There are numerous articles/blog posts out there with the hook-line “marriage isn’t for me”. They explain that you shouldn’t go into marriage thinking of yourself, you should go into marriage (or stay in a long term relationship) thinking of the other person. If you’re thinking selflessly and if you’re in it for the other person then it’ll work. This article, for example, explains that 2 people can mature and grow together provided they’re not in it for themselves but purely for the other person. This is a truly beautiful sentiment and I don’t dispute it; however, it only works if you’re both on the same page.
Sadly, within my profession (working as a counsellor), I’m more likely to see people in relationships who’re victims of abuse and they might not even be aware of it. People often come, low in self esteem and confidence, wanting to feel better, perhaps wanting to work on how they relate to others, feeling as though their repeating patterns of behaviour, perhaps feeling at a loss or confused as to what’s happening. A toxic person can make you feel as though you’re the problem…
This blog isn’t about apportioning blame, this is not what I do in the counselling room. But it’s important that we own what’s ours and offer ourselves compassion if someone else’s behaviour is impacting us negatively.
Signs of a toxic relationship may include some of the following:
When you’ve achieved something who do you want to tell?
Do you want to tell you partner straight away? How will they respond? Do they share your excitement, no matter how tiny you achievement?
If you’d rather tell your best friend or your mum, it could be that you have a really great relationship with them but it’s worth considering why your partner isn’t first on the list and why they’re not cheering you on with your achievements. It could be related to their self esteem—they struggle with their own feelings when other people do well, do they turn your success into competition? This shouldn’t get in the way of celebrating your successes. Sign of a toxic partner—someone who isn’t able to see past their own insecurities and celebrate your successes.
When was the last time they complimented you?
No matter how long you’ve been together, keeping the spark alive means boosting each other’s confidence. When you make an effort with how you look, do they notice and compliment you without making a joke? When you cook a nice meal, do a top job with some DIY, do something out of the ordinary or out of your comfort zone, do they take the time to let you know they appreciate you?
While there could be a multitude of reasons why these comments go by the wayside (people stop noticing, don’t realise they’re important or take things for granted) compliments say “I see you and you matter to me”.
A toxic partner is more likely to point out the negative first or make an insecure comment. For example if you’ve had a hair cut, the comment may be “what have you done to your hair?”, “it makes you look different” or “I don’t like it”. Their comment’s about them rather than, as it should be, about boosting you and your confidence.
Do you find yourself having to “give them slack” or “let things go” a lot?
Of course, life has its ups and downs and sometimes irritability comes out at those closest to us but a partner that’s constantly nit picking and getting at you all the time isn’t good. Are you always trying to find ways to cheer them up but when your down they don’t reciprocate? Do you feel as though you’re never good enough? Do you feel as though you have to make excuses for them? “They’re just stressed” or “I’m sure things will get better when…”.
Do they mock you or use sarcasm a lot? Does this feel good or is it beginning to feel less jokey and more as though there’s something sinister behind it?
Feeling as though you’re walking on egg shells may be something you do when being considerate of your partner’s emotions but it shouldn’t be a regular occurrence. Don’t ignore your gut instinct.
If you have their best interests at heart but they don’t reciprocate, this is not a good sign.
Gaslighting and controlling behaviour
This can be very difficult to spot but it’s incredibly serious. When one person takes power over another and gradually manipulates the circumstances so the 2nd person starts to doubt their own sanity and cannot trust their own judgement. This can be simple comments such as “I told you, you just don’t remember” or more complex such as manipulating a conversation so you end up feeling confused about the position you hold.
This type of partner may repeated tell you you’re lucky your with them or warn you about negative consequences of breaking up with them.
Control may include saying when you can see friends, when you can go out or taking financial control (for example). These are signs of abuse, please know there is help available if you’re in a relationships where this is happening. Please click here for links in the UK or worldwide resources please click here.
Excuses and dishonesty
Do you find yourself excusing your partners behaviour to your friends and family or even to yourself? If you ask where your partner’s been or why they’re late home, do they avoid the question? Are you finding that things just don’t seem to be adding up? It might not be that they’re having an affair, just that the way they’re treating you just isn’t what you expect.
Toxicity from a partner leaks out into other relationships, if you find yourself distancing yourself from other friends or family and losing other relationships this is a serious sign.
There is hope
I’ve used “toxic” as an umbrella term to mean someone who’s not good for you. All relationships go through tough times, as well as individuals going through personal difficulties. Communication is key for all couples and if it’s a temporary problem, a relationship, often these things can make us stronger.
If it’s an individual problem, that person needs to be able to take responsibility. Are they aware of what’s going on and the impact they’re having? Do they want to change? Are they willing to let you help them? Or are they repeating patterns of behaviour that they’re not interesting in changing?
If I have one half of a couple in front of me (in the counselling room), only that person can work on their behaviour; as individuals we cannot do anything to change anyone else’s behaviour—we can only support another person if they want to change. The individual with the toxic behaviour will need to attend individual counselling, this can help them look at the origins of their behaviour and how to move forward. Couples counselling may also help. Both individuals need to look after their own well-being, engaging in activities separately and together. Don’t let this relationship completely absorb your attention, ensure other relationships are taken care of as well.
If you realise you’re in a toxic relationships, it doesn’t automatically have to end. But stepping back and evaluating what’s best for you may turn out to the be the best thing you could do for both of you.