A toxic relationship is notoriously hard to spot. Whether it’s our failure to admit that we’re in one, or because we’ve normalised unhealthy behaviour, being in a toxic bond can weigh heavily on our personal well-being.
It can be tricky to tell when you’re in a toxic relationship. Indeed, a lot of behaviour associated with them goes unnoticed because we come to see it as normal. The following signs are often present when a relationship has turned toxic, and it’s important not to neglect them if you want to clean things up.
1. Sea of eggshells
Constantly hearing the metaphorical crunch of eggshells every time you open your mouth is a textbook signal of a toxic relationship. Often you’ll find it hard to communicate with your partner without them taking issue with what you’ve said. You’ll likely feel that you can’t do anything right and that there’s little hope of ever appeasing your partner. This can be particularly damaging to your self-confidence too as you’ll start questioning whether it’s your behaviour that’s actually exacerbating the problem, not your partner’s.
2. Break up to make up
This point follows on from the former, and is regularly very prominent in a relationship that’s turned toxic. Frequent conflict that’s resolved by intense emotional and physical intimacy can be legitimised under the auspices of passion. But constant yo-yo-ing between quarrelling and closeness is an unhealthy stressor that keeps your relationship in a constant state of flux. This instability then becomes particularly difficult to escape, and runs the risk of turning into a hybrid form of codependency.
3. Circular arguments
Vociferous and dramatic arguments aren’t always necessarily a bad thing; in fact, they can be part of a healthy relationship. The main clause though is whether your disagreements end in a resolution that’s beneficial for both parties. If there’s no progress and you’re just arguing for argument’s sake, you should be concerned. An inordinate amount of frustration stems from cyclical bickering. Mulling over an issue for it to remain unsolved while it festers away in the wings only creates further animosity, which in turn fuels the whole unpleasant process.
4. Passive aggression
Passive aggression usually originates from insecurity and the inability to be direct. The latter has the latent potential to become a huge problem in a relationship because it ends up interfering with honesty, which subsequently acts as an unbelievably effective Petri dish for trust issues. It can be pretty difficult to spot when your partner is being passive-aggressive, it’s often a behaviour that they’ve relied upon over time and have thus gotten very good at hiding it; getting the cold shoulder for no apparent reason and unrelenting moodiness are strong markers of passive aggression.
5. The jealousy test
This is quite possibly one of the most insidious traits of a toxic relationship. Excessive jealousy is a very harmful emotion, especially when it’s used to manipulate someone. So how does it operate? A jealous partner will likely react angrily if you give attention to someone who they perceive as a threat. This results in behaviours such as looking through your text messages, emails, and even stalking. In extreme cases they may also use your apparent lack of jealousy to justify their actions, and enable them to suggest you don’t love them.
6. Double standards
Another element related to jealousy is the setting of double standards. If this is present, you’ll probably feel that your partner is policing your social life, or telling you off for seemingly meaningless things, whilst simultaneously getting on with their life with little regard for your feelings. A good example of this is related to family and friends. Your partner might get frustrated when you spend time with loved ones, whereas they’ll frequently head out and change plans without keeping you up to speed. Again, they’ll be ready to criticise you when you make a mistake, yet fly off the hook when you suggest they could be doing better.
7. Unhealthy competition
Another bizarre characteristic of a toxic relationship is an unhealthy competition that’s developed between you and your partner. Rather than encouraging one and other to become better people, you enter into a cruel rivalry where bitterness is rife. Not only does it drive up tension between you and your partner, it also plays on your feelings of self-worth as you start doubting your own qualities.
8. The blame game
Blame is deeply woven into the fabric of your relationship and will regularly arise in situations when an argument is either brewing or already in full swing. In short, it’s basically a way for your partner to guilt-trip you and usually focuses on something that’s either trivial or happened a while ago. Maybe you had to stay on at work and didn’t text your partner to let them know you’d be home late. Perhaps you forgot about the plans you made with your partner and made others instead. Regardless of what the focal point is, be conscious that if this persists it will end up making you feel like you’re constantly in the wrong, further entrenching the inequality between the two of you.
9. Demolition job
You may be concerned that your partner exhibits destructive behaviour. This can manifest in a number of different ways, but it usually reveals itself through self-sabotage. Your partner may have lofty aspirations for their own life, and your relationship, but nothing ever comes to fruition. What’s more, they actively encourage situations that will derail their ambition. This constant falling short can leads to a feeling of inertia, which then leaches out onto the bond you share with them.
10. No way out?
Being in a toxic relationship can be unbelievably stifling. If negative patterns of behaviour go unquestioned for too long they become incredibly hard to break with. Not only does this mean that you end up feeling overburdened, you also reach a state of powerlessness. It then becomes harder to actually take affirmative action and maybe even part ways with your partner. Finding the inner strength to call it a day is a massive undertaking, especially if you’re self-esteem has taken a battering. Yet it’s an intrinsic part of working towards a happier, more fulfilled you.
By Alex Rennie