What are the signs of a toxic relationship?
The relationships in our lives have a significant impact on our quality of life. Having meaningful and fulfilling relationships means we are supported, empowered and cared for when it counts. Our intimate partners, friends, family, and colleagues all play an important role in our life and if things aren’t working in any of these relationships, it can be harmful to our wellbeing. There are both obvious and subtle signs that a relationship isn’t quite right and could be toxic. Here we explore what they might look like.
Arguing too much
It’s normal to face some conflict from time to time, however in a healthy relationship you should be able to come to a resolution without the situation taking a toll. If disagreements escalate to big or ongoing arguments that you struggle to resolve, then this may be a problem. Consider whether you feel comfortable to disagree with this person or if you’re able to let things go when they become heated. If the answer is no, this can be a sign of a toxic relationship. If the person becomes violent, you need to let someone else know what is going on and remove yourself from the situation safely and quickly.
We’ve all heard of the ‘silent treatment’ – when someone ignores your invitations to communicate and blocks you out. This is a toxic behaviour in relationships because it can inflate conflict, cause uncertainty, and ultimately prevent the chance for resolution. While it’s okay to have some space after a disagreement, if the person refuses to communicate after a reasonable amount of time, it can make the situation worse. Healthy relationships allow both parties to openly communicate and listen to each other’s perspective.
Insulting the other person, making rude comments or reminders of past mistakes are all examples of being mean-spirited. Often this behaviour occurs when we don’t communicate openly and fairly in a relationship, causing us to bottle things up and then lash at a time when you know it will hurt the other person. Making mean comments can also be a sign of insecurity or discontent – when someone uses them to knock the other person down in an attempt to make themselves feel better. In a healthy relationship, both people are respectful and mindful of the other person’s feelings.
Uncomfortable expressing feelings
If you can’t express how you are feeling because you are worried the other person will react negatively, this is a toxic dynamic in a relationship. When we cannot communicate openly and honestly, our feelings can fester inside us and come out in various harmful ways such as feelings of anxiety and frustration, lashing out at others or secretive behaviour. If you feel like you are always walking on eggshells, feel worried that you are going to upset the other person, or that you can’t be yourself around them, there could be a problem. Healthy relationships allow each person to express themselves and make efforts to support each other through their issues.
Too much effort
Have you noticed that you’re often the one putting in the effort? You always initiate making plans, calling the person and so on. Or perhaps the other person only talks about themselves and never asks about you. A healthy relationship needs both people to contribute. Without this balance, the person putting in the effort may feel taken for granted or that the other person doesn’t really want to spend time with them. Of course, it’s not always a perfectly equal balance – there may be times when one person is going through a difficult or busy time and the other person is putting in time to support them. But this would then be reciprocated when things change in a positive relationship. If you feel as though the effort is constantly one-sided, this is not a healthy dynamic.
If someone has behaviours that isolate you from the people in your life, this is not a good sign. They may be restricting you from meeting up with other friends/family or making you feel guilty when you do. Any actions that control our relationships with other people can be very harmful, potentially leading to conflicts or broken ties with people we care about. When we are isolated from our support networks, we can also experience feelings of loneliness, stress, or sadness. When someone cares about us and has our best interest at heart, they will not want to restrict our other relationships. They will be secure and trusting enough to encourage us to spend time with whomever we like.
Lack of trust
Trust is a core foundation to a good relationship, and it can take time to develop. Sometimes people carry trust issues from previous relationships that were dishonest, or it is projected from a sense of insecurity. If one person breaks the other person’s trust, this can also trigger ongoing issues in the relationship. Do you worry or have feelings of doubt about the other person’s behaviour? Or are you being treated as though you are not trusted? This dynamic opens the gates for issues such as anxiety, conflict, secrecy or controlling behaviour. Open and honest communication is an important element to building trust, as well as allowing each other the freedom and space to make their own decisions.
Disrespectful behaviour towards someone or a lack of respect for them is a toxic relationship trait. This can look like dismissing the other person’s values or opinions, being inconsiderate to their needs, or consistently putting you down or making fun of you. While you may not always see eye to eye on everything, healthy relationships mean we still try to be respectful of those differences. If you feel you are not treated as an equal, this is a sign of a lack of respect.
Too much reminiscing
If you keep looking back to the early stages of your relationship because you are not happy with where it is now, this may be a sign it is toxic. Often when we are unsatisfied, we latch onto old memories of when they were better to convince ourselves things might change. It’s a comforting habit when we are unhappy with our current situation. However, if you are always looking in the past, it may mean things have since deteriorated and you are seeking a mental escape from your current reality. This is not a healthy dynamic in a relationship.
Ultimately a healthy relationship is one that is fulfilling and evokes happiness. Your connection with this person should bring you happiness. You will have disagreements and arguments from time to time, but ultimately your relationship shouldn’t make you unhappy. If someone causes you prolonged stress, sadness, anger, or fear this is not a healthy relationship – it is toxic. Consider what you are getting out of your relationship: How do you feel when you are spending time together? How do you feel in the lead up to seeing them? How do you feel afterwards? A healthy and positive relationship will not cause unhappiness in these scenarios.
Pay attention to how the relationship in your life makes you feel. If you think that something isn’t healthy, this can possibly change if both people are committed to doing so. You can discuss with the person how you are feeling and see if they are willing to work on it. You can also lean on other people you trust for support. Consider if you need the help of a relationship counsellor or mediator to work through difficult issues. If they are unwilling to address things, seriously consider whether you want this person in your life or not. You should only maintain positive relationships in your life where you feel safe, stable, and happy.
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