Everyone hopes that each new relationship will thrive and be healthy. Unfortunately, this does not always happen, and the longer negative patterns continue, the harder it becomes to leave or to try to change the relationship dynamic. Without knowing the signs of a toxic relationship, a person may start to think the negative patterns are the norm and may struggle to seek solutions or decide when it is time to leave.
14 Signs of a Toxic Relationship
There are various warning signs, or red flags, which can alert you to the possibility that you are in a toxic relationship. Below are a few signs of a toxic relationship to look out for.
It is a serious warning flag when a person feels physically or emotionally unsafe. If you feel physically unsafe, you need to make immediate plans to (at least temporarily) put physical distance between you and the other person. There are domestic abuse shelters and organizations that can help you make the arrangements you need to escape a physically abusive relationship.
Emotional and relational safety is also important. It is a bad sign when you don’t feel safe sharing your emotions and you feel afraid that the slightest disagreement will threaten the relationship.
A healthy relationship is one in which both partners share the same level of commitment to the relationship. Not having this in common can increase one partner’s levels of insecurity and stress about the relationship. A shared level of commitment and feeling physically and emotionally safe with your partner is foundational to a healthy relationship.
A certain amount of tension runs through any relationship but feeling constantly stressed and on edge is an indicator that something is off, and it can take a toll on your physical and mental health.
A healthy relationship will be marked by kindness toward each other and healthy patterns of communication and problem-solving. Conversations that are mostly filled with sarcasm, criticism, or overt hostility are another red flag. It can even get so bad that you start to avoid talking to each other.
Sarcasm may be a harmless part of someone’s personality, but it can also be a warning sign of some unhealthy patterns. Sarcasm can be a passive-aggressive way of communicating a toxic message to a partner, or it may simply be disguised hostility that can erode connection and intimacy while provoking resentment, anger, and bitterness over sarcastic comments about a person disguised as jokes.
Constant Dismissiveness and BelittlingIn a healthy relationship, there is no place for demeaning language, harsh words, insults, and screaming. When these behaviors are common, and especially if they happen in front of other people like family and friends, they indicate a serious problem.
Disrespect from your partner – whether in private or in public – will wreak havoc on your confidence and sense of security. Other patterns of disrespect, like always being late or casually “forgetting” commitments they make with you, should also be seen as warning signs.
If they can make you feel like no one else would want you, or that you are lucky to have someone like them to care for you, then it may make it harder to fix the relationship.
It can be a healthy thing for a couple to have a “cooling off” period after an argument to give them both a chance to get their emotions under control. However, using the “silent treatment” is an attempt to manipulate the other person. It is used to hurt, assert control, and dictate the terms of the argument and conversation in general.
Manipulation and Isolation
A toxic partner may try to keep you close by and contained by trying to separate you from other people and activities that you previously enjoyed. This could be the result of their own insecurities or their desire for control, but the result will be to isolate you from life outside of the relationship.
You may notice that all your free time is wrapped up in dealing with your partner, or that you’ve stopped spending time with your friends and family in order to avoid conflict with your partner or to avoid having to explain to them what is happening in your relationship. It may also take a more hostile form of your partner speaking badly of your family and friends, even telling lies about them, or saying things to make you feel jealous about them spending time without you.
Friends and Family Don’t Support You
In general, a person’s family and friends want to support a relationship that they think is healthy and good for you. One consistent theme of a toxic relationship is that family and friends keep saying that it’s problematic. If they are consistently voicing reservations about the relationship, or explicitly withholding support from the relationship, then it should give you pause, and you should ask yourself if they have a good reason for it.
If your partner is regularly questioning where you are or becoming overly upset if you don’t immediately answer their texts, then they may be showing signs of controlling behavior. In some cases, this controlling behavior can be a sign of abuse and could be a serious red flag.
Total Dominance of Finances
Another warning sign is when one partner asserts complete control over the finances in the relationship, refusing access to money or not allowing the other to be involved in financial matters, controlling how much money they are allowed to have or spend. This also includes negative behaviors like withdrawing large sums of money or making expensive purchases without consulting you and resisting accountability over finances.
In a positive and healthy relationship, both partners will take their share of the blame when they deserve it. In a toxic relationship, one person feels constantly blamed and at fault, even for things that are not their responsibility, such as feeling responsible for their partner’s mood and living in fear of upsetting them.
Trust is at the root of a thriving and healthy relationship. Lying about your whereabouts or who you meet up with to avoid spending time with your partner is a significant red flag. Likewise, if you repeatedly catch your partner in a lie, and they always have a story to explain away any concerns you may have, it is a warning sign that the relationship has serious problems.
Many people struggle to navigate difficult conversations or to confidently handle conflict head-on, but constantly walking on eggshells, keeping issues to yourself, and worrying that by bringing up problems you’ll provoke an extreme reaction from your partner, are problematic. A pattern of behavior where you avoid all conflict until something triggers a massive fight, which may be followed by large declarations of love to keep you from walking out, is not healthy at all.
Lack of Support
When your relationship stops being supportive of you and your goals, where there is no mutual desire to see each other succeed in all areas of life, it is a sign of a toxic relationship. Your achievements may be viewed with jealousy and competition, and you don’t feel like your partner has your back when you face challenges.
The relationship becomes unbalanced, and you may sacrifice your own self-care as your partner’s needs and wants are given priority, doing whatever your partner wants you to do even if it goes against your wishes, comfort, or values.
One partner continually telling the other that they are wrong, providing examples that the other knows are not true, is a serious sign of toxicity. “White lies,” manipulation, and denial, even when presented with evidence, are all signs of gaslighting and need to be addressed immediately. Making a partner feel diminished or “crazy” degrades connection in the short term and is toxic in the long term.
Resentment and Hoping for Change
Another red flag is feeling stuck in a relationship where resentment and frustration build up but being unwilling to leave because you keep hoping your partner might change if only you change yourself enough. People often stay in relationships that they know are negative and unhealthy only because they feel there is potential for it to improve if only they can become better. But if both partners are not committed to improving things, that hope is just an illusion.
Can an Unhealthy Relationship Be Saved?
A toxic relationship doesn’t have to be doomed, but unless both partners are equally committed to changing and investing in learning healthy patterns of behavior, it isn’t likely that change will occur. Both must be invested in making the relationship better. Both must be willing to accept responsibility for their behaviors and recognize how their behaviors have harmed the relationship.
There must be a shift from conversations around blaming, to growing in understanding and learning. And there needs to be an openness to receiving outside help. If you’ve identified with these signs of a toxic relationship, you might need individual or couples counseling to get things back on and build better habits for the future.
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