Does your partner constantly blame you for their negative emotions? Do they exert excessive control over your decision making? Are they overly jealous or possessive?
If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, there’s a chance your relationship is toxic.
Dr Lillian Glass, an American communication and psychology expert, is said to have coined the term “toxic relationship” in 1995, defining it as “any relationship [between people who] don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness.”
Identifying a bad relationship is the first step to escaping an unhealthy situation. These are five common behaviours that may indicate your partner is toxic.
1. They gaslight you
The term “gaslight” originates from the 1938 play “Gas Light” (adapted into the 1944 movie “Gaslight”), where a husband tried to get his wife committed to a mental hospital so he could steal from her. He caused the gas lights in the house to flicker, but claimed not to see it when confronted by his wife, causing her to believe she was going crazy.
Signs your partner is gaslighting you may include them telling you that your memories are incorrect, suggesting you are overreacting to situations or implying that something is “all in your head.” They may tell you lies and try to convince you that their version of events is the truth. If you are being gaslit, you may also find yourself constantly apologising for your thoughts or reactions.
Healthy relationships are respectful and supportive, they are based on honesty, trust, and communication. If your relationship is lacking those qualities, it may be time to get out, as gaslighting can take a huge toll on your mental health.
2. They blame you for their actions
A toxic partner will always blame you when things don’t go right and act like everything is your fault.
Blame is so damaging to couples that marriage researcher Dr John Gottman describes it as one of his “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” — the four behaviours that cause the most trouble in relationships.
The Four Horsemen are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Defensiveness is actually a way of blaming your partner – you are saying the problem isn’t me, it’s you. As a result, issues aren’t resolved and the conflict escalates further. Dr Gottman says it’s important to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict. By doing this, couples can work towards a compromise, managing their conflict in a healthy way.
Most people will exhibit Four Horsemen habits from time to time, but if they become a regular feature of your relationship, it’s a sign there are major issues that need to be resolved.
3. They control who you call and see
A controlling partner doesn’t want you to have a life outside of your relationship with them. They want to know where you are and who you’re with at all times and they constantly check up on you with texts and phone calls.
It can be confusing, as the person will act like they are doing these things because they love you and want to spend time with only you. However, isolating you from friends and family and making you feel guilty about leaving the house without them isn’t a sign of a healthy relationship, it’s a form of abuse.
Some controlling relationships can be repaired if the dysfunctional behaviours are addressed with the help of a counsellor. However, if your partner refuses to listen to your concerns or accept there are issues, then it’s best to find a safe exit from the relationship.
4. They ‘love bomb’ you
Love bombers overwhelm their partners with attention, love, gifts and so on. In theory it sounds like fun, but it can actually be a sneaky form of emotional abuse. The goal of the love bomber’s excessive attention, admiration and affection can often be to make you dependent and obligated to them.
There are two types of love bomber. The first type is someone who is needy and desperate for a relationship; the second is a narcissist or abuser who deliberately engages in the behaviour to control you.
While the first type may seem harmless, they can form unhealthy attachments to their romantic interests and even turn into stalkers.
Dating a narcissistic love bomber can be even more sinister, as they are trying to gain control over you, by securing your trust and loyalty. Once they have it, they will often become difficult, abusive or manipulative.
There’s also a chance your partner is simply high on dopamine and over enthusiastic. The test is whether you can sit down and talk about the situation without them becoming angry or refusing to listen to your concerns. If you’re unable to have that conversation calmly, it may be a sign that this is an unhealthy relationship.
5. You justify their bad behaviour
People in toxic relationships often make excuses about their partner’s bad behaviour. They constantly explain away hurtful words and action by saying the person is just stressed or having a tough time. They may also blame themselves and think they are the ones who need to work harder to improve situations or change their own behaviour.
Toxic behaviours can be subtle and therefore easy to explain away as something else. But a sign that it’s becoming unhealthy and problematic is if you feel afraid or uncomfortable about acknowledging there’s an issue.
We all want to think the best of our partner and give them the benefit of the doubt. However, if you are constantly excusing poor behaviour, or talking to friends or family about issues with your partner and keeping certain details to yourself, it could be a sign that there’s a problem you’re not facing.
If in doubt, it’s better to be totally honest with your loved ones – they love you and want the best for you. Hearing their outside perspective may help you see the situation more clearly.
If you are frequently experiencing any of the five behaviours mentioned above, know that you deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. And that you don't have to go through this alone. 1800 RESPECT is a great resource if you want to speak to someone at any time.
This article can also help you understand the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship and help you never lose sight of your relationship.
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