How do I Know if I'm in a Toxic Relationship?
Updated: Mar 5
***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services
When you reflect on your relationship, you might notice some red flags that are concerning to you. On multiple occasions, the question “am I in a toxic relationship?” may have popped up in your mind.
It can be hard to take a step back and examine your relationship in detail but it may be a worthwhile task, especially if you feel uncomfortable, stressed, overwhelmed, and lonely when you think about the dynamic between you and your partner and the interactions you have on a regular basis.
A toxic relationship is one that leaves you depleted and demoralized rather than energized and encouraged. Read on for some key indicators. This will hopefully help you figure out if you want to keep going and work through the relationship issues or if you want to end it if you continue to not be treated as well as you deserve.
1. No compromises
Toxic relationships typically involve a lack of compromise. You may observe that your partner makes certain requests and demands or has expectations that involve you catering constantly to their needs.
There is likely little wiggle room in terms of you feeling like you have a say in terms of major decisions, how you spend your time together, or the path your relationship is heading down. This can often lead to arguments that leave you feeling devalued as your needs, wants, and preferences are not taken into account.
Reaching a compromise is important for both partners to feel that their opinions and beliefs matter and that they are co-creating a relationship that is mutually satisfying and beneficial to their lives.
2. A lack of reciprocity
Are you giving a lot more of your time, energy, resources, and emotions to the relationship than your partner? Are you constantly checking in with them about their thoughts, feelings, and needs but not receiving the same thoughtfulness, care, and consideration in return?
Do you go out of your way to help your partner but, when you need support, there is no action or major effort from your partner? In what other ways do you feel there is a lack of reciprocity?
Healthy relationships involve a natural flow of give and take where both partners participate in supporting one another. If one partner is giving too much of themselves, they will eventually feel burned out. Reciprocity is key for both partners to feel satisfied and motivated to remain in the relationship.
An extremely concerning sign of a toxic relationship is gaslighting. You will know you’re being gaslighted if your partner regularly acts as though the events that have occurred, comments they have made, or actions they took never happened when, in reality, they did.
Their denials might make you feel confused and anxious to the point that you second-guess yourself and wonder if something is wrong with you when the truth is that your partner’s behaviour suggests they are trying to control or manipulate you.
In fact, gaslighting can often lead an individual to lose their confidence in their own thought processes, memories, and decision-making skills, further reinforcing their dependency on their partner.
Gaslighting is a very serious issue that is often described as a form of emotional or psychological abuse. If you are being gaslighted, you may want to consider the impact that staying in the relationship will have on your mental health and think about ending the relationship for your own well-being.
Seeking mental health support, including assistance from an organization that specializes in helping people who have experienced abuse (in this case, emotional or psychological abuse), can be very important as you navigate your next steps.
4. Being criticized or blamed
If part of your everyday experience in the relationship involves you being criticized or blamed, this can lead you to feel depressed, develop low self-esteem, engage in self-blame, and withdraw from other supportive people in your life. You may become more isolated and dependent on your partner as a result.
In addition, your partner may tend to not hold themselves accountable or take responsibility for their own communication, behaviour, and decisions if they are focused more on pointing a finger at you.
Similar to gaslighting, experiencing constant criticism or blame is another type of emotional or psychological abuse. Breaking this toxic dynamic by ending the relationship may be necessary to protect your mental health.
Surround yourself with other people you trust and reach out to a mental health professional if you need support.
Some relationships involve one partner being heavily dependent on the other in terms of emotional support or with respect to daily life activities. This dependency can be unhealthy as the dependent partner isn’t able to support themselves and needs to lean on the other person all the time for basic everyday functioning or needs.
The person who provides the safety net may be seen as “enabling” the dependent behaviour in their partner and so, as difficult as this may seem, it is important to encourage the dependent partner to become more self-reliant by not always being available to help them or resolve issues on their behalf.
Withdrawing excessive support also helps to manage the tendency of the overly-helpful partner to act in people-pleasing ways as they may have difficulty expressing their own needs or setting healthy boundaries.
Embracing a relationship as two independent individuals will lead to a healthier dynamic. Couples therapy is needed to help restructure the relationship so that both partners are working independently towards the goals they have for themselves and also as a team towards mutual goals. This is assuming, of course, that both partners are open to couples therapy and are prepared to work through their issues.
In some cases, ending the relationship may be the more likely scenario if there is not enough motivation or interest from one or both partners to make the positive life changes needed for the sake of the relationship.
With these key indicators in mind regarding toxic relationships, you may be trying to figure out if you want to stay in your relationship or if you feel it is best for your mental health to leave. This is a personal decision that only you can make.
If your sense is that you are not able to think through the situation objectively, connect with trusted family or friends to hear their perspectives and see if this is helpful for you. In addition, obtain support from a mental health professional and an organization that specializes in supporting people who have been abused for extra support. These services can help you weigh the pros and cons of staying versus leaving the relationship as well as considering how staying or leaving aligns with your unique needs, values, goals, and life priorities.
Ultimately, it’s important that you do what you feel is best. Keep in mind that you deserve a supportive, fulfilling, and mutually satisfying relationship where you feel loved, respected, valued, and cared for.
Wishing you well on your mental health journey.
Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT
Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist
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