How Do You Know if a Relationship is Toxic?

August 15, 2019

One of the easiest -- and hardest -- things to do in the world is to get into a toxic relationship. While things may look perfect on the outside, or even seem like it to you a lot of the time, toxic relationships are more common than you may think. However, there are warning signs and red flags everywhere that can alert you to whether or not you may be in a toxic relationship. 

Psychologist George Simon researched and discussed toxic relationships, saying that “covert aggressors appeal to our emotions, using sneaky tactics to get what they want.” Some covert aggressors show up in the form of manipulators, while some prefer to take the form of self-absorption, and some are better known as con-artists. From friendships and parent-child relationships to romantic couplings and even work dynamics, here are the signs and aggressors to look for in toxic relationships.

Signs you may be in a toxic relationship

Some toxic relationships can begin as completely normal and positive, while some are negative and toxic from the get-go. If your relationship ever turns physically abusive, seek help immediately from a trusted friend, family member, counselor, or law enforcement. However, there are often much subtler signs that point to a toxic relationship. Here are some signs of a toxic relationship to be aware of.

  1. You always feel anxious, guilty, or angry within the relationship.

Occasional anger and spats are normal in all relationships, as is occasional anxiety and even the occasional bout of guilt. We’re all humans who make mistakes and have complex emotions, after all. However, a sure sign of a toxic relationship is one where a looming sense of negativity permeates the entire relationship. If you get nervous or anxious at the idea of spending time in the relationship, or feel guilty when you do anything alone, those are signs that something may be wrong.

  1. There is a blatant lack of trust.

When there’s a lack of trust in any relationship, doors for progress can almost immediately close. A study on jealousy in relationships shows that “when experiencing lower levels of trust, individuals behave in ways that emphasize protection from hurt and rejection rather than in ways that promote interdependence, which can result in further distancing from the partner.” In relationships that disregard trust as an important factor, it’s impossible to continue to root for each other and grow with each other, creating a toxic environment that is hard to come back from.

  1. Shaming, put-downs, and a lack of confidence in each other is a regular occurence.

According to Psychology Today, shaming is “using subtle sarcasms and put-downs to increase our fear and self-doubt, making us feel inadequate, unworthy, and likely to defer to them.” If you find that your romantic partner, parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker is treating you this way (or that you are treating someone else this way), it’s something that points to a deep-rooted issue which needs to be addressed immediately.

How to create safe boundaries in your relationships:

One of the easiest ways to prevent a relationship from turning toxic -- or to notice a toxic person immediately -- is to create safe boundaries that are implemented and followed from the beginning of the relationship. Here are some ways to create safe boundaries.

  1. Communication is key: Opening a trusted line of communication from the beginning is, simply, the best way to build a healthy relationship. By clearly communicating your non-negotiables, your feelings, and your methods, you help to close the gap between misunderstandings and toxicity.
  2. Avoid extremes: Not everything will work out the way you want it to, or the way the other person in the relationship wants it to. Avoid statements that portray an extreme feeling, such as ‘I’ll never’ or ‘always,’ and instead focus on compromising when it’s necessary.
  3. Take time to yourselves: Many a relationship has been sabotaged by a lack of alone time, from micromanaging bosses who don’t give employees a break to codependent partners who refuse to be apart -- ever. Carve out time to do your own thing, while still focusing on quality time for the relationship itself. Without it, everyone involved can start to get frustrated and act out.

There aren’t a lot of things that can negatively impact your life and experiences like being involved in a toxic relationship can. However, there are signs to look out for and boundaries to set that can empower you to fight for healthy relationships in all aspects of your life. The key is to look for signs early on, and be willing to face that you might have some issues, too. Life isn’t meant to be lived with toxic relationships at its forefront, but instead with meaningful, beautiful friendships and relationships that make your life better. Don’t sell yourself -- or your relationships -- short.