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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina Sturmer

How do you know if you're in a toxic relationship?

Some relationships should come with a health warning. But a toxic relationship doesn't always announce its arrival with a fanfare and a handshake all round. Sometimes it creeps up on us unawares, leaving us feeling stuck, uncomfortable, and frightened. Would you know how to spot the signs of a toxic relationship? For yourself, or for one of your loved ones? I spoke to Yahoo all about the six worrying signs that you could be in a toxic relationship. Click here to read the full article, and read on to hear what I had to say: How do you know if you're in a toxic relationship?

There’s no set definition of a toxic relationship, but I would suggest that it’s one where one party - or sometimes both parties - feels as if there is nothing positive about the relationship and how they are treated.  This type of relationship is characterised by unhealthy, unkind or manipulative behaviours.  And this toxicity may spill over into other relationships, and into how they feel about themselves.  

How do you know if you're in a toxic relationship? Six warning signs:

  • Feeling a sense of fear or dread about your partner.  This might be because of abuse that has happened (whether it’s physical or emotional) or it could be because of a threat or fear that they will harm you.  

  • Isolating yourself.  If you’re in a toxic relationship, your partner might encourage you to distance yourself from your loved ones in order to build a sense of control over you.  

  • Feeling watched.  Although you might not be with your partner all the time, you might feel as if they are watching you.  In some instances of tech abuse, they might be using cameras or tracking devices.  Or it might simply be a fear that they know what you’re up to at all times, even if you’re not with them. 

  • Feeing a need to change your behaviour or views.  If you’re in a toxic relationship, you might feel under pressure to change your views or values to align with those of your partner.  Sometimes a partner might express their anger or jealousy or frustration, and you might feel compelled to change how you behave in order to keep the peace.  

  • Noticing that you’re relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms.  If you’re feeling trapped or unhappy in a relationship, you might rely on coping mechanisms in order to soothe yourself.  These can be positive, for example exercise or eating healthily.  But more often that not, we reach for unhealthy coping mechanisms if we’re unhappy, like alcohol or drugs.  

  • Diminishing confidence or self-esteem.  If your partner is quick to judge and criticise you, then it can be really hard to maintain your confidence.  Gradually these words or actions might start to seep in to influence how you feel about yourself.  You might start blaming yourself for the problems in the relationship, or believing that you don’t deserve to be treated better than this.  

What's the tipping point? How do we know when behaviour has become 'toxic'?

It can be really hard to notice the tipping point when behaviour becomes toxic.  Many of us become annoyed or irritated by things that our partner says or does.  But there are red flags to look out for.  Ask yourself whether you still enjoy their company, whether you still feel valued, and whether your partner still encourages you to be yourself and to be independent.  When we think about toxic relationships, the stereotype suggests that there will be a ‘perpetrator’ and a ‘victim’.  But it’s also possible for two people to cocreate a toxic relationship where they each feel trapped and unhappy, but they don’t feel as if they can escape.  

If you think you're in a toxic relationship, what steps should you take?

It’s important to try and understand whether a relationship has gone sour because life has got in the way.  Perhaps there are external pressures and stresses that are making your partner act differently.  And if that is the case, is it possible that they will change?  And if you think that you might be the person who is acting in a toxic way, do you understand why?  This can be the result of your own experiences, leading you to treat others badly or to push other people way.  

But the most important part is to reflect on whether you feel fundamentally safe, secure and appreciated in your relationship.  

What to do if you think that you need support

Reach out to a trusted friend in your support network.  If that doesn’t feel possible then there are lots of organisations that can offer support, including:

Keen to explore more?

I love working with people to help them to understand themselves, their relationships, and why they feel the way that they do. If you’d like to learn more, please get in touch. Click here to contact me or click here to book a free 30-minute introductory chat.

How do you know if you're in a toxic relationship?

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