Lots of romantic relationships start well, but then something along the line happens and things just start continuing one after the other, developing continuously just for one (or both) of the partners involved to realize that it’s been draining, unhealthy, and well, toxic.
We’ve been hearing the word toxic a lot lately, so much that it’s almost becoming normalized by the society we are a part of and surrounded by, and it’s no wonder if one might ask the question “Am I in a toxic relationship, or not?”
First and foremost, to refer to a relationship as toxic, I believe it is very important that we understand what a toxic relationship is. Let’s figure this out together!
Advice given in this article is based on peoples’ personal experiences, expert advice, and pure genuine intentions to help people in need of it[advice].
What is a toxic relationship?
There are different definitions of a toxic relationship, but the core of it is that it is unhealthy, manipulative, controlling, damaging (emotionally, financially, physically), hurtful, and emotionally exhausting.
The consistency of unhealthy traits and behaviors being practiced/experienced in the relationship makes it toxic/er, and at times, more difficult to leave.
Note: It doesn’t have to necessarily be that one person is being toxic and the other isn’t. It could be that the two of you are not the best match for each other.
It could be that you’re not necessarily toxic, it’s just such behavior being induced when in the presence of one another; whether it is because of the contrast in your opinions, values, lifestyles, beliefs, etc.
I strongly believe that there’s also a difference between a toxic person, and toxic behavior:
A toxic person – a person that’s insecure and feels the constant need of protection, avoids hurt at all costs, hence causing damage outside to others surrounding them. These are more toxic personality traits, usually caused by unhealed past wounds.
A toxic behavior – not necessarily coming from a toxic person. A behavior triggered or induced by something that causes harm/damage/hurt with or without the one who’s causing it being aware of it.
It can be noted through body language, like rolling eyes, not holding hands (or lack of physical touch in general), facial expressions that indicate resentment and/or contempt, etc.
Before we get into the “How to know that your relationship is toxic”, I’d like you to consider responding and reflecting on a few important questions that’ll help shape the approach and clear out the thoughts in your relationship.
Important questions to ask yourself about the relationship
Is this relationship fulfilling? Think of whether your and their needs are being met and respected in the relationship; or if both of you are fulfilled, are happy, and are joyful (at least most of the time) with the relationship.
What do I feel when I think of my partner? Think of your partner, the time you spend with them, the good/the bad moments you shared/share; acknowledge the feelings and emotions that arise when doing so.
Is there a balance of give-take in my relationship? Not just physical gifts and investments, emotional gifts and investments. Is there one in the relationship that’s tired of giving, or there’s a balance and both are satisfied with the effort?
Is this relationship genuine, understanding, and healing? Or are you seeing signs that your relationship is over? In other words, how honest, how pure, and how fulfilled does the relationship make you two feel?
Is there empathy for each other’s needs? Think of how you feel about each other’s emotional state if you feel for one another; If you feel each other’s joy, pain, hurt, or other emotions;
What is my cost for being in this relationship? Is it your well-being? Your joy? Or small healthy sacrifices that are appreciated and valued during the journey? Is it worth the price?
20 warning signs the relationship is toxic:
1. Frequent fighting – Disagreements that seem to be the new normal
Things don’t go easy at all, there is a lot of anger, and when it comes to coming together to solve something, it’s not really about solving the problem, it’s about arguing:
- One of you is tiptoeing around other’s irritability, afraid that their moodiness will get back at any moment because of something wrong.
- The slightest things are considered/taken as attacks, or the slightest attempt to discuss and address something hurtful turns into a big argument, a messy fight out of which is difficult to get out of.
This becomes so familiar, and happens so often, that it’s just the new normal in the relationship: a big fight over something that’s not worthy of fighting, or something that never gets fixed, and by the end of every argument there’s always the same person left with guilt, fault, and blamed for everything.
- One in the relationship is constantly being hypersensitive to the other’s attempt to address problems, taking it as a personal attack, and turning it into a fight that often turns into a break up.
- One is being monitored, and tested in order for the other to find a flaw or a mistake for the argument to break in.
It feels as if they’re looking for a mistake, for a wrong, to disrupt the peace, to cause another argument, hence it makes the other partner very vigilant of what they talk, or do around/about their partner.
2. Manipulative and controlling behavior – Mind games
Manipulative and controlling behavior is usually shown through the use of guilt, shame, purposely intimidating the other, reminding of past mistakes to gain dominance over the other partner:
- One shows unhealthy levels of jealousy in order to attempt to control the other’s behavior like: their outings, the daily activities.
- One constantly uses shame and/or guilt over the other in order to make the person tolerate things that they wouldn’t tolerate in other cases.
- The controlling moves to the financial level. Where one of the partners has control over the finances of the other, and doesn’t give accountability for their actions regarding the situations/problems caused.
- Nos become yeses very frequently. “I constantly find myself doing something I don’t enjoy doing, but for some reason I just deal with letting my partner get away with it.”
Such actions are done so passively, that they’re rarely noticed, hence they leave the affected person feeling bad and powerless without them knowing why. This has to do a lot with the fights for no reason, and the fights that don’t solve anything.
Dominance, manipulation, and control of the other are not signs of a healthy relationship. They are very damaging in lots of aspects for the one affected.
3. Nothing in the relationship feels healing
There is constant instability, fear, insecurity, emotionally overwhelming, negative feelings, and damage:
- The past wounds keep being inflamed, and new wounds keep on creating with or without the people involved knowing about it.
- The relationship brings more troubles in the lives of partners than joy and positive feelings.
- There’s a fear and hesitance to communicate problems, to communicate the need for healing. A fear of being vulnerable around the other.
A healthy relationship brings two people together that heal and cherish one another, that aims to bring joy into one another’s lives.
On the other hand, is a toxic relationship nothing will feel healing, new wounds will be opened, and the old ones will be inflamed.
4. It’s financially draining
One of the partners is paying the cost of the relationship through not emotional pain, but also literally paying the cost for almost everything for the other partner.
This can be explained in a few cases:
- If both partners have a mutual bank account, one is making all the decisions and withdrawing money without the consent of the other.
- In other cases, one has complete control of a ‘mutual’ bank account, and does not allow the other to have any access unless they ask or beg about it.
- One is paying for everything, and it is draining them financially, and/or affecting their life in a very negative way (financially wise).
Each of the cases is very unhealthy and can be damaging in a lot of aspects for the affected partner. It is unhealthy, it is toxic as long as such behavior continues in the relationship.
5. Tendency and presence of codependency
This one correlates to dominance and control. It’s about one (or both) partners wanting the other to depend on them. Whether it is about their joy, happiness, emotional well-being, and so on:
- One of the partners can’t stand the fact that the other is enjoying something without them.
- The tendency to make the other codependent is noticed in the smallest things like making the other feel guilty if going out without the partner.
- When the partner does something independently, like going out, or doing an activity, the other partner will find a way to punish and make them feel bad for going out alone.
- A toxic partner finds direct, or indirect ways to say “You need me, you can’t do this or that without me. You’re incapable of it.”
This is another form of possessive behavior, through which, again, one of the partners gains dominance through the codependency and the weakness of the other partner.
One of the partners prefers to ‘hold tight’ the power in the relationship, they prefer the other when they’re weak, and not in much control of anything.
manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their sanity
Gaslighting is one of the most dangerous and harmful practices in a toxic relationship, which might as well be considered abusive:
- One partner is highly affecting the other’s mental state in a negative consistent manner through making them question reality, consistently denying the things they’ve said and done.
- Some of the things toxic partners say (with intention of gaslighting) are: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”, “You’re just imagining things.”, “It just happened in your imagination, what are you talking about?!”
You must be aware of the warning signs and words because one is often gaslighted without knowing they’re being so.
7. Unhealthy communication – Dishonesty and lies
Unhealthy communication is defined through dishonesty, lying, passive-aggressiveness, denying, manipulating:
- One of the absolute unhealthy ways of communication is the passive aggressive way of communicating things/issues.
The things said/done hurt the other, but those things are said in such a way that they leave no room for the person to address it (the fact that it has been hurtful).
So much that it almost seems absurd for the person to say something about such a ‘normal’ and ‘not intended to be hurtful at all’ thing.
- There’s dishonest ways of expressing feelings, emotions, and thoughts.
- There’s a lot of denying and blaming. Aggressive tone, and raise of voice when trying to communicate issues.
In such cases, there’s always someone being affected, and in a way controlled through such a way of communicating. It is unhealthy communication as long it is ungenuine and dishonest communication.
8. “It’s strange… I feel lonely, but it’s okay I suppose”
It feels strange because if there’s one thing that we understand about relationships is that they’re not meant/supposed to feel lonely.
- Even though in a relationship, one of the partners is feeling lonely and uncomforted, unheard and unsupported.
- Seeing other couples happy and supporting each other feels saddening, and arouses envy.
- Feeling the need to reach out to other people for support, care, and comfort.
A healthy relationship is about two people getting together and facing problems together, being joyful together, and having each other’s backs, feeling like a team. Not all the time though, as such expectations of a romantic relationship would be based on unrealistic beliefs of perfection.
9. “I’m not important”
It is ok to feel insecure now and then, it can come from one reflecting on general things, or it can come from something that one’s partner did once or twice. Since we’re fragile, and very sensitive beings, feelings of insecurities now and then are somewhat acceptable levels. In a toxic relationship, it’s the contrary:
- The insecurity comes from constant calling names, insulting the other through sarcasm, or other forms of expressing oneself.
- The thought of not being important causes the loss of sense of self-respect, self-care, self-worth, and intimidation towards the partner.
- The feeling of insecurity around the partner is so strong that it’s even difficult to address it in order to understand where it’s coming from.
The probability of someone being born is about one in 400 trillion! We’re all miracles on our own, and we shouldn’t dare, for one second, question our values and importance.
10. Presence of fear – Lack of security
Humans need connections, we are hardwired for creating social relationships. Building connections is crucial for our well-being. I talked to Michael Platt (biological anthropologist, Ph.D.), and he confirmed for HeTexted it by saying:
“Connecting with others has instrumental benefits–we can do more together than we could alone and we can learn from the experiences of others without having to try things ourselves–and benefits for health and well-being–social support reduces stress, and people (and monkeys) with more friends live longer, healthier, more productive lives.”Michael Platt (biological anthropologist, Ph.D)
We need security when in another’s company. A toxic relationship feels insecure, fearful, and causes constant doubt:
- A partner making the other feel insecure, unsafe, and uncomfortable through actions and words, in a passive or an active way.
- There is fear of opening a discussion on something, because of the past reactions by the partner.
- A feeling of relief when not around the partner.
- The relationship lacks emotional safety.
I strongly believe that love is pure, clean, uncomplicated, and easy flowing, and most importantly, love doesn’t induce fear. It is a toxic relationship when it constantly induces fear and threat.
Feeling threatened emotionally or physically is unhealthy, especially when such feelings are present in a consistent manner.
11. Needs are not being met
It is pretty mind-blowing actually, how we’re wired and in constant need of connecting. However, the connections and the levels of them vary, of course.
“[…] people vary in their desire and ability to connect (e.g. autism, social anxiety, schizophrenia, narcissism) and some of that variation might be tuned to the local context, for example whether social conditions are stable or volatile.”According to Platt
He also adds “Toxic relationships threaten that entire equation.”
In a toxic relationship limits, needs, boundaries are not being respected, nor considered, by one or both partners involved in the relationship:
- There is less and less interest, appreciation, and respect towards one another.
- No empathy towards one another’s needs. The love and affection is only received when one is hurt and down on their knees.
- There’s no listening, no hearing, no understanding.
We all have our needs, wants, limits, and our right to ask for them to be respected; However, if they’re constantly violated, it turns into something toxic that starts consuming us, and draining us, especially if we can’t stand up and raise our voice about it.
12. Never a sincere apology
There’s no admitting that there’s something wrong with the approach you have towards one another. Tears, problems, dreadful troubles, but never a sincere apology received:
- Another form of manipulation is the partner turning the situation around and making the other feel blamed and guilty for addressing the issue, instead of apologizing for what they’ve done.
- Even if there are times of apologizing it is not sincere, and there is an ingenuine tendency behind it.
A lack of sincere apology is a sign of a lack of acknowledgment towards one’s mistakes. If a person isn’t capable of acknowledging the problems and harm they’re causing around them, they could be the ones causing toxicity and practicing unhealthy activities that highly affect the others around them, especially those they’re involved romantically with.
13. The relationship is one sided – It’s way out of balance
The compromise isn’t equally made, and one is constantly giving/taking more than the other. There are also cases in which one gives only after their needs are fully met, that’s another unhealthy behavior to be noted in a toxic relationship.
The relationship feels and can be noticed that it’s out of balance:
- One is doing the work for both in the relationship.
- One is investing more, emotionally and financially in the relationship, to the point that they get exhausted.
- One feels imposed to constantly give in order to satisfy their partner so they don’t leave.
Again, if there’s one thing that we get right, and we understand correctly about relationships is that they don’t feel lonely. We know that they’re supposed to feel as if we are part of this team in which we work things out together.
It’s about a balance of giving and taking which is created naturally as the relationship develops through time, and as the connection grows stronger, the balance gets even better. It is the unfortunate opposite for toxic relationships: one is always giving more than the other.
14. You’re confused… constantly – Ups & downs
Things are very liquidy, wavy, a lot of ups and downs going on:
- Today it’s about love, and tomorrow it’s about arguing that might or might not lead to a break up.
- In this moment it’s about “I love you”, in the next it’s about something very wrong done which will cause screaming, shaming, and/or blaming.
It’s some sort of way for one partner to have control over the other. They pull away so much that when they see their partner weaken or ready to quit, they come back with the showering of love, affectionate words, just to do it again once the other partner shows love and affection back.
15. The achievements are never celebrated – Lack of support
One partner is very competitive about everything. Achievements are never celebrated they’re put down by the partner who later on will try to show you “I’m better than you” through something else.
- There is no support. One doesn’t cherish, or celebrate the presence of the other, nor their achievements.
- If one succeeds at something, it’ll not be a reason to bring joy to the other, instead it’ll become a reason for them to do something ‘greater’ to show that there’s not much to celebrate about.
You can consider and think of this “If they achieve something greater than me, they’ll find me worthless, I have to do something about it!”. So the toxic person, or the person practicing toxic behavior, finds ways to underestimate and undervalue the achievement, the success of their partner.
16. Criticism is present, so much that it’s consuming you
No matter how strong your beliefs or your confidence are, when you’re told a certain thing many many times, in one way or another it’ll start affecting you. Criticism is one of the dangerous weapons used in toxic relationships, and it’s used in different forms:
- Through passive aggressive behavior & language. In such cases the criticism is done through sarcasm, or put out in the form of a joke, that’ll make the other feel unsure whether it is appropriate to address the fact that they got insulted or not.
- Through showing contempt: mocking, insulting, name-calling, rolling eyes, etc. This could be shown in more of a direct way with the one intention to make the other partner feel worthless, or unimportant.
- Criticizing when one does something for the other. Example: “The pasta you cooked for me was not bad, but I told you a lot of times that I like them undercooked.”, or “Oh, I like the gift you got me, but I can’t wear it anywhere, it’s just not my style.”
In general, we can say that it’s a lack of appreciation, an attempt to make the other feel that whatever they do it won’t be enough, to make them try harder.
So, in a toxic relationship, one is always feeling like they’re not doing enough, and whatever they do is almost every time wrong, because of the critics and the negative comments they’re constantly getting from their partner.
17. Bringing the worst of self/selves
This one is done with or without the partners knowing about it. It could be just the energy that surrounds the partners when they’re together, however, it is toxic from any point of view. Bringing out the worst of each other goes something like this:
- An undeniable presence of neediness from one or both sides. We do need each other, but there are times where the healthy boundaries of this needy side of each of us are crossed, and it becomes something with a lot of potential to turn into codependency.
- It becomes difficult to show/get signs of vulnerability. We are all sensitive, vulnerable, and fragile. Once the freedom of showing that side to the partner is absent or is more turned into fear, then the relationship is not being built on healthy bases.
- There’s constant presence of anger, envy, jealousy, sadness, contempt, bad mouthing, confusion, lack of respect for one another and the selves.
A connection, a bond that’s built and carried upon healthy foundations helps in overcoming the difficulties one experiences when facing the ‘bad side’ of themselves, not bring the worst, and cause damage.
18. Abusive behaviour
Abusive behavior causes a hostile environment to be created within the relationship. It can often be dangerous, and unfortunately at times life-threatening. You’re in an abusive relationship if:
- There’s a constant presence of aggressiveness, and hostility.
- Your partner has convinced you/you start to believe that love comes with pain, and that’s just how things go with love.
- You’re talked to with a threatening tone of communication, or your partner directly threatens you.
- Your partner makes you feel responsible for being victimised – you’re convinced that you’re deserving of everything abusive that they do to you.
- You feel fear, and threat when around your partner. It can be fear to talk about something, fear that you trigger their aggressiveness, fear of them physically abusing you, fear of them shouting and screaming at you at any time.
If one or more of the above mentioned resonate with you, please take your time to read more in detail about what makes a relationship abusive, to be aware that you’re in one.
|Understand that you are not alone, you are heard and you are understood. If you need help, please reach out to: https://www.thehotline.org/|
19. “It’s okay, this time it’ll really be different…”
It comes to a point in the relationship where the problems have been repeated so many times that one tries to excuse the harmful behavior, and believe that this time it’ll be different:
- “It’s going to get better after some time.” it’s a recurring thought, because things happen in such ways that one tries to find excuses to stay in the relationship ‘for a little longer’.
- There is a huge difference between “where I want things to be” and where they actually are. Their words won’t match their actions, so a fantasy is created along with the expectation that it’ll, someday, finally be fulfilled.
By the time that the behavior is recognized to be harmful, there’s the point in which the affected partner starts to hope and idealize or even fantasize that the relationship or their partner’s behavior will change after some time, it’ll change and it’ll fulfill the ideal, the fantasy created.
20. There’s an imbalance in your other relations to other people in your life
One of the two partners wants the other’s complete attention and helplessness so much that they try to disconnect them from their relations to other people.
- The relationship is affecting one’s life outside of it, whether the productivity at work, or other activities, and the relationships with other people outside the relationship.
- The close people start showing concern regarding this, and try to warn one that this is not the healthiest way to do things in the relationship.
- One doesn’t feel very proud or free to share the “embarrassing”, or “humiliating” things that their partner does to them, with others.
If the relationship affects most of your relationships outside this one in a negative way regarding the communication, the consistency of meeting, etc, then it is something to worry about.
Note: If you’re scared, or afraid, or just not proud to share certain stories with your friends and/or family because you know they’ll advise you out of the relationship, then take it as a warning sign. It is toxic, it is unhealthy.
What’s the cause behind toxicity in a romantic relationship?
There are a few underlying causes of toxic behavior, or people being toxic:
- One can be triggered to behave toxically without being aware of it.
- Insecurities, childhood traumas left unnoticed, unhealthy family relations, addiction.
- It can be learned behavior; I.e. something developed through past experiences, like in family relations or past romantic relationships.
Something that I’ve been observing lately made me come to a fourth point or which is:
- What you two define as love. E.g I love you, I come home from work and I do nothing wrong to you. Versus I love you, I come home from work with gifts and admiration for you.
People have different versions and definitions of love, which are mostly built and constructed depending on the social environment they grew up in, or the way they were ‘taught’ through experiences (i.e. learned behavior).
Two different definitions of love can cause two different behaviors, which relates to whether these two definitions combined are healthy or toxic.
Could you possibly be the toxic one in the relationship?
If you found your behavior in the signs, instead of your partner’s then it could be that you’re the toxic one, or the one showing toxic behavior towards your partner.
It’s hard to see and comprehend when you’re the problem, and that is understandable. The first and most important step of an improvement journey is acknowledging your behavior, understanding why and where it is coming from.
Our definition of a healthy relationship is a relationship in which both parties grow, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, as a part of a journey to make each other’s lives better and easier, built on accepting, understanding, and supporting one another as much as possible.
I truly believe that with just a little bit of work and awareness everyone can be capable of a healthy relationship.
What to do about it? – If you feel like healing a toxic relationship
- Take some time to reflect on yourself and have a better understanding of the reasons behind your insecurities and the things you’re going through.
- Both of you acknowledge your own issues and the fact that you need to work on them.
- Seek professional help.
Start seeing the endless opportunities to become a team, and work together to support each other in whatever journey (sweet or sour).
Can toxic relationships be healed?
You can fix a toxic relationship if you’re both willing to work on it. It takes a lot of work, effort, and devotion from both sides. It takes understanding, empathy, and acknowledgment of your behavior and the other’s behavior.
Unfortunately, you cannot fix a toxic relationship if only one of you is willing to try. If one (or both) of you refuses to work on their traumas, refuses to see the problem, and accepts why and where the problem is arising from.
How to leave a toxic relationship/how to get out of a toxic relationship
It is very difficult, at times even dangerous, and it sure takes a lot of effort and courage to walk away or when it comes to ending a toxic relationship.
- Accept the situation as it is, and approach the situation with clear, pragmatic judgement.
- Keep in mind that you’re heard, supported, and understood for whatever difficulty you’re experiencing at the moment.
- Understand that this is the best option for your well-being.
- Communicate the breakup to your partner.
- Ask help from a friend, a family member, or even authorities (if/when needed).
- Start the journey of healing.
Final opinion & advice for those struggling in toxic relationships
Whether you’re the one being affected, or the one affecting the other:
Don’t question your power to heal, to understand, to appreciate yourself again. I am not saying this from a place of distant observing, I am saying this from a place of hard-way learned lessons.
Everything will be okay, you will heal and you will learn to cherish yourself again.
Sending light and joy,