I'm sure you've all seen the recent trend of memes and posts about toxic relationships and relationship red-flags and while most of it is just harmless jokes and jabs, it actually brings up an important discussion of defining what a toxic relationship and spotting when you're in one.
The term toxic itself can be defined as something "extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful" meaning that a toxic relationship can also be defined as a relationship that causes harm to one or more people involved in it. However, defining toxic relationships can be quite hard due to the variety of behaviours that can fall under the category of toxic and how each individual can perceive things differently. Still, there are common signs to look for when questioning if you're in a toxic relationship.
There is a lack of trust within the relationship which leads to tension and anxiety. While trusting someone 100% is often hard to do, sometimes even impossible, chronic doubting over whether or not the other person can be your confidante is not normal.
Always feeling anxious over sharing your personal life, secrets, and photos because the other person has shown you signs that they cannot be trusted with that information is a big red flag in any relationship --Always trust your gut feeling.
You can feel mismatched expectations of emotional intimacy in the relationship and you can’t be sure whether or not you’re in it for the same reasons or heading towards the same goal. While the other person doesn’t necessarily have to adhere to what you define as the relationship you want, especially if you haven’t had a serious talk about what you want to be, having different expectations can lead to psychological harm and, thus, can also fall into what makes a toxic relationship.
It’s important to point out that toxic relationships and abusive relationships are quite different and that what makes up a toxic relationship doesn’t necessarily have to be abusive in nature. Due to the overlap between the two terms in the media, folks often tend to overlook toxicity in relationships when it doesn’t fall under abuse.
A healthy relationship means that the space you share is one where you can safely share your inner thoughts in a non-judgemental and accusatory way. If you constantly feel scared or ashamed to discuss your needs, experiences, desires, or thoughts with them, then it might be a clear sign that the relationship is toxic. Especially if trying to do so usually results in hostile communication and guilt-tripping.
As a general rule of thumb, if all your efforts to invite them to a serious conversation, away from any disruptions or distractions, get turned down multiple times with excuses or you feel like the sessions lead nowhere, then it might be time to either invest in couple’s therapy or reconsider your own investment in the relationship.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: All humans are selfish to some extent, and that’s OK. Every person is only responsible for their own and it’s no one’s job to fulfil all your needs and desires, yes!
However, being in a relationship and agreeing to do so does involve taking the time to hear the person out and offer them the space to request their needs and express them --even if they’re not going to accommodate those needs.
Therefore, being hyper-fixated on their own needs and feelings and making little to no efforts to accommodate your needs while also demanding you fulfil theirs is a major red flag.
You often feel scared and anxious about their reactions to mundane things (a missed phone call, going out with friends, spending time away, trying to focus on yourself, etc.). This usually means that you have to think a thousand times before telling them about anything that came up and they often react in a controlling way, either guilting you for not spending time with them or for not picking up when they called etc.
In a healthy relationship, telling your partners where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with, etc. is done with the purpose of notifying them rather than asking for permission. In addition to that, them questioning you about a missed call or showing up late to a date is out of concern for you not lack of trust.
You are constantly emotionally drained by the lack of empathy towards your feelings and feel neglected. This is closely related to all the previous points and constitute one of the dangerous outcomes of being in a toxic relationship. Having to cater to someone so fully while also living in fear and anxiety can take a big toll on your emotional health --which, in turn, can carry big consequences on your other relationships.
If your interactions or their presence leaves you feeling exhausted or worn out that you feel like you have no left-over energy to do even the simplest tasks of the day, then your relationship might be emotionally draining you.
You can feel resentment growing within the relationship and your anger is slowly taking over you. Resentment is caused by accumulated anger and frustration over unfair or unjust treatment that didn’t get resolved in a healthy way. If you’re constantly put in a position where you have to accept something you don’t like just because you fear the other’s reaction, resentment will most likely take over your relationship and impact your mental health.
It’s important to always discuss everything with your partner when they happen rather than letting them pile up with time. If you’re not able to communicate effectively that something is wrong or feel like you can’t, then it’s a sign that there is something wrong with the relationship.
We should always keep in mind that "toxic" is not an inherent characteristic of a person and that the situations and experiences that we go through can impose toxic behaviours upon us, even ones we don't recognize. Therefore, it is important to take a look at ourselves as well and try to work out the toxic behaviours that we have acquired through time in order to be able to also help others pinpoint theirs --and support them through their own healing.
This is all to say that just because a relationship can be toxic, it doesn't mean it's doomed or that it should be discarded. It's possible to heal and minimize those aspects of the relationship that are problematic to create a healthier environment where everyone can grow. However, doing so requires a lot of active efforts and involvement from everyone involved to actually do the work and mend it —so it's also important to know when to throw in the towel.