By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
What is a toxic relationship?
Relationships we might describe as toxic lie on the extreme end of unhealthy relationships. The term toxic relationship is commonly used to describe a lot of unhappy and unhealthy relationships. One way of defining a toxic relationship is any relationship that lacks emotional safety. These relationships are characterized by chronic disrespect and frequent personal attacks.
People in these relationships often report that they experience gaslighting, their words are being twisted, and every conversation ends in an argument. If your relationship makes you feel bad about yourself and you are always on edge when you’re around this person, it’s likely that you’re in an unhealthy or toxic relationship.
Toxicity can range from high to low.
Like most aspects of personality, there’s a range for how toxic someone might be. For example, the trait of narcissism ranges from so low that the person has little self-esteem to so high that they’re unable to empathize or see others’ points of view. Some people can handle being around a severe narcissist and not be damaged, but most people can’t.
The same thing is true of many of the personality characteristics associated with toxic relationships. What you may be able to tolerate in a partner might be harmful to some of your other family members. What someone else may be able to put up with in a relationship might damage your self-esteem and ability to have a well-functioning life.
Being in a relationship that you find toxic can leave you chronically unhappy and even depressed. It makes your life feel unstable and unpredictable. Here are some signs you may be in an unhealthy or toxic relationship.
They are dream destroyers.
If your partner constantly belittles you and makes fun of your dreams, this will turn destructive over time. There’s something wrong with a partner who needs to pull you down in order to feel good about themselves. If your partner can’t support you in pursuing your dreams, you better reevaluate that relationship.
Their lives are full of drama that has nothing to do with you.
Some people live in the eye of the hurricane. Their life is always full of drama. If nothing is going wrong, they create more drama. You are constantly being dragged into their drama.
Whatever they want is more important than your wants and needs.
In toxic relationships, one partner will disregard the other wants and needs. Everything becomes about them. A healthy relationship is characterized by give-and-take. If you’ve come to expect that what you want will be disregarded and that your needs don’t matter, you’re in a very unhealthy relationship.
They belittle your accomplishments.
Healthy relationship partners are delighted when the partner accomplishes something. If your partner needs to minimize your accomplishments, this is a sign that your partner is insecure and only able to think about themselves. Having your partner constantly minimize your contribution to the relationship and your individual accomplishments will chip away at your self-esteem. Eventually, this kind of relationship will turn toxic.
You would avoid this person if you could.
Are you ever tempted to stay at work a little longer just to avoid having to go home? But then, when you get home, do you try to busy yourself with something that avoids the person you live with? If you find you would just as soon avoid this person if you could, that’s a sign of an unhealthy relationship.
When you’re around them, you can’t be yourself.
You feel that the person is constantly evaluating you and judging you negatively and that it’s not a healthy relationship. If you have to hide your true self when you’re around someone, it’s not a healthy relationship. If you have to change who you are to please this person, it’s not a healthy relationship.
Being around them makes you physically ill.
There’s a lot of truth to that old saying that someone makes you sick to your stomach. The body reacts to unhealthy or dangerous situations by motivating our defenses to freeze, flee, or fight. If when you’re around someone you chronically have headaches, an upset stomach, or other unpleasant body sensations, and you’re not having those problems when you’re alone or with supportive people, your body is trying to tell you there’s something wrong with this relationship.
Do they avoid hearing about your feelings?
In a healthy relationship, you should feel free to express feelings about things without your partner getting defensive. If your feelings are a taboo subject, it’s an unhealthy relationship. Does your partner get angry whenever you tell them how you feel about something? Not wanting to hear about your feelings, or worse yet, not wanting you to have feelings, is a sign of an unhealthy relationship.
Do they blame you for all the problems in the relationship?
Having a good work relationship requires two people, each caring about the other. Most relationship problems can only be solved by work on both parties’ parts. If your partner won’t look at how they contribute to the issues between you and tell you everything would be fine if you would just change, your relationship is not very healthy.
Relationships in which one person has a significant problem, an addiction, a severe untreated mental illness, or uncontrolled anger issues can’t be made healthy by their partner no matter how hard that partner tries. But if you’ve done your best to be a healthy partner, their problems aren’t all your fault.
Have you become totally dependent on your partner?
A characteristic of unhealthy relationships, particularly abusive relationships, is when your partner insists that you rely solely on them. If your partner doesn’t like your friends and family and doesn’t want you talking to them, it’s an unhealthy relationship. If they don’t want you going anywhere without them, they control all the money; your relationship has become unhealthy.
You disagree on your goals and values.
The things that tear couples apart are often the things that they hadn’t discussed when they got together. Does one of you want to have children, and the other wants to put it off maybe forever? Do you disagree on whether to spend or save? Have you discussed where you want to live and what you want to do when retirement arrives?
Think about all these factors, particularly in your primary intimate relationship. Beware if you see signs of an unhealthy relationship. Recognizing toxic relationships early on can save you years of unhappiness.
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