Four signs you’re in a toxic relationship
Any relationship, be it romantic or otherwise, can be complicated.
Whether it’s the relationship you have with your pushy mother-in-law, a childhood friend, or a spouse, interpersonal connections can be as challenging as they are rewarding. But a toxic relationship — one that is emotionally, and in extreme cases, physically damaging — is not complicated: it’s abusive. And learning the signs of a toxic relationship can help ensure that your relationships are healthy, sustainable, and mutually beneficial.
“A toxic relationship includes many factors,” Dr. Pavini Moray, a sex educator and founder of Wellcelium, a sex and intimacy school, tells Woman’s Day. “The main gauge, though, is how you feel the majority of the time.” If, for the most part, you feel supported, loved, and generally happy, and occasional spat or heated disagreement doesn’t mean you’re necessarily in a toxic relationship.
“Toxic relationships detract from the quality of your life, rather than add to it,” Moray says. And while that could mean different things to different people and depending on their unique relationship, there are certain red flags everyone should look out for.
If you identify with any of the below, it could point to some toxicity in your relationship. But Moray says that all is not lost should you find yourself in this situation. “There is no cookie-cutter answer,” Moray explains. “Some couples can get support, can really get into the work of relational repair, and pull through.” So don’t let the list below scare you. See it more as step one in your healing — whether it’s with your partner, a friend, a parent, or on your own.
Absence of mutual care and support.
While it’s unrealistic to expect to feel happy every second of your relationship, the contentment, support, and shared joy should be more prevalent than not. “You may experience a dullness or a lack of pleasurable sensation when in a toxic relationship,” Moray says. “You may also feel afraid or unworthy, especially if your partner speaks in a derogatory, critical, or consistently blaming manner.” One of the reasons why people enter relationships is to meet their need for belonging, safety, and connection, and that need should be met on a consistent basis. “A relationship that is without the positive benefits of a quality connection like care and joy alongside negative impact means the costs of the relationship are outweighing the benefits,” Moray says. “Your needs are not being met.”
An ongoing lack of effective communication.
Learning how to effectively communicate with the people in your life can be challenging, to be sure. And every once in a while, you’ll have a day where every little thing your partner, parent, or friend says sends you into a rage. But if you’re finding you can’t talk to your loved ones without arguing, it might point to a deeper issue. “If you or your partner is feeling rageful or belittled much of the time, something is wrong,” Moray says. “While conflict is a natural part of relationships, the way you do conflict matters a lot.” The key is to be able to work through difficult subjects without lashing out at one another. If that seems to be lacking, your relationship may not be thriving.
There’s relationship imbalance.
In a healthy relationship, there is a balance of support. Sometimes you have to support your partner, and other times they need to support you. If that balance is out of whack, though, Moray says something more seriously could be up. “Both of you need to feel your needs are important to the relationship, and that you are on the same team,” Moray explains. “If you find you are consistently giving in to your partner’s desires, eventually the imbalance will result in resentment from the partner who is over-giving.” Balance in a relationship doesn’t just apply to big, potentially life-changing decisions, like where you’ll live or whether you’ll have children. It applies to smaller, daily decisions too, like if your partner always chooses the restaurant or whose family you visit for the holidays.
There’s a lack of mutual consent.
While the other signs that have been previously discussed can be chalked up to lack of respect, Moray classifies how consent is or isn’t happening in your connection as a form of abuse. If you’re doing things you really don’t want to do, or are coerced to go beyond your own boundaries — whether they are financial, physical, sexual, or emotional — it’s a sure-fire sign of toxicity. “Healthy relationships are based on a foundation of consent,” Moray says. “Everyone in the relationship agrees to be in the relationship. If you ever feel like you cannot leave the relationship, for any reason, it’s a good idea to consider whether this relationship is in your best interest.”