Most people will tell you that relationships are complicated. Some will even tell you that relationships are difficult. But many don't go into details about what that means and how a healthy relationship should look. That means you can spend years in a problematic relationship wondering if it's really supposed to be so hard. If you find yourself in a constant struggle, you may be wondering if your relationship is toxic.
Quick Note: If you believe you are in danger, get to a safe place or call 911. If you are not in immediate danger, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 for help.
What is a toxic relationship?
A physically abusive relationship may come to mind when you think of a "toxic" relationship. And while all abusive relationships are toxic, it's also possible for a relationship to be toxic when blatant abuse isn't part of it.
A toxic relationship is one where your well-being suffers because of things happening within your relationship. This can include your physical, emotional, or psychological well-being. Toxic relationships can drain your energy, rob you of your self-esteem, and leave you doubting yourself. They can also lead to physical and psychological harm.
Signs that you may be in a toxic relationship
If you are in a toxic relationship, you may have an idea that your relationship is unhealthy but are too afraid to acknowledge it to others and even to yourself. Or, you may have questioned it in the past, but then you feel like you're making a big deal out of nothing.
If you've wondered if your relationship is unhealthy or toxic, watch for the following seven signs:
1. Your partner always plays the blame game
Do you constantly feel like everything that goes wrong is your fault? Do you end up taking responsibility for things that you had no control in? When something goes wrong for your significant other, do they blame it on you?
Or, maybe you're not the one that gets blamed, but you notice that your partner constantly tries to shift blame to someone else and fails to take responsibility for their own actions. Instead, they act like everything they do is right; if something goes wrong, it can't possibly be their fault.
If your partner constantly plays the blame game, you will likely not hear "I'm sorry" very often or ever. They seem to lack the ability to admit that they were wrong about something or at fault.
Playing the blame game is unhealthy for any type of relationship. This type of behavior can be a sign that there are bigger underlying issues involved that can cause additional challenges for your relationship.
In addition, constantly being blamed for things can steal your confidence and self-esteem. If this behavior goes on for too long, you may notice that you automatically apologize for things regardless of whose fault it is.
2. You no longer have any close friends or family members
Isolation can be a tactic used in emotionally abusive relationships. This behavior may have seemed innocent enough at the start of your relationship. It might have looked like this—your significant other wanted to spend all their time with you, which might have made you feel really good. The relationship was going well, and you were super into them, so you didn't mind giving up time with family and friends to have more one-on-one time with them.
Eventually, though, this behavior continued to grow. They didn't want to go to any of the family parties you invited them to, and they didn't want to get together with your friends. They may have told you to go ahead without them but, at the same time, tried to make you feel guilty when you did.
You might have eventually found that staying home or spending time with them was easier than dealing with their unhappy attitude if you went without them. Without even realizing it, you eventually stopped spending time with anyone else.
Now it feels like you don't have good relationships with anyone, and you miss having friend and family connections. You would love to get support and feel close to someone, but it feels like everyone has moved on, and there is no one left when you try to talk.
3. Your partner is extremely jealous
While we all experience feelings of jealousy on occasion, extreme jealousy can be considered a sign of a toxic relationship. Here are examples of what toxic jealousy may look like in a romantic relationship:
Not allowed to talk with others (who are the same sex as your partner)
Rules around what you can and can't wear around others
Your partner calls or texts you often to see who you are with and what you're doing
They question you about your social media interactions
Your partner wants to check your phone or laptop regularly
They accuse you of cheating constantly
If you are in a toxic relationship, your partner may be good at trying to explain away these behaviors. They may try to make you feel like you're purposefully trying to make them jealous (think of the "blame game" from above.) They may also act like their jealous behavior is necessary to protect you from others. But healthy relationships can't exist along with the constant mistrust and suspicion caused by jealousy.
4. You feel like you're walking on eggshells
Are you constantly watching what's happening around you to try to stop anything from happening that might upset your partner? Do you feel like you can't rest easy because you're always waiting for the next thing that is going to set your partner off?
You may have learned many of their triggers, so you do everything possible to avoid them. Or you may wait in worry, not knowing what word or action will be the next thing that triggers their overly emotional response. You may find that no matter where you are, you're constantly trying to watch their body language to see if something has happened to cause them to be angry.
Feeling like you're always tiptoeing around and walking on eggshells is a red flag of a toxic relationship.
5. Your partner is in full control
The next sign that you may be in a toxic relationship is if you have no control over what happens. This lack of control can include small things like where you go for dinner and big things like where you and your partner relocate.
Several different types of control may be used in toxic relationships, including:
Coercion - Trying to change your opinion on something through threats or force
Demeaning - Knocking you down mentally
Treating you like a child or someone not capable of making decisions
Gaslighting - Trying to confuse you or accuse you of the things they are doing
Badgering - Pressuring you into doing what they want
Denying - Pretending things are ok when they aren't or making excuses for their behavior
Intimidating- Threatening physical harm or making other threats, such as leaving you
Withholding - Keeping things like love or money from you or giving you the silent treatment
Deceiving - Lying and cheating
Manipulating - Trying to make you feel guilty or like there is no other option but to give in to them
If you feel that your opinion doesn't count or is always pushed to the side or overlooked, it can be a sign you are in a toxic relationship.
6. You don't feel like yourself anymore
Sometimes if you are in a toxic relationship, you may not be able to put your finger on exactly what feels off. Still, you just don't feel like yourself anymore. For example, you don't spend time doing the hobbies and activities you used to enjoy. Or you used to feel more confident, and now you struggle with things like anxiety, guilt, and shame.
You may not be able to remember exactly when these changes started in you, but you know that you just feel different than you used to feel.
In addition, you may find that you don't have dreams for your future like you did before you got into this relationship. You may experience a sense of hopelessness or emptiness.
7. There is any type of abuse present
Any abuse in a relationship signifies the relationship is toxic. While most people think of physical abuse when thinking of abusive relationships, there are other kinds of abuse to watch for. For example, you may experience sexual or emotional abuse in your relationship.
The difficulty with different kinds of abuse is that it can be easy to overlook them. You may find yourself trying to explain away or justify your partner's behavior. It can also be a common problem for victims of abuse to struggle to recognize the signs of abuse at all. If you want to learn more about how to recognize abuse, you can read more about it on this link for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Any relationship that includes abuse is a toxic relationship.
Do these behaviors apply to you?
What if you read through this list above and realized that many of the signs are things that you're doing in your relationship? If that's the case, we encourage you to address these challenges with your significant other and consider working with a therapist.
A therapist can help you identify any toxic behaviors that you're contributing to your relationship and learn how to make healthy changes as you move forward. You and your partner can also attend couples therapy together to learn effective ways to create healthy relationships with each other.
What if I notice these signs in other relationships in my life?
Toxic relationships aren't limited to romantic relationships. While those relationships get a lot of attention, toxic relationships can happen between any two people. That means you could have a toxic relationship with a parent, child, coworker, or friend.
It's important to evaluate the relationships in your life to see how they impact you on all levels. If you believe that you may be in a toxic relationship—of any type—a therapist can help you process your relationship and learn to identify changes you can make to move toward healthier relationships.
What to do if you believe your relationship is toxic
Did you recognize some of the signs above in your relationship? Please know that you are not alone, and there is help. Healthy relationships take work from both partners.
If you and your partner are interested in developing a healthier relationship, couples counseling can help you both identify relationship behaviors that need to be improved. If your partner is unwilling to work on the relationship or address any of their behaviors, you can work one-on-one with a therapist to identify what your best course of action is.
Contact The NEST Clinic today to be matched with a Minnesota couples therapist.