The Signs of a Toxic Relationship

18 October 2023 at 09:56 · 5 min read

A highlighted woman hugging a man and staring at the camera

It’s in our nature as humans to want to be emotionally and physically close to each other and that’s why we tend to engage in a variety of different types of relationships - from platonic to romantic, business, pedagogical relationships and more. 

Particularly, when we talk about romantic relationships, they are often exhilarating, supportive and can encourage not only intimacy but also personal growth. However, some relationships can be the direct opposite of this; detrimental to personal growth and development - perhaps even in destructive ways that cause physical and mental health issues in the long term. 

All relationships have their ups and downs, but unhealthy, so-called ‘toxic’ relationships often include set patterns of behaviour that can sometimes lead to emotional or physical abuse. 

So why do some people stay in such unhealthy relationships? 

Toxic relationships are characterized by a set of negative patterns which are noticeable to onlookers outside of the relationship but to a partner, these patterns can be so familiar that they become part of their everyday perception, something expected and normal. 

If we analyze the definition of a toxic relationship, we can see that it is characterized by behaviours on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally and often physically damaging to their partner. Healthy relationships involve respect, mutual caring, an interest in one’s partner’s growth and happiness. In the end, the best characteristic of a healthy relationship is safety, comfort and a secure zone without fear. 

Engrained Power Relationships

On the other hand, a toxic relationship is the complete opposite, characterized by dysfunction as the norm, particularly by insecurity, control and dominance. This often entails that one individual in the relationship feels a compulsion to be in complete control and must have all the power in the relationship

Each human being can both create and be the recipient of unhealthy patterns sometimes depending on the situation they find themselves in. The real danger is when they become consistent daily or weekly patterns. 

Common Patterns of Toxic Relationships

Some of the more common unhealthy patterns in romantic relationships are:

  • Manipulation

When a partner tries to control your decisions, actions or emotions.  

  • Possessiveness

When a partner becomes jealous to a point where they try to control who you spend time with and what you do. For example: trying to control how your hair looks, where you go, who you see, or what you do.

  • Isolation

When they try to keep you away from friends, family, or other people in your support network, limiting who you can seek help from and making themselves ever more important as the only source of support.

  • Belittling

Deliberately saying and doing things to make you feel bad about yourself. The intent - deliberate or otherwise - is to lower your value to others in your own eyes. The effect here is to make you feel less likely to leave the relationship as you feel like no one else will love and appreciate you.

  • Volatility

When a partner has a really strong, unpredictable reaction that makes you feel scared, confused or intimidated - frequently a way of inducing fear and establishing dominance and control.

  • Deflecting Responsibility

This is usually when a partner repeatedly makes excuses for their unhealthy behaviour so as to focus blame for their actions on forces outside the relationship and their control.

  • Guilting

When a partner makes you feel responsible for their actions or makes you feel like it’s your job to keep them happy.

Often during our lives, we will connect romantic relationships to physical and sexual attraction sometimes without even stopping to really think about the core traits of a partner. We’re all different and there will always be imbalances of personality - one partner will tend to not always assess the potential empathy or caregiving ability of the other partner. One could argue that we can never experience only 100% wholly healthy relationships. Unhealthy relationships are sadly just as much a part of life - and one which can help us in the process of maturation. 

But that does not mean that there is any ever excuse for toxic, or unhealthy, let alone abusive relationships. Ultimately all relationships should help not hinder us from seeing our own value. 


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