How to Know you are in a Toxic Relationship

Does your relationship add or remove from your overall happiness and self-esteem? If you find yourself losing self-esteem, voice, and value, you may be in a toxic environment. Reflecting for a bit on the health of our relationships, from intimate partners through to friends and employers, we would most likely be able to identify a few that are not as healthy as they can be, some that we have outgrown and maybe one, in particular, that seems to have a consistent and negative impact on us.

What Is A Toxic Relationship?

Toxic relationships may include violence, abuse, and coercive control, but they may also be more subtle, leaving us unhappy, drained, and feeling bad about ourselves. Psychological terms such as “gaslighting” and “narcissism” have become part of our lives and these concepts have helped us become more aware of relationship patterns that leave us hurt. It can be a revelation when we realize how a relationship is not working for us and has a negative impact on our mental health.

Possibly a woman realises she has been a puppet to the manipulations of her mother or a man who begins to recognise that his partner is forever criticising and belittling him. If we find ourselves losing our self-esteem, voice, and value in a relationship, chances are you are in a “toxic” environment.

How to Identify a Toxic Relationship

  • Persistent unhappiness, feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety or resignation
  • Lack of respect and constant conflict
  • Competitiveness and jealousy
  • Financial and social control
  • Raising concerns and having them minimised or dismissed
  • One person having to sacrifice their needs to keep the other happy

A relationship can begin by seeming “healthy” but end up being toxic over time. In some cases, one partner is more committed to pleasing the other and works hard to meet their partner’s needs while sacrificing their own. They continue to believe that their partner loves them and wants the best for them, but instead, their partner has become controlling, withholds love, and uses criticism to undermine their confidence. The partner who wants to please could have endured the situation for so long, that they can be blind to how the power balance in the relationship is uneven.

What to Do When You Realise Your Relationship Is Toxic

It can be shocking to realise you have been living in an emotionally abusive relationship. Once you realise it is toxic and that it is more than just a “bad patch”, you may be confronted with many uncomfortable, distressing, and frightening considerations about whether to stay or to go.

Here Are Some Steps to Take

  • Reach out to friends or family who can listen or support you without judgement. Some may have been trying to tell you that you are not being treated well and it is worth listening to their perspective.
  • Be honest with yourself and ask what it will really take for the situation to change. Acknowledge to yourself if you have realistically done all you can try to improve things.
  • Reflect on your levels of happiness and self-confidence, compared to an earlier version of yourself. How has your confidence grown or diminished?
  • Start to develop healthy boundaries that convey to others that you expect to be treated well.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. It is understandable to hold on to hope, or to be afraid of being alone, or to fear no one else will love you. Take it one step at a time.
  • Focus on yourself. If you continue to blame your partner, you keep on giving them all the power to rob yourself of the energy you need to move forward.
  • To move forward, you must understand how you got into the position where you gave up your control. Then take the time you need to strengthen yourself to ensure it does not happen again.

How to Help Others Who Might Be In a Toxic Relationship

  • Listen and let them know you believe in them and care about them
  • Reassure them they are not selfish, bad or any of the negative things that they have been told
  • Take care that efforts to help do not become toxic too. Avoid taking over or being critical
  • Watch how much they can take in, and stop when it seems too much
  • Give them room and time to find their own way
  • Offer suggestions for external help, if they choose to do so. Laurian Ward is able to assist.

Moving Away From A Toxic Relationship Will Take Work

Deciding on where to put your energy, what realistic hope you have for change and the workability of the situation need some objective consideration. You might become stuck in your thinking or fearful about change, so getting external help from a professional can be valuable for finding new ways forward. Seeing a couples therapist together could help you both to look at change (if both have the same investment in staying together). It can also be valuable to see a professional alone to find your own feet in the discussions ahead.