A friend has just told you that you are in a toxic love relationship. What?! What do they mean? How could they possibly know what your relationship is instead of you? But try to assume this: they have probably noticed subtle and not-so-subtle vibes you are giving off. And you being hurt or offended is one of the feelings that will surface when you are, in fact, in a toxic relationship.
But how can you check if you’re in a toxic love by yourself? Let’s unpack all the feelings and signs you might be experiencing in a toxic relationship and go deeper into causes and possible courses of action for you.
The most common feeling about toxic relationship is a general malaise – just not feeling well with no definitive cause. If this sounds like how you feel right now, take a look at your relationship. Have you found yourself smack dab in the middle of toxic love but unwilling to see it?
What else might you be feeling? Well, there is an entire spectrum of emotional and physical symptoms of toxic love:
But you know what? Even if you do recognize these feelings, you may have a tough time getting out. Why? Because your toxic love relationship has the codependency element that, while unhealthy, has become habitual. You simply accept it as “normal,” doubt your icky feelings, and tend to rely on some tell-tale “logical” signs instead.
Well, let’s unpack the signs that you have a toxic love going on then.
Remember, a toxic relationship is one that threatens your well-being in any way – psychologically, emotionally, or, in extreme cases, physically. Look at these signs and decide if you see yourself and your relationship residing here.
In a healthy relationship, both partners want to see each other work toward and achieve their professional and personal goals. And these partners are focused on understanding each others’ needs. They choose to help each other do this.
In a toxic love relationship, one partner wants all of that support and help but is unwilling to give that same support in return. You are stuck in the position of putting all of your focus on supporting what your partner wants and needs and neglecting your own.
Related reading: How to Stop Being Codependent and Reclaim Your Life
The co-dependent aspect of this toxic love is that you are a giver, they are a taker. Your giving nature may have come from the relationship you saw modeled by your parents as you grew up, or, in the case of you being female, the old, conservative societal/religious norms that you must sacrifice your needs for those of your partner. Your past does impact your present even if wrong. Your own feelings don’t matter, and you accept that.
One of the things that makes a relationship toxic is the type of communication that goes on between the two of you. In romantic relationships, partners have disagreements and concerns. They are discussed and compromises are reached.
Think about the communication you have with your partner:
These are among the clearest signs of toxic, unhealthy relationships.
If you have never watched the movie, “Sleeping with the Enemy,” you should do so now. It is the epitome of a controlling relationship – both emotional and physical. And it also involved physical abuse. Julia Roberts is constantly under the closest scrutiny of her abusive and controlling husband. Of course, Roberts comes to hate her husband and has to take drastic measures to create an escape plan. No spoiler alert here. Watch the film.
Control can be a big part of a toxic love relationship. Dig deep into life with your partner, and think about these things they might do:
How do you respond to all of this? Do you comply to keep the peace or find yourself juggling times of getting together with your parents, siblings, and friends to appease your partner? And even lying about where you are, what you are doing, and who you are with?
Healthy romantic relationships don’t look like this. Partners have a life together, but they also have lives that should be independent of one another.
Couples disagree on lots of things. And they argue – it’s normal when two people live together or spend so much time together. But if the same arguments keep repeating themselves and turn into nasty lashing out, things are definitely toxic.
Why does this happen? One or both partners hold their grievances in and finally, they break through in a torrent of vitriol. Or issues that have been around for a long time were never discussed and resolved. When couples don’t talk things through, they are both “armed and dangerous” when an argument is triggered. And if your love has any violent tendencies, it can result in physical abuse as well. That you must never tolerate.
The solution may lie in professional counseling – laying the issues out on the table and working through them with guidance.
“Without trust, and not just trust that their partner will be faithful, but trust that their partner will behave in the best interest of the agreements of the relationship, there cannot be a sense of security.”
Jeni Woodfin, LMFT, a therapist
One of the clear signs of a toxic love relationship is a lack of trust, and this comes with all sorts of wrong thinking and behavior. Where does this come from? Well, one person lies about something major, the other finds out, and then the bond of honesty is broken.
What causes dishonesty? Maybe you fear your SO will disapprove of where you’ve been or who you’ve been with. Or maybe you just want time away from your SO because being with them has become so uncomfortable and toxic. You need a break.
Lack of trust can lead to other behaviors – constantly checking joint accounts to see how and where they are spending money, tracking their whereabouts with secretive GPS devices, and calling and texting them incessantly to see what they are up to.
Related reading: Future Faking – A Lousy Dating Strategy
Is this any way to live? Of course not. But when trust is broken, the energy that should be used for affection and bonding is spent on suspicion instead.
Normal romantic relationships include the desire for each person to go after their goals with plenty of support. In a toxic love relationship, members may resent and become envious when the other is getting ahead and they are not. This envy turns into resentment and jealousy and can result in attempts to sabotage the other’s growth.
If it feels like your love is doing this, what are you seeing? Are they withholding affection and even sex as a kind of emotional blackmail so that you will back off that independent pursuit of your goals? It happens, and it is emotional abuse.
Related reading: What Is Retroactive Jealousy and How to Overcome It
When you are in a toxic love partnership, it’s all about your SO. And when you are in the midst of this, you stop the self-care behaviors that you had pre-relationship – both physical and emotional.
These behaviors may include:
Ultimately, this brings frustration and resentment as you look back on the life you used to have. And that in turn leads to those fights and the pain that comes with them. That is, of course, if you have not settled into a codependent relationship in which you are all “give” and they are all “take.”
Related reading: How To Maintain Your Individuality While In a Relationship
Ignoring your own needs and desires can lead to chronic stress – and this condition has all of the emotional and physical consequences that constitute general malaise.
“Recent research shows that perceiving poor alternatives to the relationship enhances the likelihood of staying with an undesirable partner…Women with low self-esteem perceive fewer desirable alternatives to their current relationships.”
Madeleine A. Fugere, cited in The Psychology Behind Remaining in Toxic Relationships
If you are in a relationship with someone with anger issues, you will be the subject of that anger when you have not met their expectations or have defied them in some way. Abuse can be emotional or physical. But due to a great number of psychological reasons for staying in the relationship, it is often tough to make the decision to get out of that environment.
Remember: you deserve a healthier and safer experience in a relationship. Getting there will require an attempt to must up hard work and therapy.
If you recognized yourself in a toxic love relationship, it’s highly likely that both of you are exhibiting behavior that sustains it. It’s called codependency, and that is exactly what is going on in your relationship.
Let’s take a look at codependency from a psychological standpoint. In biology, you probably came to know the term, symbiosis. It refers to organisms and species that come together to form a mutually beneficial relationship.
It takes many forms. One of the simplest examples is sharks and barber fish. Sharks allow barber fish to live on and eat off of their bodies. In return, the barber fish eat stuff that could cause infections for the shark. This is an example of a helpful and mutual codependency. But when it comes to toxic love, it’s highly unlikely your codependency brings you good.
There are times when codependency is healthy – usually in business relationships. One person is responsible for production and the other for sales. They then divide the profits.
But in romantic relationships, codependency tends to have a big power imbalance. In practice, when one person gives much more, the other who takes advantage to have their own needs and desires met.
“All relationships are based on a philosophy that if it works for you, it works for me…But taken to an extreme, it can be that without the relationship, people can’t function very well, so the relationship becomes unhealthy.”
Dr. Coda Derring, clinical psychologist
Toxic love relationships also result from an imbalance of power. One person sacrifices their needs and desires for those of the other, and, when it reaches an extreme point, the sacrificing person begins to exhibit all the symptoms listed above. It is dangerous to their mental health, as well as leading to hate if the more powerful member of the partnership is unwilling to even discuss how things need to change.
Controlling behaviors of a partner may stem from a couple of emotional issues – insecurity, low self-esteem, need to have power and control of at least one facet of life – or from what was modeled as a person grew up. And a person who has a need to control another to an extreme is engaging in emotional abuse.
A partner who is susceptible to control may be naturally timid, have self-esteem issues, or grew up in an environment of strict control. Instead of recognizing abuse in controlling behaviors, you justify compliance as pleasing your partner. And you are afraid to upset them or hold them accountable for their bad behavior.
Related reading: Does Your Man Have Mommy Issues?
In this section, we’ll uncover some strategies you can take if you find yourself in toxic relationships and want to transform your experience in some way.
Once you recognize the toxic love relationship bur don’t to lose them, what can you do? To tell the truth, the prognosis is not that great, but it is worth a try. Here are some steps you can take:
If your SO responds badly and refuses to make changes, then it’s time to get out.
This will also be tough, but you can make it. Of course, you’ve been entrenched in your behaviors and mental state. But if you make that decision, be certain that you:
Whatever you choose to do with your toxic love, it’s time to focus on yourself. Leaving a toxic relationship may be tough; but staying will only bring about increasing mental and physical damage and ruin your well-being.
Take time to heal, work on your self-confidence and esteem, sort out your feelings, and think about what you want in a relationship. And once you are ready to get out there again, try an online dating app like Hily where you can meet and have meaningful conversations with members who are caring and healthy.