Couple in a field holding hands but walking away from each other

Toxic relationship: 6 signs and 3 strategies to get rid of it

by Ian Prior - May 14, 2021

Does your significant other often belittle you, or offer you backhanded compliments? Do they get angry – unreasonably so – over the littlest things and make you the target of that anger? Do they guilt-trip you when you try to point out that what he or she said or did isn’t cool? Or do they flip out at the slightest indication that your life has room in it for something or someone other than them? Well, it seems you may be in a toxic relationship. Read more about the meaning, signs and tips to fix it.

What exactly is a toxic relationship?

According to HealthScope magazine, it is:

“a relationship characterised by behaviours on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally and, not infrequently, physically damaging to their partner.”

Consequently, a toxic relationship is defined by the following characteristics:

  • It is dysfunctional: While every good relationship has a problem or two sometimes – remember, human beings aren’t perfect – toxic relationships are unhealthy and damaging pretty much all the time.
  • It is filled with power struggles: Another characteristic is that one partner generally has, or tries to obtain, all the power in the relationship, usually through manipulation and playing games. An occasional relationship conflict is normal and healthy, constant power struggles are not.
  • It isolates you: Toxic partners depend on their partners not questioning the status quo, which means that it’s very common for the victim to slowly isolate themselves from friends and family as well as any other means of support.

How to know if you are in a toxic relationship

Not all toxic relationships look exactly the same, but there are some common signs that we’ve been able to identify:

1. Your partner belittles you all the time

Your partner makes a habit of belittling you, even in front of friends and family. When called out for it, they deny doing it or claim it’s a joke that you’re taking too seriously. The goal is to break down your self-esteem and your trust in your decision-making.

2. You’re constantly braced for attack

In a healthy relationship, you can relax and let your guard down. In a toxic relationship, however, you often feel like you’re walking on eggshells, waiting for the next thing that will set your partner off. This is especially true if your partner is prone to angry or jealous outbursts.

3. You do all the work and all the compromising

Your partner refuses to budge an inch and often pushes you into thinking that it’s your fault. If you’re in this kind of relationship then you’re often gaslit into thinking that if you just give in then the relationship will improve.

4. A toxic partner is controlling and jealous

Affected people often insist on controlling their partner’s lives to an extreme degree. This can include an insistence on doing everything together ‘because that’s what couples do’, constantly checking on your whereabouts, or infringing on your privacy. They’re also often jealous and do not like you spending time with people other than them – they might even try to stop you doing so.

5. You feel worse when you’re with them

Good partners make you feel happy and better about yourself. On the other hand, toxic relationships are actively damaging your self-esteem and emotional health, so it’s no surprise that spending time with your partner makes you feel worse.

6. The relationship is borderline, if not outright, abusive

We’ve all been warned about physical abuse, but emotional abuse can be just as damaging and harder to detect. While some relationships are toxic because the people involved don’t know any better (perhaps they’re repeating what they learned from their parents) others are just outright abusive. If your partner seems to deliberately cut you down or try to make you feel trapped, that’s a massive dating red flag.

How to escape from a toxic partner

It’s possible to fix a conflicted relationship, but to fix a toxic one requires a lot of work from the person exhibiting the toxic behavior, which is vanishingly rare. The honest truth is that it’s often a better idea to not just walk but run away from the relationship. It can be difficult, though, especially since affected people make it a point to make you feel small and incapable. Find the right strategy to get out of it.

1. Reach out to trusted friends and family

Toxic partners try to cut you off from your support network for a reason: you’re stronger with people in your corner. Talk to the people who care about you; they can help with everything from a shoulder to lean on to a place to crash when you leave.

2. See a therapist

As mentioned previously, your partner will target your self-esteem and emotional stability. Seeing a therapist is a great way to build yourself back up for the difficult journey ahead. In addition, therapists may be able to help you figure out logistics and recommend resources.

3. Make a plan

Leaving and breaking up with your partner, especially once the relationship has deepened, can take a lot of time and effort. It’s important to have a plan – save money in an account they don’t know about, document instances of threatening behavior or violence, make sure you have a safe place to land when you do leave.

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What happens once you’ve left a toxic relationship?

It can be very difficult to find your emotional equilibrium again. While jumping into another relationship is tempting, you should refrain – it’s best for your own long-term mental health if you take the time to recover emotionally first. And once you’re in a good mental space to start a relationship, eharmony is a great way to dip a toe into the dating pool again… and we’ll be there when you’re ready to start looking for the healthy, uplifting relationship you deserve. 

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