The biggest myth about toxic relationships is that only those who are considered ‘mentally weak’ find themselves in one. Oftentimes, it’s the strong and independent-minded people that get stuck in a vortex so strong, it strips them layer by layer of all their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. So, when toxic relationships can affect all alike, what are the signs you should be looking out for before you get cornered into one?
The truth is, there’s a big difference between being passionate and being foolish. In the guise of love, many partners accept less than good treatment because somehow, we have always been told (and shown in movies and TV shows) that loving someone is about selflessness and sacrifice—putting someone else’s needs above your own.
But, the truth is that if you do this consistently, you may lose the survival instincts that should kick in to remind you to protect yourself and love yourself too. “If the pain outruns the pleasure, you need to accept that it’s time to pack up and leave,” says Psychotherapist Mansi Poddar. So before it mounts to the point of no return, look out for these red flags in your relationship.
Signs Your Relationship Is Turning Toxic
1. You Can Never Seem To Do Anything Right
If your partner is full of criticism or backhanded compliments, or even undermines the things you do by redoing it themselves, you’re in a pattern of negativity. This may also come to you as a ‘word of caution’ or ‘helpful advice,’ but actually be an attack on your self-worth.
2. Every Conversation Has The Potential To Turn Into An Argument
Walking on eggshells is not normal around the people you love. If a difference of opinion, discussion, or exchange of ideas, or you providing your point of view gets easily escalated into an argument, fight or criticism, you’ll never be able to have enough consecutive days of happiness and peace.
3. ‘You’, Or ‘Both Of You’ Have Shut Down
Having conflict all the time can cause anxiety, stress, or even fear (fear of abuse, fear of arguments, fear of failing). When this happens, our body triggers a fight or flight response. Either people end the relationship or, they suffer in silence even though they’re struggling and have lost the will to try to make things better. If you or your partner are simply co-existing and have stopped communicating, or have chosen to sweep things under the carpet simply to avoid conflict, you’re at a high point of alienation and loneliness in the relationship.
4. You’re Questioning Your Self-Esteem, Intelligence & Instincts
Even the most confident, intellectual, and sociable people can find themselves backed up into a rabbit hole of self-doubt and a diminished sense of self. This happens when someone criticizes and questions you so often, you almost begin to believe in them and not in yourself.
5. You’re Made To Feel Bad About Your Relationships With Others
While many people relate this to insecurity and unhealthy jealousy, in a toxic relationship your partner may push to keep you all to themselves and trigger you to alienate everyone else. This can include close friends, family, people of the opposite sex, colleagues, and even your mental health counsellor or therapist. They may say your family interferes too much, your friends are too immature, your colleagues are jealous, someone is trying to sleep with you, or even that your therapist is turning you against them.
6. You Feel Trapped, Anxious, Depressed, Drained, or Angry For Long Periods Of Time
You may not always find the words to express yourself, but your feelings are very telling. If you’ve begun crying for no reason, dread getting into a conversation with your partner, or are experiencing loss of appetite and energy from the stress in your relationship, you’re headed for a breakdown. You may even become more easily irritable or could be isolating and distancing yourself from everyone.
7. There’s Physical Or Verbal Abuse, Or They Say You’re Crazy
Have you seen Tapsee Pannu’s movie Thappad? Well, to put it bluntly, that’s the truth. Physical violence, not even a single slap or push is acceptable. It may begin with aggressive behaviour that doesn’t look as problematic: Throwing things, banging fists on furniture, or charging towards you in an argument. These are early signs of mental, emotional, and possibly physical abuse that should not be ignored.
Similarly, relationships are driven by respect. There is no place for verbal abuse, especially that which implies sexual indiscretion, character assassination, an insult to your intelligence, or even name-calling.
Last, and perhaps the most sneaky of all is ‘Gaslighting’. A partner may be sowing seeds of doubt and constantly manipulating stories to make you question your memory, interpretation, perception, or judgement of incidents. This is often followed by calling you crazy, irrational, impossible, and similar words that undermine your credibility on every level. Over time, you start questioning your own reality and start believing their version of the truth because of the gaslighting.
8. You’re Being Blamed For Their Bad Behaviour
When your partner starts keeping score and says their aggressiveness, abuse, intolerance, lies, and inappropriate actions are a result of things you may have done in the past (in this relationship or previous), you’re in for a game no one will ever win. The tit-for-tat justification is unhealthy for any relationship and people who clutch on to it are often incapable of owning up to their own actions.
9. You’re Lying To Avoid Conflict
From who you’re speaking to and how you’re feeling, to what you feel about a joint decision or if you’re struggling at work, if you have begun to lie or simply not offer up the whole truth to avoid conflict with your partner, it’s not a good sign. This will only help you keep the peace for a short while, and create bigger problems when the truth comes out.
10. Your Pre-Partner & Post-Partner Self Are Two Different People
Change can be good or bad. There are partners that uplift, support and bring out the best in you. And then there are those who bring out the worst in you or lead you to change to a point where your close friends and family no longer recognise the ‘new’ you; in fact, they may be concerned about your well-being and the person you’ve become.
How Can You Fix A Toxic Relationship?
Toxic relationships are often layered with a multitude of problematic behaviours, so the solution isn’t one size all. Here are some tips that can help:
- “Both partners need to want to fix it for the right reasons. If both wish to salvage the relationship and aren’t doing it out of the pressure of society, parents or because of financial dependence, acknowledgement of the problem is a very big and important start,” says Mansi.
- Keep communicating; don’t shut down or refrain from participating in the relationship in any manner. Mansi says, “Conversations should be devoid of criticism and blame. Rather, both partners should come forward and take accountability for their emotions, behaviour, actions, and role and contribution in the breakdown of the relationship”
- Partners should also focus on nurturing the non-relationship part of their lives. “Growth is very important. It could be financial, spiritual, work, family, or even friends and sociability. Keep the people who make you feel good about yourself around you. Do the things that make you feel positive and give you the confidence to rebuild your self-esteem first,” says Mansi.
- “Focus on healing and acknowledging your feelings versus making your partner happy,” she adds. This will help you speak up rather than bottle your emotions and explode later.
- If you notice a change or an effort to unlearn toxic behaviour, be open to forgiveness and moving forward; that said, don’t let your guard down completely and recognise if old patterns re-emerge.
- Consult a counsellor or therapist. You can begin by going alone, and then request your partner to take individual sessions too, so that both of you can be transparent about your actions, thoughts and feelings. Following this up with couples counselling is a strong step towards sealing the past and beginning the healing.
If it comes to it, you need to also be willing to accept that your relationship is doing more harm than good. It’s normal for a couple to fight, some weeks more often than others, but if you’re spending 3 out of 7 days arguing or having anxiety about a potential argument without any resolve or improvement, it’s time to go your separate ways.
“At that point, you need to consider cutting all contact with the person to be able to rebuild yourself and heal. Remember, the abuse is never about you, but rather a result of someone else’s projected insecurities and toxic interpretation of what it means to be in a relationship,” concludes Mansi.