We’re often told that relationships take hard work to survive. Rough patches and fights are part of the parcel of love. While all of that is true, these platitudes often take focus away from the warning signs of a toxic relationship. Romantic relationships cannot always be a bed of roses. But aren’t supposed to a prickly, thorny bush either.
In a healthy relationship, if there are lows, there are highs too. If there are fights and arguments, there is happiness and intimacy too. That’s what sets them apart from an unhealthy relationship. So, if your relationship feels draining rather invigorating, you need to sit up and take notice of what toxicity in relationships looks like.
What Is A Toxic Relationship?
A toxic relationship can be defined as one marked by constant conflict, disrespect and a lack of harmony. The partner with toxic tendencies tries to undermine the other with the single-minded goal of gaining absolute control over the relationship as well as their partner’s life. This results in conflict and a lack of mutual support.
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While all relationships go through upheavals and unpleasant phases, in a toxic relationship a sense of hostility is all-pervasive. Moments of negativity far outweigh the positive ones.
When a perfectly healthy relationship goes through its ups and downs, either one or both partners can become susceptible to toxic behaviour. However, these incidents are often fleeting and the couple finds a way to correct course. On the hand, an unhealthy instead bad relationship is characterized by a prevalent dysfunction.
Manipulation, abuse, control, power struggle are some of the common unhealthy relationships characteristics.
Types of toxic relationships
However, not all toxic relationships are created equal. These come in different forms and varying degrees of toxicity. Some of the common types of toxicity in relationships include:
- Deprecatory: In this type of relationship, a toxic partner will constantly undermine or belittle the other. Negging is a common example of this form of unhealthy relationships
- Temperamental: In most toxic relationship stories, the anger or temper issues of one partner become a crippling force for the other. People give up trying to put forth their views, argue or disagree with their SO because they are scared of another angry outburst. Here control is exercised through intimidation
- Guilt-Inducing: In this case, a loved one gains control over you by inducing guilt for your actions. This type of toxic control is not just limited to romantic relationships but can be seen between friends, parents and children, and siblings
- Deflecting: In a deflecting toxic relationship, one partner always finds a way to get out of taking responsibility for their actions by making yours look worse. Try telling them that you’re angry, frustrated or sad, and they’ll be ready with a sob story of their own, making you feel selfish and small for expressing your feelings
- Passive: A toxic boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse may exercise control by being overly dependent on you. The responsibility of making all decisions – big and small – falls squarely on you. When you do decide, they make sure to let you know that your decision was ‘wrong’ through passive-aggressive behaviour
- Detached: In a detached toxic relationship, one partner controls the other by never being available. Their mysterious absence then begins to occupy your mind space. To confuse you more, they will be available at their whims and fancies. Leaving you uncertain about what they want
- Possessive: Such an unhealthy relationship is characterized by jealousy, lack of trust and constant investigations and interrogations
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11 Warning Signs Of A Toxic Relationship
Given that no relationship is perfect and all couples go through their share of unpleasant moments, how do you tell the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship? Considering that toxicity in relationships can pan out on a spectrum, spotting it and breaking free can become that much harder.
As hard as it may be, it needs to be done. Because identifying toxicity is the first step toward protecting yourself from letting your relationship dynamics break your persona. If you feel that the problems in your relationship are beyond ordinary, look out for these 11 warning signs of a toxic relationship:
1. Manipulation is a sign of toxicity
Manipulation in relationships can occur in different forms. But the end objective is always the same – to gain power over the other person. If your partner is overly critical of anything and everything you do and displays passive-aggressive behaviour to convey their displeasure, you can be sure that it points to toxicity in your relationship.
When a gaslighting spouse or partner denies the evident reality to riddle you with self-doubt, it is also a form of manipulation. For instance, you tell your SO that they haven’t been pitching in with household responsibilities and they point-blank deny it, it’s a classic case of gaslighting.
In the end, you may find yourself wondering if there is something you’re missing out on. Or feel frustrated by trying to get them to see the reality but to no avail.
Manipulation is any form that leaves you exasperated. That’s the goal a toxic partner is trying to achieve.
Related Reading: How To Deal With A Gaslighting Spouse?
2. Your relationship feels hollow
You feel a sense of emptiness when you think about your partner and your relationship. And that fills you with a sense of gloom that is hard to shake off. You go to bed with a heavy heart and a sinking feeling in the gut. When you wake, you feel the same way.
You feel sad and incomplete rather than joyful and content when you think of your SO. When you see other couples genuinely happy in their relationships, it stings. You know that you can never have that with your partner.
3. Everything is about your partner
When you have toxic boyfriend or girlfriend or even a spouse, your entire relationship revolves around them. If you have a problem, they have a bigger problem. And if you have the accomplishment to share, they have a better achievement to boast of.
These are classic manifestations of narcissism. A person who displays such behavioural tendencies tends to be self-centred, arrogant and lacking in empathy and compassion. Being in a relationship with such as a person means that you will always come second. No matter what the situation.
It’s impossible to have a meaningful or fulfilling relationship with them.
4. You hesitate in expressing yourself
You want your partner to spend more time with you. You’d have liked them to be there to hold you when you suffered a loss. Perhaps, you want to take the relationship to the next level. Or just want them to be more attentive to your needs.
Of course, a part of you wants to have an elaborate discussion about these things with your partner. But something inside you holds you back. Simply because you know there is no point. All you’re going to get are empty promises, excuses, accusations or a fight.
Even if they do give you what you’re asking for, they’ll resent you for it. It will only lead to more problems in an already complicated relationship. So, you train yourself to hold back your desires and settle for what you get.
Related Reading: Can Healthy Jealousy Help You Build Stronger Relationships?
5. You’re the only one working at the relationship
Just because your partner is physically present doesn’t mean that they’re invested in the relationship. If you’re with someone who makes no effort to share things with you, communicate, express affection, be there for you in your times of need, it points to a clear lack of effort from their side. That is one of the telling early warning signs of a bad relationship.
Inevitably, the onus of making the relationship work falls on you. However, don’t fool yourself with the belief that by doing more or trying harder you can change things. The source of the problem lies elsewhere.
If a partner is not present in the relationship even when they are, you ought to ask yourself, ‘what am I doing here?’ And not ‘what more can I do.’
6. Scorecards are a hallmark of an unhealthy relationship
Keeping track of who did the dishes and who took out the trash is one thing. But if your partner is keeping score of all your mistakes, flaws and errors and then using it to make you feel guilty about the person you are, it’s a clear red flag. The objective here is to drive home the point of ‘how wrong you are’.
A toxic girlfriend or boyfriend not only constantly reminds you of your mistakes but also pegs their good deeds to make you feel small. This is nothing but a way of manipulation and gaining control of the relationship.
Remember, a bad relationship shines the spotlight on your flaws and a good one on your strengths.
7. No is a bad word in a bad relationship
Of course, we all want to do the best we can for our partners. But not at the cost of our well-being and interests. That means saying no sometimes. When that is not an option, it is among the warning signs of a toxic relationship.
You say no to being intimate and your partner withholds sex as a way of punishment. Or you say you don’t want to go to a party, they sulk and give you the silent treatment for days. A healthy relationship cannot take hold when one partner has a ‘my way or highway’ attitude.
Related Reading: 9 Tips To Build Harmonious Relationships
8. Abuse is among warning signs of a toxic relationship
Abuse, be it physical or mental, is unhealthy and unacceptable. Not only is it among the classic warning signs of a toxic relationship but also a red flag that you need an out and soon. If you’re suffering abuse, don’t fool yourself into believing that your abusive partner loves you.
This cannot be reiterated enough because abuse can leave you with a warped send of what love is supposed to feel like. A survey carried out by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in 10 men and one in four women have suffered violence at the hands of their partners.
Shockingly, another study indicates that one in five women who suffer abuse still view their partners as ‘affectionate’ and ‘dependable’.
Break free from this cycle by reaching to the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help at 1-800-799-7233.
9. Stonewalling also points to a bad relationship
Fighting is common in relationships. So is taking some time off to cool down your tempers. However, if your partner tends to shut down just so that they can evade a conversation about your issues, it is a toxic tendency.
Something that therapists refer to as stonewalling. If your partner becomes unresponsive, ignores or walks away from discussions that are important to you, it reflects an unhealthy relationship dynamic.
In a healthy relationship, couples are invested in each other’s happiness. They value feedback to make their bond better and stronger.
10. The relationship is hurting your self-esteem
One early warning signs of a bad relationship is that it strips you of your self-esteem little by little. The toxic partner starts picking at you right from the beginning. They make critical statements, often in a passive-aggressive manner, making you more and more unsure about yourself.
‘Oh, is that what you’re wearing to tonight’s party?’
‘Isn’t that makeup too much?’
‘You should cut your hair.’
‘Are you going to out with your friends again? It’d be nice if you stayed home once in a while.’
These statements are enough to dent your self-esteem. You’re constantly wondering if your judgment is sound. It also instils a desire to please your partner, just so that they’d stop criticizing you. But no matter how hard you try, it just won’t happen.
11. You keep waiting for things to get better
A toxic relationship is marked by red flags that would be considered deal-breakers in a functional relationship. While one partner continues with their toxic behaviour, the other enables it by staying on in the hope that things will get better.
The unfortunate reality is that you’re clinging on to the hopes of a change that is unlikely to come to fruition. There may be some positive aspects to your relationship – or at least that’s what your clouded judgment tells you.
But if the negatives outweigh the positives, you need to reassess your situation.
Can being in a toxic relationship make you toxic?
For a relationship to become truly toxic, both partners are to blame. The one who displays toxic tendencies as well as the one who willingly stays in the relationship and puts up with the toxicity. If you stay long enough, you may develop toxic tendencies of your own to give your partner a taste of their own medicine.
Over time, these behaviour traits can become internalized. Before you realize it, you may turn into a mirror image of the toxic partner whose attitude you so vehemently despise. That’s why you must shake off the denial about your relationship being toxic. Then, take a firm decision to let go.
Getting out of any relationship is hard. Surprisingly, it is harder in case of an unhealthy relationship. Primarily because the other person has rendered you so powerless through manipulation, criticism and nitpicking that you stop trusting yourself to make the right decision.
Related Reading: How To Avoid Self-sabotaging Relationships?
When should you let go of an unhealthy relationship?
The signs that you should let go of an unhealthy relationship can manifest in various forms. The first tell-tale indicator is that while your relationship exists, it’s not growing, thriving or nurturing you. You’re in it more out of habit than love.
Some of the indicators that you should break-free from a toxic relationship are:
- Physical or emotional abuse
- Constant lying, cheating and criticism
- Feeling emotionally starved
- Insecurity and loneliness
- Lack of intimacy
- The realization the relationship is bad for you
- A desire for a better partner
- Past unsuccessful attempts to move on
The whole on-again-off-again relationship dynamic is also one of the warning signs of a toxic relationship. A lot of people keep gravitating back to toxic partners even when they realize that doing so is bad for them. Often, without being able to pin the reason for it.
If you spot the early warning signs of a bad relationship, it’s best to re-think your decision before you get sucked in too deep.