Recognising a toxic relationship is not always easy. Being attached to someone can create blind-spots to behaviour that really isn’t acceptable in a relationship. Alternatively, the relationship may be so toxic that even if we you are aware of the downfalls it can feel as though you have no choice but to stay. Toxicity in relationships can also be disguised by affection, manipulation, or ‘Love’. In this self-help guide, we will delve into the (sometimes subtle) signs that may indicate you are in a toxic relationship.
One of the earliest signs of a toxic relationship is a pattern of poor communication. Frequent arguments, yelling, or constant misunderstandings can create a tense atmosphere. If you find that you struggle to have open and healthy discussions with your partner, it could be a red flag.
Also at the other end of the spectrum, perhaps you never disagree? Do you find yourself always feeling that you need to reinforce the other persons point of view as taking an opposing view ‘just isn’t worth it’, or you wouldn’t want to hurt, offend or shame them?
Control and Manipulation
In a toxic relationship, one partner may attempt to control or manipulate the other’s actions or decisions. This may include controlling what you wear, where you go, or who you spend time with. Healthy relationships are built on trust and respect, not control.
Control and manipulation are not necessarily easy to spot as they can be subtle, and they are not always the conscious intention of the other person. However, even if someone doesn’t mean to control, it doesn’t mean they are not being controlling. Being able to see their behaviour as separate from the person can help you decide what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship. For example, maybe your partner doesn’t like it when you sing while you cook because it reminds them of a family member who used to sing whilst they cleaned the house before they lost their temper. It would make sense that your partner might ask you to stop doing that, and that is ok that they ask, but if they insist that you don’t sing, or become angry, resentful or withdrawn if you do then there is an attempt (albeit not intended) to control you and your behaviour. Its fine to ask people to change, it is not ok to demand, or make it such that changing is really the only option on the table.
Lack of Trust
Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship. In a toxic one, constant suspicion, jealousy, or feelings of betrayal may erode the quality of the relationship. Trust issues can lead to stress and anxiety in the relationship, and often a vicious cycle ensues. The more someone is secretive, the more suspicion will arise in the other person, however, the more suspicious the other person is the more secretive the original partner becomes. This can become a very toxic dynamic where lack of trust is acted out through a ‘game’ of hide and seek behaviours rather than direct conversation.
Emotional Abuse & Gaslighting
Emotional abuse can take various forms, including insults, belittling, threats, or even silent treatment. Such behavior can have a profoundly damaging impact on your self-esteem and mental well-being. Emotional abuse often occurs when someone feels vulnerable or insecure, so instead of sitting with those feelings they project them out onto their partner and make them instead feel vulnerable and insecure.
Gaslighting is a term that has become well used in recent years, and refers to a form of emotional abuse where one partner makes the other question their reality. So for example, if someone is trying to hide the fact they are cheating they may tell their partner that their suspicions are all ‘in their head’. Another type of gaslighting can be moving things on purpose around the house and then accusing the other person of doing it. Gaslighting is very scary and can cause severe mental health problems for those on the receiving end.
Isolation is a common tactic in toxic relationships. One partner might try to isolate the other from friends and family, leaving them feeling cut off from their support network. This makes it even more challenging to break free from the toxic dynamic. This can take many forms such as expressing disapproval of friends/ family making it difficult to see them. Or appearing very supportive of friendships but displaying emotional manipulation every time plans are made to see them. Sometimes a partner may use gaslighting to create isolation by questioning the genuineness and motives of their partners friendships.
Emotional Neglect and Loneliness within the Relationship
Although in long-term relationships it is common for most couples to take each other for granted here and there, consistent emotional or physical neglect can leave you feeling unimportant and unloved. In a healthy relationship, both partners should feel cared for and cherished. Neglect can lead to feelings of loneliness and sadness, and ultimately everyone deserves better than that!
Whilst, most couples get stuck on one issue or another at some point or another, in healthy relationships there is usually a willingness to working together to find solutions and make improvements. In more toxic relationships, recurring problems never seem to get resolved. The cycle of conflict continues, leading to frustration and resentment. If there is never any movement, closure or change on the issue then the relationship can stagnate.
Feeling like you’re giving more in the relationship than you’re receiving can be a sign of toxicity. Relationships should be based on mutual respect and reciprocity. People give in different ways, and you may want to see our previous article on Love Languages to learn more about the different ways people give and express love and affection. However, the amount of ‘energy’ given should matched by both partners.
Sometimes insecure partners feel reassured when their partner is ‘giving’ to them, and an insatiable need for reassurance ensues. This can become a toxic dynamic because it can be hard to keep up with the demand for reassurance and inevitably the reassurance becomes dis-ingenuous, leaving disconnection and distaste in the relationship on both parts.
If you recognise some of these signs in your relationship, it might be time to start questioning whether this is the right relationship for you, or whether you want to start handling some of the relationship dynamics differently. Seek support from trusted friends and family and get their take on your relationship, you don’t have to take advice they give you but it might be helpful to ask how your relationship is seen from the outside compared to your experience of being within it.
It may be necessary to set boundaries, communicate your concerns, or even consider ending the relationship for your well-being. Before acting on any of these you may want to consider seeing a therapist for professional support and guidance because it can be hard to change your position once a relationship dynamic has been set. And importantly, if your relationship is significantly toxic it might actually be dangerous to behave differently. It may be worth talking with professionals and services that have experience of supporting people to exit controlling and abusive relationships in a way that minimises any potential risk of aggression, intimidation or violence.
Once again, it can be hard when you are in the midst’s of a relationship to determine whether it is actually a healthy relationship or not. Ultimately if something doesn’t feel right, then something isn’t right. Trust yourself and listen to what the deep inner voice within you says about this relationship.