FEATURE: Six everyday signs that you're in a toxic relationship
By Niamh Linehan
Do you know the difference between a relationship that holds a little tension every now and again... and one that is toxic?
Toxic relationships can be a huge drain on your energy, your happiness, your wellbeing, and your self-worth. They can cause you to lose all the things you love about yourself because you’re striving to meet someone else’s unrealistic, and unreasonable, expectations.
So, how do you spot the signs that your relationship may have taken a turn for the worse? When it comes to toxic relationships, here are some red flags to look out for and ways to help you identify them.
- Lack of forgiveness or trust: Jealousy is something that tends to rear its ugly head in even the most successful of relationships. All those happy couples on Instagram gushing about their amazing significant other and how Dylan/Brian/Finbar only has eyes for them, even after four years, two kids and a Bichon Frise called Jimmy Chew together. Yes, even they have probably been guilty of telepathically threatening to rip out someone’s hair extensions for simply looking in the direction of their partner. You can look with your eyes love, but keep your hands when I can see them!
However, extreme jealousy, the kind that manifests itself in mistrust and constant monitoring, is something that will ruin a good relationship. On that note, it’ll ruin a bad relationship too. Jealousy doesn’t discriminate and it will tear down anything that lies in its path. Constantly having to salve the fears of your partner, whether you’re going out with your friends or popping around to see your sister, is not OK. If you don’t have trust, you don’t have a relationship. It really is as simple as that.
- All the take and no give: A lot of relationships can appear one-sided but in reality, they actually balance out quite well. Maybe your partner does all the cooking and to the uneducated outsider, it might look like you’re taking advantage - having your dinner handed to you night after night with a “is there a glass of Malbec to go with that babe?” But, if you’re out there in the kitchen, like Cinderalla, once the dinner is done washing every pot, pan and utensil that was used to make what seems like it should have been a one pot meal, then it’s probably a little more balanced that what it might actually seem. (Disclaimer: we may be talking from personal experience).
Compromise is a two-way street. If your partner is happy to take, take, take and never give back or make any concessions in return, then something is amiss with that situation. It’s easy to fall into a trap of wanting to make someone happy but it should be reciprocal. If you find yourself constantly being the one making the effort while the other person laps it up without so much as an afterthought for your happiness, then there is something wrong with this picture.
- Punitive behaviour: Sometimes, the punishment fits the crime. There’s the punishment that gets dished out when “someone” goes out for one drink, doesn’t return home until 5am with the coordination skills of a newborn baby elephant, throws up in your foot spa (yes, the one you just got for Christmas) and then misses your niece's Christening the next day because they “just can’t”. A little silent treatment there might is probably warranted.
But if your partner starts punishing you for behaviour that doesn’t align fully with their expectations on a regular basis then this can become a major issue. When it comes to punitive behaviour, the instinct is to punish, without adequate communication or feedback. This kind of behaviour is belittling and it’s designed to make you feel like you’ve done something wrong without fully informing you of what. Don’t spend the rest of your days treading on eggshells because you’re afraid of what might happen. That is extremely toxic to you and, ultimately, an utterly exhausting way to live.
- You and me against the world: Having a partner in crime is a pretty great feeling. Having someone to bitch to after a long day at work is a pretty great feeling. Having someone agree that Martin in accounts was actually being totally condescending when he replied to your email and you were dead right not to offer him a slice of your birthday cake as a result is a pretty great feeling. It just generally feels pretty good to have someone in your corner.
Sometimes, though, having a “you and me against the world” mentality is not the healthiest dynamic. Isolating you from your friends, exaggerating issues to back that up, telling you that no-one else could possibly love you like they do and that without them, you wouldn’t be as strong as you are, are all ways of slowly stripping you of your confidence and self-identity. This way of behaving should definitely ignite some warning flares.
- Body shaming: We’ve all had moments, perhaps on a Sunday, when we might have needed a nudge from the other half to clean up our act. Forgoing a shower since Friday and being on first name basis with Mick, the Domino’s deliveryman, by the end of the weekend might indicate that we need a push in the right direction. The right direction being the bathroom.
Now, when the person that is meant to make you feel good about yourself starts telling you that you’ve packed on the pounds, makes snide comments about some of your features or even starts the more subtle “other partners I’ve been with” comparison, you should take note. These are all common ways to make you feel like you’re less than you are. You should understand here that it’s not you, or your body that is the problem, this is their insecurity being projected onto you
- Guilt tripping: There’s the perennial “If you love me, you’ll…”, usually followed by the words “buy”, “do”, “pick up” and a request for something mundane. Nine times out of ten we’re referring to food because we don't want to get off the couch.
However if the guilt tripping is a result of trying to get you to do something that you’re not comfortable with, then that precursor to a request becomes a whole lot more sinister. A partner threatening to end your relationship because they’re not getting their own way, declaring that you’re selfish whenever you do something that doesn’t involve them or texting/calling you when you’re out without them and telling you that they feel sick/need you to come home are all signs of guilt tripping. If you’re familiar with this dynamic, then it’s possible that your partner is manipulating you in order to get his or her own way.
Some of these behaviours can be nipped in the bud early on and all relationships involve a bit of work throughout their life cycle around setting expectations and letting your partner know what you consider to be acceptable.
But, if you’ve expressed your concern or discontentment at someone’s treatment of you and they still don’t change their ways, then it might be time to consider whether or not the hurt and confusion you experience at the hands of someone who is meant to love you is better than the temporary pain you may feel from being without them.