i.e Sam had a _____________ relationship with his family, with the omitted space being an adjective showing the toxic/bad relations between Sam and his family.

'Strained' comes to mind, but some others would be greatly appreciated.

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    Poor itself would be a great option. With apologies to Charles Lamb. – Kris Jul 20 '18 at 9:58
  • @Kate Bunting True, but it's also used in "estranged relationships with someone" kind of expressions. – Kris Jul 20 '18 at 10:52
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    I suggest a thesaurus – Mitch Jul 20 '18 at 11:34
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    Can you be more specific about what's wrong with toxic, bad, and strained? If there is some specific quality you're looking for you should describe that; if you just want a lot of possibilities, this is not a good place to ask (Thesaurus.com is an easy online resource, and Merriam-Webster's synonyms section of definitions is also often very helpful). – 1006a Jul 20 '18 at 16:13

The word dysfunctional is often used to describe personal relationships which are unhealthy or toxic. It's so common, the term dysfunctional family has its own Wikipedia page. Relationships can be dysfunctional in many ways, some of the more common being lack of empathy or boundaries, a power imbalance, or constant conflict or arguing.


A fraught relationship (MW)

causing or characterized by emotional distress or tension : uneasy; "a fraught relationship"


a pernicious relationship vocabulary.com

adj exceedingly harmful


I might be inclined to use difficult. Per the Oxford Dictionaries:



1 Needing much effort or skill to accomplish, deal with, or understand.

‘she had a difficult decision to make’
‘the questions are too difficult for the children’

1.1 Characterized by or causing hardships or problems.

‘a difficult economic climate’

1.2 (of a person) not easy to please or satisfy; awkward.

‘Lily could be difficult’

There are many synonyms of difficult that could be used as well.

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