Toxic Relationships: 7 Signs You Are In One
Toxic relationships can be loosely defined as relationships that may have healthy roots, but have devolved into a harmful pattern that can be detrimental to one’s well-being. While perhaps not hopeless, these relationships require a tremendous amount of work if they are to return to a healthy status.
A toxic relationship is far beyond what one might consider being “bad” or “broken.” It will penetrate one’s life in a way that makes normal daily functioning difficult. Also, others close to either party will usually be affected, such as children, friends, family, and even co-workers.
Often, these relationships evolve because the individuals in the relationship are polar opposites. This divide creates incompatibility issues, and even if the individuals themselves are relatively healthy mentally, compromising and communicating becomes difficult, and no amount of love in the world can intervene in that downward spiral.
But sometimes, just one person may be primarily responsible for the toxicity in the relationship. This person may not be consciously aware of their motivations or intentions but yet drains the life out of the other, emotionally, mentally, and physically.
This person may be very manipulative and prioritize certain benefits they receive from the relationship rather than focus on mutual love, respect, and communication.
Moreover, people who are toxic in this way are often unaware of his own personality issues, and is self-obsessed and are too concerned with his own feelings, needs, and goals to pay attention to the needs and emotions of the other.
There are many signs to indicate that a toxic relationship has developed. When you are in one, feelings of love and thoughts of how it used to be may blur the reality of the current situation, while others outside the relationship may see the problems clear as day.
Here are some key factors that may indicate you or someone you are close to is in a toxic relationship.
1. There is excessive jealously on one side or the other.
Jealousy is a normal human emotion. It serves us to remind us that we are in fear of losing something that brings us joy, comfort, and other benefits. But extreme jealousy and possessiveness are toxic.
For example, it’s entirely normal to gently direct your partner away from another attractive person at a party. However, it’s quite another to demand upon knowing that person’s whereabouts at all time, or insist that they don’t go out with friends or spend time with family.
These are signs of insecurity and possessiveness and are very unhealthy and abnormal for a functioning relationship.Trust is a critical component of loving, lasting relationships, but is often absent in toxic relationships.
2. Excessive criticism is occurring on one or both sides.
Again, a little nudging from a partner to rinse off dishes before putting them in the sink or pick up dirty towels off the bathroom floor is normal. What is not normal is name-calling and being overly critical of her actions and the things she says or does.
For example, imagine you drop a plate of food on accident, and your partner yells “You are so stupid and clumsy! Now I have to clean up this mess!”
Any criticism that is highly focused on real or imagined minor imperfections, or is extremely derogatory and hateful has no place in a relationship. This type of debasement makes the other person feel undervalued and unappreciated.
Truthfully, there aren’t many worse feelings than those as a result of the behavior of someone who purports to love you.
3. Most “communication” is argumentative and unproductive.
People in toxic relationships often cannot sit down and have a civilized, adult conversation. These interactions usually consist of blaming one another or one becoming overly defensive.
Sometimes one of the partners just refuses to listen to the feelings and thoughts of the other, and conversations continually escalate until no meaningful progress can be accomplished. In fact, this type of interaction only serves to make problems worse.
4. Stress and tension are high, and interpersonal avoidance is common.
Humans are very apt at feeling negative energy when it is permeating from another person. Such feelings can increase stress and tension, and over time, we can feel drained on every level.
These types of feelings should not occur in response to your significant other – moreover, he or she should be the person who helps you relax and disengage from others who make you feel that way.
Indeed, as negative interactions and energy increase, avoiding the other person becomes an inevitable result. Yes, sometimes people who love one another need time apart – perhaps one is in a bad mood or just needs to deal with things alone.
However, in very toxic relationships, avoidance tends to become a common occurrence – and a clear indication that two people are unable to be close to each other without causing stress and negative feelings.
5. You change for the worse.
Changes are an inevitable part of most relationships, but these changes should be adaptive and positive (or at least neutral.)
Negative changes such as new feelings of depression, poor self-esteem, and increased stress and anxiety as a result of interactions with the other person reveal that person is having an adverse effect on your happiness and well-being.
6. You feel as if you can’t make your partner happy.
Most people want to give to others in some way that is satisfying for themselves and the other person. But when one person is giving and giving, and the other person is just taking or unappreciative, the relationship balance is skewed and serves to make the “giver” very unhappy.
Being generous with another person, be it via time, caring, love, or even money has to be a two-way street. It doesn’t have to be balanced 100% of the time, but over the long haul, there has to be a genuine need on both sides to reciprocate.
This dynamic may result in the giving partner believing that he or she cannot truly make the other person happy, in part because he or she is never on the receiving end of happiness.
When combined with other factors such as criticism, this can result in one person believing that he cannot do right by the partner, no matter how hard he or she tries.
The worst feelings often come at a time when not only does the other person appear unappreciative, but may be upset or angry in response despite attempts to satisfy him or her.
7. There is resistance to a desire to change or grow.
Sometime in toxic relationships, one person seeks to make healthy changes and the other resists – a sign that the resisting party isn’t willing to break out of a rut or let the partner try to improve herself or the relationship and be a happier person.
For example, for years one of my best friends begged her husband to go to counseling. He refused. He told her that he didn’t want to explain his problems to a stranger. Well, maybe it wouldn’t have worked, but he was unwilling to try.
Moreover, that unwillingness to try or change to save a relationship should be a clear indication that this person deems him or herself an emotional and mental brick wall.
Another red flag is when someone wishes to engage in self-improvement, such as joining a gym, losing weight, taking classes, etc. and the partner is resistant to the personal growth of the other. This reaction indicates that the more toxic partner is afraid of being “outgrown” so to speak, jealous, envious, and unreasonably selfish.
As noted, toxic relationships may be repaired as long as both partners are willing to do the work necessary. But if you are fighting an uphill battle against someone who is not willing to change or even try, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of unhappiness.
No one, no matter how imperfect, deserves to be treated in any of the ways I’ve outlined. I don’t care what you’ve done. Accepting someone else for who they are is a good thing, but when you are putting your happiness and well-being on the line, it just isn’t worth it.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology