Do you know what makes a certain relationship toxic? You might be saying to yourself, “Yes! Of course I do!” But even though most of us think we’d easily be able to recognize the signs and leave a relationship that’s turned toxic, recent surveys actually report the opposite. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2013), 1 out of every 3 teens will experience being in an unhealthy relationship, but only 33% of them will seek help or confide in someone else about it.
Why? Because well, in the words of American author Bryant McGill, “Escaping a toxic relationship can feel like breaking off a piece of your heart. Leaving is never easy, but sometimes it is necessary to save yourself and others from dying inside.” It’s difficult to accept when the people we love the most are actually the ones hurting us the worst. Even the strongest of us can find themselves trapped in a toxic relationship, unable to accept when things have already crashed and burned.
But knowing how to tell when things are starting to take a turn for the worse can save you a lot of heartache down the road, and may even help you save your relationship before it’s too late. So with that said, here are some tell-tale signs of a toxic relationship and what you can do about it:
1. You don’t feel any support.
Your relationship has started to lose its spark, mostly because you’re not feeling much of an effort anymore from your partner. Not only have they stopped making plans and checking in with you regularly, but they’ve stopped showing you any support or encouragement as well. They’re not there for you when you need them, but they make you feel like it’s your fault somehow, that it’s your own goals and ambitions getting in the way of your relationship and not their lack of appreciation and commitment (Solferino & Tessitore, 2019).
2. You don’t communicate with each other.
Instead of being honest and opening up about how you really feel, you and your partner treat each other with sarcasm, criticism, thinly-veiled judgment, and passive-aggression. You can’t go two minutes without losing your patience or getting annoyed at one another, and most conversations quickly turn into fights. You don’t talk to them about what’s bothering you because you feel like they wouldn’t understand or they’d just get mad at you about it. You’re under so much pressure to act perfect all the time for their sake that it feels exhausting just spending time with them.
3. There’s a lot of jealousy.
Don’t buy into the dangerous idea that a partner’s jealousy comes from a place of love. Jealousy is not born out of love but out of attachment, the desire to possess someone and keep them all to yourself. And jealousy can inspire a lot of toxic and controlling behaviors in a relationship, like invading your significant other’s privacy, going through their messages, and policing who they can and can’t be friends with (Houston, 2012).
4. There’s built-up resentment.
Have you and your partner ever gotten into a fight that brought up a lot of past issues and mistakes you thought were already resolved? This happens because there’s a lot of built-up resentment in your relationship. Your partner hasn’t forgiven you for what you did wrong, and you haven’t let go of all the ways they hurt you before either. You’re both holding onto grudges and refusing to move on, using those mistakes to guilt, control, and manipulate one another instead (Schumm, 2004). But healthy relationships aren’t about keeping score and focusing on all the things you’ve done wrong. Even the kindest, most loving people can do hurtful things sometimes; don’t hold it against them forever.
5. You feel disrespected.
They interrupt you or talk over you; they make you the butt of a lot of jokes; they casually tell people your secrets and personal details; they’re late to most dates or don’t show up altogether; they belittle your problems and concerns; they decide things for you; and they don’t consider your feelings or opinions. These are just a few examples of all the ways we may be disrespected by our significant others, but all of them are definite red flags. Because at the end of the day, they’re all just telling us the same thing – that our partner doesn’t value us or treat us like equals.
6. You don’t have time for other relationships.
At the beginning of most romantic relationships, all you’ll want to do is spend time with your significant other. But as time goes on and your relationship gets more and more serious, you become more comfortable being apart from them because you feel secure with the commitment you’ve made to one another. But it’s not like that when you’re in a toxic relationship. In a toxic relationship, your partner becomes your entire world – all you do is spend time with them and follow them around. You start to lose yourself in them and end up neglecting all the other important relationships in your life, especially with yourself.
So, do you relate to any of the signs we’ve mentioned here? Do you think your relationship has turned toxic?
As they say, the first step to overcoming a problem is by acknowledging it. And the good news is, just because your relationship has turned toxic now doesn’t mean you and your partner are doomed for good. As long as the two of you acknowledge these toxic traits and are both willing to change for the better, then there’s still hope! Practice more open communication, shift from blame to understanding, and establish healthy boundaries moving forward.
Of course, toxic relationships aren’t the same as abusive relationships. If you or anyone you know is being physically or emotionally abused by their partner, please reach out to the authorities or any of the many organizations (like a battered women’s shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline) available to get the help you need.
- USA.gov. “Teen Dating Violence.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed April 22, 2014.
- Solferino, N., & Tessitore, M. E. (2019). Human networks and toxic relationships.
- Houston, M. J. (2012). The Psychology of Abusive/Predatory Relationships: How to detach from and avoid these toxic relationships. iUniverse.
- Schumm, W. R. (2004). Classifying Toxic Relationships. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 32(4), 349.