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Everyone wants a storybook relationship, complete with unconditional love from a doting partner who laughs at all your jokes, tells you how beautiful you are and supports your interests and endeavors along with lots of great sex…and that’s where the Princess Fantasy comes in.
Sadly, even if the glass slipper does fit, there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship. They all take work and commitment, but some become so poisonous and difficult that they make you miserable. There are usually no happy endings in toxic relationships, so when you know you are in one, it may be time to take off the glass slipper and put on your walking shoes.
Of course, this is always easier said than done.
From the inside, it can be hard to identify a toxic relationship because they often start out happy and healthy and slowly break down over time. If your relationship is going from fairytale to horror story, you should consider these 11 toxic relationship warning signs.
1. YOU AREN’T ABLE TO BE YOUR TRUE SELF
One of the best things about a healthy relationship is being able to truly be yourself and having someone who loves all of you…even the sometimes annoying bits.
However, in a toxic relationship, one partner may not fully accept the other and try to change them in drastic ways. Unfortunately, they may succeed over time if the relationship continues. Even if your partner doesn’t explicitly state that you cannot be yourself, you might be afraid to do or say things that would upset them. You find yourself walking on eggshells to avoid conflict or always trying to give them what they want .
When your romantic partner continuously tries to change your personality or even physical appearance, there is a snowball effect that occurs. It will erode your self-esteem and self-confidence, eventually making you feel that you do not deserve love. This makes it even harder to walk away since you may start to believe you are lucky to have this person and will not be able to find anyone else.
2. YOU BECOME ISOLATED FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Ideally, your love will fit in perfectly with your circle of friends and embrace your family as their own. This is something you should try to look out for when making him attracted in the first place. It’s ok if it doesn’t work out exactly that way since everyone has their own taste in friends and family relationships can be tricky.
However, it becomes a problem if they try to change your relationships with the people close to you, either by preventing you from seeing them or by talking bad about them.
While it may appear on the surface that your partner doesn’t like your friends and family, in a toxic relationship there may be something darker going on. It may be that your partner wants you to devote your attention solely to them, or that they believe severing your relationships with others will make you more dependent.
In truly toxic relationships they may even wish to prevent you from talking with your friends and family alone so that they won’t be able to point out the red flags they have seen concerning your love life. Controlling behavior like this is absolutely a sign of a toxic and unhealthy relationship [2, 3].
3. KEEPING SCORE AND BRINGING UP PAST MISTAKES
Once upon a time, you were late to pick them up at the airport, forgot to call when you said you would or mentioned you didn’t like their mom’s casserole and you are still hearing about it even though it was months ago. Mistakes happen, and it’s even ok to argue about them when they do.
But, it’s not ok to keep score and resurrect past wrongs over and over again. Not only is this hurtful, when the past is brought into current arguments it takes the focus off the issue and prevents real problem-solving. Instead, deal with issues as they arise. Forgiving and forgetting is hard, so sometimes you have to go with the next best thing… forgiving and never bringing it up again.
4. PASSIVE AGGRESSIVENESS
Let’s say you ask your sweetie to wash the dishes.
They immediately smile and say they are coming, only to wait until just before bed to do it and then splash water all over the cabinet and miss bits of food. What might really be going on is that don’t like washing the dishes and rather than saying so they put it off and did a poor job so you wouldn’t ask again.
Passive aggressiveness comes in many forms including, but not limited to:
- Faking helplessness
- Hiding criticism in compliments
But it usually stems from a desire to avoid expressing feelings and communicating openly.
In a healthy relationship, both partners should feel safe in saying how they feel and calmly expressing anger. However, in a toxic relationship, one partner may resort to negative non-verbal communication or trying to provoke a response from the other by finding petty ways to upset them. To prevent your relationship from veering into toxic territory, be honest about your emotions, keep the lines of communication open and encourage them to do the same.
5. BUYING LOVE
Who doesn’t love getting flowers or a just-because present, being whisked away on a spontaneous vacation or treated to an upscale restaurant? These are just a few super cute things you can do for your man.
These may be signs that your honey is a keeper. But, if they are using material things to cover problems in the relationship or to buy your affection, these pretty presents may actually be red flags. A classic example of this is arguing the evening before and receiving a lush bouquet the next day.
You didn’t resolve the issue, but you sweep it aside because they sent flowers. That problem isn’t going anywhere, and no matter how much money is spent, it is going to come back again. To keep yours from becoming a toxic relationship, use gifts as a lovely addition to dealing with relationship issues instead of a replacement.
6. THREATS TO END THE RELATIONSHIP
What’s the difference between, “I think it takes you too long to get dressed” and “I can’t be with someone that takes so long to get ready?” The first is a simple statement while the second is a thinly veiled threat.
It’s completely natural to not like everything about another person, but threatening to end a commitment over every criticism is a form of emotional blackmail. Eventually, the victim becomes terrified that their every action might really be the one that sparks a breakup. Abusers may threaten to leave for someone else who is better than you.
To keep the relationship on a healthy path, hold back judgment and criticism and communicate concerns in a kind but honest way. However, if you are already in a toxic relationship riddled with threats, it may be best to grant them their wish and end it.
7. EXCESSIVE JEALOUSY
It might feel flattering when your sweetie desires your attention, but when jealousy rears its ugly head every time you speak to, glance at or mention another person, the relationship has undoubtedly turned sour. Jealousy and insecurity are definitely a sign of an unhealthy relationship [4, 5].
In truly toxic relationships, a jealous partner may go as far as peeking into email accounts, grabbing your phone to read text messages, hacking into your Facebook account and even showing up unexpectedly at your social events. Checking up like this is unhealthy no matter the form it takes . Often, jealousy doesn’t occur as a response to inappropriate behaviors, but rather stems from feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.
Rather than letting it get that far, start with a foundation of trust, set boundaries, make sure to deal with any of your own feelings of inadequacy rather than forcing them onto your partner. And hopefully, your partner will do the same.
8. NEVER GETTING ON THE SAME PAGE
Emotions and commitment develop at different paces for everyone. It’s completely natural if you fall in love quickly and it takes him awhile, or if he is ready to move in together while she wants to hold on to her own place for a bit longer.
However, toxic relationships often develop when people aren’t on the same page about fundamental relationship issues. For example, if you want a marriage and a houseful of rug rats and they are looking for something more casual, resentment and bitterness are likely to build up.
It’s tempting for people in toxic relationships to tell themselves that their partner will eventually change their mind, but it’s just as likely that they never will. Rather than feeling like you have wasted time in a dead-end relationship, be open and honest about what you want and believe them when they tell you what they are looking for. If you cannot tell the truth, you’re contributing to your partner’s false perception of reality .
9. CRITICIZING IN FRONT OF OTHERS
Every girl’s night out features venting about how husbands and boyfriends leave laundry on the floor and work too late while sipping Cosmopolitans. It’s healthy to let off some steam once in a while, but criticizing and tearing down the one you love in front of others can be a sign of a toxic relationship, especially if it’s particularly vicious.
A person who puts you down all the time and gaslights you is a toxic type known as a Shamer .
In healthy relationships, partners want outsiders to see the best in their loved one and will praise their accomplishments and complement them in public while addressing issues in private. In toxic relationships, partners will showcase the worst in each other through criticism, belittling and airing issues publicly.
10. USING SEX FOR MANIPULATION
Let’s be honest; great sex is one of the biggest benefits of a healthy relationship. Not only is it fun, physical intimacy is a great way to express emotions and strengthen bonds.
However, sex can turn negative if it is used as a method of control in a toxic relationship. This can play out in several different ways. The first is asking for, or even demanding, sex when the other partner doesn’t have the desire. The second, less well-known way is withholding sex or physical affection.
However, withholding sex is not the same as saying no. It’s ok to say no due to a lack of desire, but it’s not ok to withhold sex as a way to control or manipulate the relationship or to use sex as a bartering chip. Withholding sex ends in feelings of rejection and vulnerability. These emotions can make it more difficult to leave the relationship because it may seem as though no one else will find you desirable.
11. THERE’S MORE BAD TIMES THAN GOOD
The whole point of romantic relationships is enjoying a loving bond and having fun together. The clearest sign of a toxic relationship is when the bad outweighs the good.
If you are constantly arguing , always feel stressed about the partnership, frequently complain about the other, dread spending time together or feel worse after seeing them, the relationship may not be worth salvaging. There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, and every one requires compromise, patience and a willingness to work through issues. However, in toxic relationships, the scales tip dramatically toward negativity.
Keep an eye out for any of those red flags even if we haven’t listed them here. These posts also list signs you should be aware of.
- 19 Relationship Red Flags To Avoid If You Don’t Want To Be Miserable
- Is Your Relationship Unhealthy? 11 Emotional Abuse Signs
- 6 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship
Toxic relationships aren’t just unhappy; they are unhealthy. Over time they can lead to a severe lack of self-confidence and self-esteem and even depression. If you’re in a toxic relationship, you probably feel a lot of anxiety about it.
TOXIC RELATIONSHIP CYCLES
Many toxic and unhealthy relationships work in cycles. Initially, there will be calm, but you can feel anxiety and tension building, during which you might notice red flags . This leads to an incident such as a fight or physical or sexual abuse. After the fight, the couple will reconcile, perhaps with an apology and a promise to do better. This leads back to calm, which remains for a time until the tension begins to build again .
Once you’ve reached a stable stage in your relationship, you might feel that the issue has passed and your relationship is no longer toxic. But the fact that this cycle repeats itself is a sign of an overall toxic relationship.
RECOGNIZE TOXICITY IN YOURSELF
Rarely does a relationship become toxic because only one person needs to improve. Relationships are two-way streets, after all. Your toxic relationship got to its current state with help from both you and your partner. It’s likely easier to see the ways that your parent contributes to toxicity in your relationship, but you should beware the signs that you’re also being toxic.
- Being passive-aggressive
- Feeling excessively jealous and possessive over your partner
- Viewing everything your partner does as wrong
- Focusing solely on making your partner happy while sacrificing your own happiness or ignoring your partner’s happiness for your own.
If you are insecure, it can manifest as toxic behaviors in your relationship . Insecurity can also lead to clinginess. Decreasing insecurity can be good for you and your relationship.
ANY RELATIONSHIP CAN BE TOXIC
While we’re focusing on toxic romantic relationships, these are not the only relationships that can be toxic. Friends, for example, can become toxic. You may find yourself making a difficult decision if a friend always has to be right or becomes possessive. If your friend is always the taker and you wind up perennially being the giver, it could be a toxic friendship .
Similarly, our family relationships can be toxic. In fact, this may be why you find yourself in a toxic relationship later in life. After all, if you’ve never learned what a healthy relationship looks like, how would you have one as an adult? Toxic and dysfunctional relationships with your parents can impact your entire life, making it difficult to maintain healthy relationships and develop a secure attachment style.
Toxic relationships from your childhood can also cause trust issues.
Signs of dysfunction in your familial relationships can include controlling or violent behavior, being exploited by your parents, neglect, and lack of basic provisions . You might need to cut out toxic parents or siblings like you would a toxic friend or boyfriend.
NEGATIVE DOESN’T MEAN TOXIC
While we have thus far focused on the signs of toxic relationships and how leaving is often the only thing you can do to save your sanity (we’ll provide advice for that in a bit), not every relationship is toxic. If your relationship only displays some of these signs occasionally, it may not be toxic. Stresses come and go. Feelings of love and even lust wax and wane, especially in longer relationships.
This is all normal and no cause for alarm; although, you might be worried when you hit the first or an extended rough patch. If you can work through your problems as a team, you don’t need to worry about your relationship being toxic.
Even if you do some toxic things in your relationship, you can work on communication, set boundaries and potentially seek the help of a professional to improve your relationship. It’s an uphill battle, but some couples achieve this.
However, ending your toxic relationship may be the only course of action if you’ve tried everything else or if your partner won’t work with it.
WHAT DOES A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP LOOK LIKE?
While we’ve detailed some of the signs of a relationship that’s unhealthy and toxic, it might be helpful to look for the signs that your relationship is actually a healthy one (and sometimes a relationship that isn’t toxic might not be exactly healthy). Although times of stress are unavoidable, a healthy relationship will ultimately bring more happiness and support to your life (and that of your partner) than stress.
You’ll find it difficult to impossible to have a healthy relationship without trust, honesty, respect, support, fairness, quality communication, fondness for your partner, and the ability to maintain separate identities .
In a healthy relationship, you’ll be able to take care of yourself as well as your partner. You make time for friends and family . Relationships with friends and family won’t suffer, which often happens when a partner is abusive or controlling.
The two of you will remain individuals with separate interests and value your differences. If your relationship is healthy, you’ll feel that you can truly be yourself and be able to express yourself including any issues that you may have with your partner. This means you deal with issues respectfully and promptly. Healthy communication and honesty are a must in a relationship that is healthy.
While maintaining separate identities, you’ll also take an interest in your partner’s hobbies. And you’ll recognize that being in a relationship means influencing one another.
A healthy relationship has boundaries that partners respect. Sexual boundaries (setting and respecting ) are also essential to a healthy relationship as is discussing sex in an honest way. This means not forcing your partner to do anything they don’t want to do .
Ultimately, you’ll feel secure and comfortable in your relationship because it improves your life.
LEAVING YOUR TOXIC RELATIONSHIP
If you’ve realized that you’re in a toxic relationship, you might want to end it. First, remember that everyone experiences doubt in their relationship, and this may pass.
Your specific situation will affect what you need to do to get out of your toxic relationship, and while planning ahead can make the transition easier, sometimes you need to move now to prevent things from getting worse or even to save your life. Having a friend on whom you can rely is important. Don’t be afraid to reach out even if you’ve been isolated or disconnected because of an unhealthy relationship. Your friends and family care about you and want to help.
If you’re the friend or family member of someone who is in a toxic relationship, check out our FAQ below to learn how to help your loved one.
While compromise, problem solving and patience can repair a host of relationship issues, it’s unlikely you will ever be able to patch up a toxic relationship. Understanding the warning signs means you can recognize an unhealthy relationship and get out before causing lasting damage to your sanity and well-being and, just as importantly, avoid them in the future.