While some of us felt safe in our homes throughout the pandemic, many were confined to their homes with a toxic partner.
With couples spending more time together than ever before, isolated from their usual social circles and colleagues, these kinds of toxic behaviours seemed to take a quick escalation.
In any instance, there is no tolerance for abuse, but what I am referring to here are the types of behaviours that can seep into a relationship and quickly become toxic, sometimes without us even being aware that it’s happening.
As we’ve come out of lockdown, it’s become apparent that this issue isn’t going anywhere. Meaning, we need to be informed of the red flags and be educated on how we can help ourselves if experiencing toxic behaviour within a relationship.
Another thing to note is that toxic relationships aren’t just limited to two people within a monogamous relationship. It can be between friends, families and come in all shapes and sizes. However within this blog, I am mostly referring to romantic relationships.
All relationships take an element of work, and of course, nothing is perfect. But a relationship is usually deemed toxic based on how often the behaviours are carried out.
So what exactly is a toxic relationship?
Toxic relationships are based on dominance, power and insecurity on behalf of the toxic person, and this insecurity leads them down the path of damaging behaviours. It might have elements of control, lack of trust, extreme jealousy, gaslighting, and emotional and/or physical abuse.
Why do people carry out these toxic behaviours?
The reasons behind our behaviours are due to a variety of things such as our childhood experiences and conditioning. More specifically, toxic traits are usually down to the partners' poor self-esteem and insecurities, where they may subconsciously believe they are not worthy of love. So to get the love and attention they desire, they must carry out forms of manipulation and control. As with everything, every person is unique and different reasons will be behind different behaviours, but the key thing is understanding where they come from, so we can identify if they can be healed.
Some warning signs and red flags to watch out for:
Constantly checks where you are/were
Pulls you away from your family and friends
Wants the relationship to be a secret
Constantly breaks your boundaries
Disagreements threaten the relationship
You fear expressing your opinion
Humiliates you in front of others
It can be incredibly difficult to even recognise that you are under control or being manipulated, as they are often masked by ‘nice’ behaviours such as wanting to spend all of their time with you. So please don’t beat yourself up for not recognising the signs earlier on, they aren’t easy to spot.
However, if you do spot some red flags, you should take a step back and assess whether moving forward with the relationship is a healthy choice.
So how to spot it when potentially clouded by the buzz of romance? You could ask yourself these questions..
Do you feel like they care about your boundaries? Do they cross them frequently?
Do they belittle you in front of other people? But mask it as ‘just a joke’?
Does your partner make you feel guilty for not doing something they want? - This is another control tactic
Do you feel comfortable expressing your opinion and disagreeing?
Do you feel like you can be your authentic self?
Does the relationship feel one-sided?
A toxic relationship has a ripple effect, where its ramifications can go beyond the persons involved and affect those around them too. A recent client of mine has been experiencing this due to the toxic relationship between her husband and his father. In this scenario, the damaging behaviours were overspilling into the marital relationship, leaving my client feeling unseen, unheard and unloved. The point is, when you recognise any warning signs of such an issue, it’s so important to reach out for support to learn how you can heal the relationship.
A toxic relationship is not a safe place, which makes it clear why people within toxic relationships are scared to leave. We often hear the term thrown around ‘they should have left’, but we must recognise that whilst under such manipulation, leaving is just as scary as staying. It can be a lose-lose situation. Additionally, people often stay in toxic relationships because they too have poor self-esteem, and believe they might not do any better.
What about when you witness friends or family members in what you deem as a toxic relationship, and they just don't seem to see it? In some instances, red flags may not appear as red flags if those behaviours are what they have experienced throughout their childhood and their lives. These red flags can seem like home to some. For example, when brought up in a chaotic environment where your parents or caregivers carried out toxic behaviours, if left unresolved, you would bring this into your adult life. You may subconsciously believe that chaos shows love and that to receive love, you must put up with these behaviours.
If you are frustrated with a loved one who is choosing not to leave a toxic relationship, your judgement won’t be helpful. The best thing you can do to help a friend going through this is to be fully present and listen.
Fortunately, many relationships that have toxic behaviours within them can be healed. If the toxic partner is willing to get to the root cause of their behaviours and put in the work, then sometimes they can change.
However, just because this is possible it doesn’t mean you must stay in a relationship if it’s not what you want. Change is possible, but if they actively choose not to change then you must make the right choice going forward.
Toxic relationships can be overwhelming and complex and I very much recommend speaking to a trusted friend or professional if you are experiencing this. Therapy is a great way to work through a toxic relationship as you can talk with someone with an unbiased perspective.
If you are scared to leave or feel like you need support, please ask for help. Someone else should be aware of what you are going through so that they can help you get out of it in the safest way possible.
As always, if you need help please reach out.