts.

6. You break up and then you make up

Sometimes, breaking up and then getting back together happens because the couple needs some time off to realize that they want to actually be together. However, if you find yourself breaking up every month and getting back together again, it’s a sign that you or your partner might be a tumultuous person, and the relationship may be unstable.

This happens mostly because of a lack of emotional intimacy, and poor communication and conflict-resolution skills in a relationship. This love-and-hate relationship can affect your mental health, significantly lowering your self-esteem.

7. There is no trust in the chaos

This point is an obvious yet most often ignored sign of a tumultuous relationship. If you feel you lack trust in your partner or if you want to be updated about everything your partner does, then it is time to reflect on what this tells you about the nature of your relationship.

If you find yourself texting your partner all the time when they are away and can’t help but get upset when there’s a delay in their response, then it’s time you call a spade a spade and this relationship an unhealthy and tiresome union. Maybe even reflect on the realization that you might be a tumultuous person yourself.

Related Reading: Top 9 Tips To Build Trust In Relationships

8. Lots and lots of self-doubt is a marker of a tumultuous relationship

Think back on how you were before this relationship. Maybe you were a proud and confident person who knew how to make the cake and eat it too. And then, your perception of yourself changed after you started dating this person. Maybe your partner keeps on saying “You are not enough” so many times that you have started to believe it. This defines a tumultuous relationship – where your partner brings you down, causing self-doubts.

The most dangerous thing about this kind of relationship is that it affects your decision-making power and takes away your happiness. People who have been in tumultuous relationships fail to build healthy, new relationships because they doubt their self-worth. This also increases the uncertainties in the relationship.

9. You hold a lot of grudges against each other

If you or your partner have been in attack mode for a long time waiting for another argument where you can shoot and kill, you are in a tumultuous relationship. One of the hallmarks or signs of a chaotic person is when they hold a lot of grudges without communicating them.

Research to study the implications of holding a grudge against hurtful memories found that “holding grudges prompted aversive emotion, and significantly higher corrugator (brow) electromyogram (EMG), skin conductance, heart rate, and blood pressure changes from baseline indicating abrasion of health.”

Ever heard of a snowball effect? It’s just like that, a fight can start over something tiny but it keeps rolling and you keep adding oil to the fuel, just wanting to hurt them as much as you can. Almost with pure contempt.

10. You feel isolated and cornered

This is one of the saddest signs of being in a tumultuous relationship and sure signs of a chaotic person. If your partner tells you to not see anyone else close to you, including friends and family, whether implicitly or explicitly, then that’s a major relationship red flag that, if ignored, can be detrimental.

Stay in this partnership long enough and you will lose the motivation to make an effort to see the people you love out of the sheer exhaustion that this kind of chaotic relationship brings with it.

11. You truly hate a lot of things about your partner

Hate is such a strong word and if you are not shying away from using it and often direct it at your partner, then it’s another major red flag and a sign of a tumultuous relationship. Reflect on this, do you hate the way your partner behaves with your friends and family? Do you find yourself getting irritated every time they do something as little as slurping while eating? If yes, then it is a sign of an unhealthy relationship.

The root of this hate is likely due to the hidden, unresolved conflicts within the relationship or outside of it. But if you are trying to change your partner all the time, then it’s not a stable relationship. No matter how hard you try, your partner can never become someone they are not.

12. You have your options open

You both are together but you are also looking for other people to date because deep down, you know that they are not the right person for you. If you keep your options open this way, then it is a tumultuous relationship. When you have a backup plan should things with your current person fall through, then it’s your cue that something in the relationship isn’t working for you.

Infographic on signs of a tumultuous relationship
Signs of a tumultuous relationship

13. You or your partner have abusive tendencies

Sometimes, arguing and disrespect advance to a whole new and disturbing level of abuse. Be it emotional abuse, psychological, or physical. If you feel scared or pull back when your partner is around, even if they are not being physically abusive, then that is a real cause for concern.

Abusive tendencies can be very subtle and may be hard to acknowledge at first. Exerting control by inducing fear is the core of any kind of abuse, which can be as explicit as a threat or as implicit as contempt.

According to a 2010 National intimate partner and sexual violence survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. This includes a range of behaviors (e.g., slapping, shoving, pushing, etc.).

14. Your relationship is affecting your mental health

There is no relationship where ups and downs don’t exist. Having quarreled with your partner once in a while is perfectly normal but when it becomes an integral part of your relationship, then that’s a huge problem.

In a tumultuous relationship, you often feel miserable around your partner, you cry too often, and feel unhappy in the relationship and broken inside. If this continues, it can affect your psychological well-being and mental abilities.

5 Tips To Fix A Tumultuous Relationship

Now that we know the warning signs of a damaging relationship, the obvious thing to wonder is whether the relationship can be saved or it is beyond hope. Picking up the pieces of a relationship that has been missing for so long can feel like an impossible task but if both partners put in the effort, it is possible.

Below are a few tips on how you can reform your rocky relationship into a healthy one.

Related Reading: 15 Ways To Solve Relationship Problems Without Breaking Up

1. Be open to communication

When couples practice open communication, both the partners talk respectfully keeping their point forward without accusing or being hurtful with critical insults. They also listen to each other attentively and try to understand what their partner is saying with empathy rather than interrupting them and pointing out what’s right or wrong in their narrative.

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2. Build trust in each other

To trust your partner means that you rely on them because you feel secure in the knowledge that your partner will not violate or hurt you. Thus, building trust in your partner maybe through trust exercises for couples is paramount since the more you trust them, the happier you will be in your relationship. More trust means that you are more vulnerable with them as well, which opens the way to the formation of a healthy union.

3. Learn effective ways to resolve conflicts

Not being able to resolve conflicts is one of the biggest signs of a tumultuous relationship, therefore, learning effective conflict resolution skills is important to fix it. You can do so by learning to reflect on the deeper issues, agreeing to disagree, and by compromising where it is necessary.

4. Set boundaries with your partner

Setting healthy boundaries in a relationship with your partner is also an effective conflict resolution skill and, in turn, can save your relationship from turbulence. Set boundaries from the very start of your relationship. Don’t allow your partner to manipulate your decisions. Be honest with your partner about what you need and listen to your partner’s needs as well.

5. Seek professional help

If there is a problem you can’t resolve on your own in your relationship, such as trouble expressing your feelings or having unsolvable disagreements, contact a couple’s counselor and ask for help. At Bonobology, we offer professional help through our panel of licensed advisors who can help you embark on a path toward recovery.

How To Leave A Tumultuous Relationship

You’ve tried your best to fix the relationship turmoil, and nothing seems to work. So, you’ve decided to leave. We understand this was not an overnight decision, and we stand with you. Here are our 12 pointers on how to leave a tumultuous relationship:

1. Tell your partner, if you feel safe enough to do so

How to break up with an abusive partner? A Reddit user replied to a survivor, “Do not stay in that house to tell him in person. You are leaving for a reason. Don’t put yourself in a position to get abused again…” 

Another person on the same thread advises: “Leave a note. Block him.” We agree. 

Related Reading: 14 Signs Your Husband Is Planning To Leave You

2. Discuss finances, legalities, and property

If you’re looking to secure your future and ensure that you get your share of property/money, you need to consult a lawyer. You can find a pro bono service online or a legal support group where you can get tumultuous relationship advice for free.

3. Whether you’re unmarried or married, be fair to the kids and pets

In the legal hell of joint or sole custody, financial obligations and who takes care of how many pets, or the heartbreaking “I don’t want to take care of your kids/pets anymore” scenario, the first thing to do is to have a conversation with the children. 

  • Make sure they know it’s not their fault
  • Give them lots of love
  • Take accountability and apologize for how this impacts them
  • Tell them a cleaned-up but honest version of why the relationship didn’t work
  • Check in with them regularly
  • Involve friends/family in giving them comfort and fun if you’re (understandably) unable to do so for some time
  • Never take out your frustration on them
  • It’s okay if you can’t do it all. The little ones will know you’re there for them, even if you make mistakes

Also, remember: Your breakup affects your pet too. So give them treats and extra cuddles and play time, take care of them like you do, give them to a friend you trust for a day when you need a break. Be gentle with them through these ups and downs.

4. If you live together, decide the tentative date of separation

You don’t have to leave immediately. Sometimes, there are intimate conversations to be had as a rollercoaster relationship or a tumultuous marriage comes to an end. Sometimes, there are everyday matters to take care of. A reasonably slow transition works for many. 

5. How to leave a tumultuous relationship in a healthy way? Take help

Here’s an example of a text you can send to a trusted person: “Hey, I would really need some emotional support for the coming days.” Or “I’ll need some logistical help in this separation period. Can I borrow your truck?” Or “Can you pick me up?” Let people show up for you. Also, don’t hesitate to seek guidance from an online support group. Or a breakup/separation counselor.

6. Make a list of the painful parts of your tumultuous marriage or relationship

You know how you feel in the moment when someone treats you badly. But in retrospect, you may be more forgiving toward the relationship turmoil or romanticize the past in your head. That’s why the written word helps, lest you forget how bad things were (are). 

  • Jot down how you’ve been feeling every day
  • Write down the things your partner does which make you feel small or scared

7. Make a list of the positive changes you want in your life

Know what you are looking forward to. These can be affirmations too: “I deserve stability, loyalty, love, and kindness from myself, my loved ones, and my partner.” Write it down, without censorship. 

8. If the relationship was abusive, know that it’s not your fault if you can’t leave in one go

This article has some relevant facts for you if you’re an abuse survivor. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, it takes an average of seven attempts for a person to finally leave an abusive partner. “Many times, leaving an abusive relationship is not only emotionally difficult but can also be life threatening,” says One Love’s CEO, Katie Hood.

Related Reading: Why Does My Girlfriend Hit Me? Expert Shares 11 Possible Reasons And Ways To Cope

9. Keep yourself connected to those who energize, not drain

This is your tribe during this breakup process:

  • People who uplift you and your decisions
  • People who will remind you of your intended path
  • People who can keep you in good spirits
  • People who let you grieve for as long as you need to

10. Make time for joy and rest

Small wins count. You won’t be able to do this with any amount of sanity if you don’t do things that give you happiness and some sense of pleasure. So fulfill your mind and body’s basic need for sleep and peace. Don’t make this into a more overwhelming task than it needs to be. Maybe meditation puts you to sleep or maybe watching horror is your jam; whatever does the trick, do it.

11. Don’t fall from one trap to another

Scientists have drawn parallels between the naturally rewarding phenomena associated with human love and the artificial stimulation afforded by the use of addictive substances such as alcohol, heroin, or cocaine. 

So, when one kind of high leaves you, don’t chase another — whether a toxic romance or substance abuse. This is why you need a team of people, your own affirmations, and reality checks to remind yourself of the path you actually want to be on.

12. Don’t try to be friends with your ex out of guilt or obligation

“They don’t have anyone. They are triggered. No one gets them like I do.” — Not one of these reasons takes into account the fact that you need time and space to grieve and heal. Also, neither of you knows how to be a good friend to each other right now. And let’s face it, you can’t be “just friends.”

A Reddit user said, “I shall not justify seeking closeness as an attempt to keep my lover as a friend. I cannot afford a friendship until I’m completely over them and no longer even remotely triggered. And it’s okay if we don’t remain friends. Moving on is a sign of personal growth.”

Key Pointers

  • A relationship that is tumultuous is a union that is defined by disorder and chaos
  • Signs of a tumultuous relationship to look out for are: stuck in a vicious cycle of fighting, manipulation and codependency, lack of trust, presence of self-doubts, and more
  • Being open to communication, building trust in the relationship, learning effective conflict resolution skills, setting boundaries, and seeking professional help are a few tips to fix a tumultuous relationship
  • You can always choose to walk away from an unhealthy relationship if it no longer meets your needs
  • If you want to leave, make sure your finances are separate, your safety is sure, you have an encouraging support system in place that reminds you to stick to your decision, and that you’re fair to the children and pets

A tumultuous relationship has the potential to ruin your self-esteem, or make you detest relationships in general. If you are not looking out for the signs, you may not even realize you are in one since they can be really gradual, and then all of a sudden you find yourself too deep in the water.

The last thing you’d want to do is to stay in denial. Take the necessary steps to either fix the situation or walk away. If you are here reading this, you may be in an unhealthy relationship yourself or you might know someone who is. Take that leap of faith in yourself before this relationship engulfs you, and prioritize yourself.


1. What does it mean to have a tumultuous relationship?

It basically means a relationship that is turbulent in nature. Both partners feel intensely and express themselves overtly at such a level that it results in an overload of physical and emotional expressions. This can be very challenging and causes a huge amount of stress, impairing your emotional regulation skills. Such a relationship does no one any good and only brings with it trouble and chaos. With all these intensities come highs that are very high and lows that are very low. 

2. Can a tumultuous relationship last?

You can make any relationship last for a long, long time but the question to ask here is do you want to? With all the trouble and disruptions that a tumultuous relationship brings with it, would you be willing to make it last? If you feel your relationship is going in the wrong direction where you feel your partner has robbed you of your sense of dignity, then it’s high time you break out of that relationship. 

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