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Have you ever even thought about asking yourself the question- “Am I in a toxic relationship?” Relationships are such a beautiful unity of bodies, minds, hearts, and souls, so it is only natural that you would desire for them in one way or another. And that’s great! However, sometimes this desire could become so strong that it blinds you in the face of some of the most glaring warning signs of a toxic relationship.
In this article you will find seven questions to ask yourself, questions which directly relate to our list of toxic relationship signs. As you read through each one, please, be honest with yourself. After all, in the words of Harvey Mackay, “The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your relationships.” Therefore, if you crave a high quality of life, you must honest about the quality of all your relationships (including the relationship with you and your partner).
This is rarely easy, and it can often be downright heartbreaking. But being aware of some of the early warning signs of toxic relationships is an important part of avoiding more pain and heartbreak later on. The sooner you can spot these particular red flags, the better.
Let’s take a look and figure out together how to tell if a relationship is toxic.
Table of Contents
What is a Toxic Relationship?
First of all, how do you define toxic relationship? What does this term even mean?
The word toxic means “poisonous.” We generally hear the term toxic as it relates to substances, but in recent years, it has become part of the vernacular for a bad relationship. But a toxic relationship is more than just a mismatch of temperaments or a relationship filled with conflict.
A toxic relationship is a relationship that threatens the overall wellbeing of either one or both partners. Such a relationship will almost always end in chaos and pain, and frequently leaves deep scars of the past.
What makes a relationship toxic is the lethal interaction between two people. Sometimes both people contribute to the toxicity of a partnership, and at other times only one partner is the toxic element. When someone is “bad news” for another person (I’m talking very bad news) we might say that that person is toxic. Being with him or her is likely to end in lasting damage to a partner’s mental health, self-worth, and more.
Ultimately, toxic relationships present a type of danger to those involved in them, promising the potential for a great deal of wounding and damage. In a toxic relationship, one or both people are highly likely to get hurt.
Please note: If you’re experiencing any physical, sexual, or emotional abuse at the hands of a partner, that is more than just a toxic relationship. No one ever deserves that type of treatment. Please take steps to protect yourself and get to a safe situation. Below we’ve listed some resources that can help. You are not alone.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline – thehotline.org | 1−800−799−7233
National Sexual Assault Hotline – rainn.org | 1 (800) 656-HOPE
Find advocates and shelters – womenslaw.org
What Are the Signs of a Toxic Relationship?
Now that we’ve laid out our toxic relationship definition, we go one step further: how to know if your relationship is toxic. What signs can you look for? We’ve laid out these signs for you in question form. As you answer the following questions, you may discover some relationship warnings are calling for your attention.
Do you ever feel that you cannot be yourself or true to yourself when you are around your partner?
A healthy relationship structure is based on the foundation of trust, built up via communication, and held together with love. In a healthy relationship vulnerability is witnessed naturally amidst both partners, as the partners feel safe within the structure. If you ever feel that you cannot be true to yourself in a relationship it is the first tell-tale sign that you do not feel safe in it. You are attempting to protect your heart, your image, or maybe even your position in the relationship. And that is one of the first potential signs of a toxic partner.
Of course, some people take more time to let their guard down around potential partners. Maybe you’ve been hurt in the past or you need a lot of reassurance. Moving slowly towards vulnerability doesn’t automatically indicate that this relationship or your partner is toxic. But if you continue to feel this way—and it is largely driven by a legitimate fear of a partner or his/her reaction, you may need to look closer.
If you feel that you cannot be your true self around your partner or that you need to have certain guards up when you are with them for fear that they will no longer like you or might even ridicule you- that is very toxic! You want to abide in a relationship knowing that your partner cares for you and your actual wellbeing, not attempt to survive in it by caring about the opinion your partner has of a certain fantasy version of you!
You see, true love chooses to love all of you. It does not decide to like just some part of you. Real love loves you, not some fantasy version of you. So, when you need to be someone else for someone else that someone else does not actually love you. They just really like the fantasy version that they are seeing of you at the time.
It is healthy when you can show your partner every side of you without having the fear of being judged. It is toxic when you feel that you need to show your partner only a certain side of you in order to be liked by them. If you continuously show your partner just a certain fantasy side of you, does your partner actually even know who the real you are?
Is your relationship conditional?
Looks attract and actions impress, and first impressions have a powerful and lasting effect. That is the reality. However, if looks and actions are the ultimate conditions, then the future of your relationship will depend on the future of your looks and actions. The things that attracted one to another are not the same things that will keep them with one another. If that was the case, then fads, styles, relationships, trends, etc. would have a much longer lifespan than they usually end up having.
A real relationship is based on love, not on conditions. When a person truly loves you or your truly love them, you both love each other “just because”, not “because of”. As soon as anyone says they love because of something they are putting conditions on the relationship. In other words, they are saying that they just really, really like you because of and under those certain conditions.
But liking someone is very different from loving someone. Having certain conditions in your relationship is one of the greatest signs your relationship is toxic, as love actually has no conditions. Love loves you because it wants to, not just because it likes to. When someone truly loves you, they love you in spite of everything else, (such as in spite of the good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly, the everything about you). So, when someone likes one part of you but does not love the other part of you they do not love you unconditionally. They just like you under certain conditions.
A conditional relationship will not last, because the fact about life is that conditions in life are always changing. If your relationship is conditional, it will be as lasting as the conditions are. But it is not healthy to need to worry about how to keep up with these conditions for the rest of your life. A happy relationship is liberating in the freedom of love, not controlling in the fear of conditions.
Is your partner controlling? Or do you feel the need to control your partner?
Remember how a healthy relationship structure is based on the foundation of trust? A controlling partner is one of the first relationship warning signs that can question the sturdiness of that foundation. A controlling person is one who feels threatened or intimidated by their partner because they don’t trust them. They do not trust that if they let their partner they go would still come back to them, and that idea terrifies them. So, they attempt to terrify or weaken them by controlling them. There is nothing healthy about control.
A person who really loves you will never feel threatened or intimidated by you, and neither will you feel so about a person you really love. Love always cheers for one and is inspired by one. Love wants what is best for all, not just what is best for one.
When a relationship is toxic, you will feel that you are dying on the inside instead of growing on the outside. Instead of being able to express your love and passion for the life around you, you will end up suppressing your depression within you. And those are exactly some of the signs of a toxic relationship that can result from a controlling partner. Remember- Love is liberating, not controlling. So, make sure to not control and that you are not being controlled, for both are toxic.
Read Next: How to Deal with Anxiety in Relationships
Do you feel used and/or abused?
One of the quickest ways how to tell if your relationship is toxic is to see how you feel in it. And if you ever feel used and/or abused you know- it’s not healthy. The reality is that some people “love” you when they need to and leave you when they want to. These people are not people who love or care about you. These people are people who just love to get something from you and care about what they can get out of you for themselves.
A person who loves and cares for you will never leave you feeling used or abused, whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally. However, too often we ignore these feelings of being used and abused, and we allow our toxic partners to get away with their actions of abuse. In a healthy relationship, the partners help and give to each other,; they don’t hurt and take away from each other.
Don’t ignore signs of a toxic boyfriend who dares to ever abuse you or the toxic girlfriend signs of a girl who continually just uses you. Ignorant use and hurtful abuse define toxic relationships clearly, so if you ever feel used in your relationship recognize the fact that it is one of the clearest signs you are in a very toxic relationship.
Do you or your partner have toxic friends?
Your friends and your partner’s friends will in some way or another eventually influence your lives. You cannot stay in a certain group of friends and not be influenced by them just as you cannot stay in an ocean without eventually getting wet. If your partner’s friends maintain certain strong unhealthy strong habits, are regularly involved in criminal engagements, abuse recreational substances in excess, or are disrespectful to the environment around them, chances are that you or your partner does the same.
If your friendships show any signs of a toxic relationship you can be sure to expect that toxicity to somehow enter into your relationship eventually as well. Unless you or your partner change toxic friends for healthy friends, your relationship will be influenced by this toxicity sooner or later. A rotten apple in the same bag will cause all the other apples to rot with it, unless it gets thrown away before it gets a chance to spread the rot around…
Does the talk not walk?
You are a human and so is your partner. Obviously, you both have weaknesses and faults in certain areas and habits of your life. But another point of you entering a healthy relationship is so that you can be inspired and more empowered to work on these areas and issues, and as a result become an even better version of yourself than you ever were before.
In order for a relationship to play out two have to be in the game. In order for a relationship to be healthy two have to play their parts. This means that you might have to change certain habits and so will your partner. Since relationships are built up with communication, obviously there are certain topics and issues that you discussed together and decided that each of you will work on. Have you? Have they? If not, then your relationship might be toxic.
You see, when you choose to love a person you choose to love all of them, but it does not mean that you have to love their negative habits. Empty promises, no growth for the better, and thus a talk that simply does not walk are all signs of a toxic relationship. If you notice that yours shows any of these signs of a toxic relationship, for your wellbeing, please get out of it. You want to grow with a partner and become more powerful together. You do not want to need to babysit your partner and then become weakened by such an exhausting chore.
Are you losing the other relationships in your life, including the one with yourself?
When we meet a person who makes us feel like we are the only person in the world, it is easy to eventually make our world so small that that pretty much becomes the reality. A healthy relationship is one where our world becomes larger, not smaller.
A healthy partner would want you to be close to your family, and they would be respectful of your friends and the efforts and time that you put in order to maintain relationships with them as well. A healthy partner would want you to go more as an individual as well, so they would be respectful of the fact that you will sometimes need time just for yourself. (It’s a relationship myth that partners need to be stuck together at the hip).
If you are in a relationship that isolates you from the world, that is toxic. In order for you to grow and develop into a greater and better version of yourself you need to be in touch with and challenged by the entire world around you. You need to be around many different types of people in order to develop your social and people skills more. You need to be exposed to different kinds of events, pressures, and situations in order to gain more life skills.
You are not meant to live your life alone, you are supposed to know how to be alone. It is when you know how to be alone that you learn certain things about yourself that nothing else around you was ever able to expose before. You were also not meant to always live with your family and friends, but you are supposed to know how to be with them. They have been placed in your life for a certain reason.
A healthy partner would encourage time (of a healthy balance of course) with family, chilling with friends, and self-care. Only a toxic partner would attempt to separate you away from the world around you. Do not allow your partner to keep you from becoming the best version of yourself or to steal you away from the people you love. Instead, they should allow you to be free to grow along with the world around you and to also want to join your circle of family and friends. Healthy is free to grow, and toxic is limited to bondage…
After reading these signs, ask yourself this question, “Is my relationship toxic?” If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions you have just found a few of your very first relationship warning signs. Is it time to leave your relationship?
Only you can make that choice, but I urge you to consider this: You want your relationship to be helping you, not hurting you. You want your relationship to leave you feeling inspired and empowered by your partner, not depressed and degraded. And you want something that is built on genuine respect and compassion. Most importantly, you were created to love and to be loved. And that true love will only come from a healthy relationship.
Psst! Check out these posts to read next:
- How to Stop Overthinking in a Relationship
- 6 Characteristics of an Emotionally Unavailable Man
- 101 Toxic Relationship Quotes to Remind You You’re Not Alone
- 9 Signs You’re With the Wrong Person
- The Ultimate Guide to Relationship Advice for Couples
- Are You Ready for a New Relationship?
- Top 10 Relationship Green Flags for a Healthy Relationship
Amy Hartle is the author of Do You Love Me? How To Stop Seeking Reassurance in Relationships, a book on reassurance seeking and relationship anxiety. Both her book and this blog are born of personal experience; Amy shares expert relationship advice from the lessons learned during her own 10+ years with her husband, as well as couples travel tips and romantic getaway recommendations, all gleaned while traveling the world together.