Most people long to be in a relationship, but how do you know if you’re in a healthy or toxic relationship?
The biggest contributing factor to overall happiness is our connection to other people. We long to be heard and understood by people and to share our experience of being human with others. Friendships and family are critical to our feelings of being connected to one another, but romantic relationships and marriages are particularly important for most of us. We have these longings because of biological urges, cultural values, desires to feel loved, or inclinations to complete ourselves. It’s definitely not a bad thing to want to be in a mutually beneficial relationship. Unfortunately, if we are in too desperate of a rush to enter into one of these, we can end up settling for unhealthy relationships that harm us.
Here is a list of signs you’re in a toxic relationship, along with some tips for working towards relational health.
The relationship brings you more stress than happiness.
When two people come together to form a relationship, whether in friendship, dating or marriage, it’s common to have friction at times. In the beginning, this can be attributed to “figuring each other out.” As a couple becomes more serious over time, conflicts will surely develop. Occasional conflict is normal and is even healthy in relationships. Deciding on what to eat, where to take vacations, financial decisions and other joint efforts may involve a degree of conflict and compromise from both parties. But if you find yourself feeling angry, resentful, anxious, sad or in fear of your partner, this needs to be addressed. How often you have these feelings is also important. If the “bad days” significantly outweigh the “good days”, it’s time to reevaluate the health of your relationship. Talk with your significant other about what is making you so unfulfilled, or go to couples counseling to get a professional’s help to work on communication issues between you and your partner.
The Green-Eyed Monster is a constant presence.
Can jealousy ever be healthy? Maybe, in small doses. But if it’s always around in your relationship, this is a sign of toxicity. It is usually an indication of a lack of trust between you and your partner, and it often keeps people from being able to pursue their own friendships and interests outside of their romantic relationships. Sometimes extreme jealousy in a person is a symptom leftover from being hurt in the past. To get past it, it is important to develop a strong foundation of trust. It can be helpful to make a decision to trust each other unless either of you finds a reason to doubt. It is also good to clearly define boundaries, for example, letting your partner know if it’s not OK for them to go through your phone.
Your friends or family members don’t like your significant other.
Assuming that your friends know you well and are supportive people in your life, they often sense toxicity before you do since they aren’t wearing the rose-colored glasses of infatuation. You don’t have to accept everything they tell you as absolute truth, but it’s worthwhile to encourage them to get to know your partner and to listen to their concerns if they have any. One large sign of toxicity in relationships is if your partner attempts to create distance or limit contact between you and your friends and family. It’s also just easier and more fun for you if all your people can get along and enjoy each other’s company.
Sex is the only thing that brings you together.
The physical side of the relationship is important, but if it’s the only part holding the relationship together, you’re missing out on the potential for emotional support and a fully enriching relationship. Having sex is also not a long term method of conflict resolution. Problems in the relationship that disappear in the bedroom often resurface in the living room. Sex is but one facet of expression in a healthy relationship. Other important elements of a successful, happy relationship include expressing affection and praise for each other, performing loving actions for each other and respectfully giving one’s attention to their partner’s needs.
You’re not yourself.
It’s normal at the beginning of any relationship to try to impress the other person and show your best side, but in a long-term relationship it’s crucial that eventually you become comfortable. As cliche as it sounds, being yourself is important for your own mental health. Otherwise, you may experience stress, avoid your real interests and passions, and remain unknown by a significant person in your life. Things that keep you from being honest and real with your partner could include an overly critical boyfriend or girlfriend, negative self-esteem, or a bad experience in the past.
There are no outside interests.
It’s fantastic if you guys love spending time together, miss each other when you’re apart, or can’t wait to see each other again. It’s a sign of an obsessive, unhealthy relationship if you can’t enjoy yourself alone and have nothing outside of your relationship. Not only would this be devastating and isolating if you do end up breaking up with your partner, but it puts too much strain on the relationship. Definitely still enjoy each other’s company, but make sure there are other things you like to do. This could include hanging out with other friends and family members, joining a stand-up comedy class, baking cupcakes, really anything that brings you joy that you can pursue on your own.
Arguments are Frequent, Painful, and Unproductive.
This one may seem obvious too, but there are many people that stay in emotionally abusive or tiring relationships because of habit, strong feelings, or fear of the unknown. Physical and emotional abuse should not be tolerated in a relationship, but it takes courage to commit to leaving patterns of abuse that develop over months and years. Even relationships that aren’t typically classified as abusive can have their share of arguing and fighting.
As mentioned earlier, conflict in relationships is normal and to be expected. But couples should avoid the “Four Horsemen” of relationships: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling. Dr. John Gottman, through decades of research, has defined these four extremely detrimental argument techniques. Each of these has a more productive approach that will lead to healthier conversations and outcomes that appease both parties. Sometimes taking a break to cool down from the heat of the moment can help you both get to a place where you can rationally discuss your feelings and the reasons why there’s so much frustration. Seeking professional counseling or taking a break from the relationship can also be healthy options, depending on your situation.
You fear or avoid personal growth.
This occurs when one or both of you are fearful of losing what you have, leading you to avoid any change. A healthy relationship will provide opportunities for both of you to grow and mature, and ideally you are continually doing this together. Encourage each other to pursue new opportunities, both personally and as a couple. Providing mutual support and having conversations about this can help couples stay on the same page about how they’re developing so they grow together instead of apart.
There is constant personal criticism.
The more you get to know someone and feel comfortable with them, the more you’ll know how great they are and also how great their faults are. Have you ever met a person that seems perfect after a year of knowing them? You’ll see the things no one else does, like how weirdly they brush their teeth or how they don’t pack their suitcase like a normal human. There might be bigger things too, like your partner may struggle with controlling their temper or staying humble or being a workaholic. This doesn’t mean you have to accept everything about your partner without having honest conversations about what bothers you, but if you really love someone, you love them even when you know their faults. Things to help you from being overly critical include regularly telling your partner all the things you love about him or her and reminding yourself of the times your partner is kind to you when you have faults too.
The biggest red flags in relationships often grow out of a desire to avoid all imperfections and inconveniences or a fear of opening up and showing someone our true selves. It’s unrealistic to think we’ll never be unhappy or have any of the problems listed above, but addressing these problems before they become deeply entrenched patterns are crucial to the health of ourselves and our relationships.