***TRIGGER WARNING***: If you are concerned that reading about toxic relationships, domestic violence, or mental, physical and sexual abuse, will be triggering for you, please do not read the following post. If you scroll right to the end, to the header “Useful Links” you will find a list of services that offer help and support.
Relationships don’t often become toxic overnight. It’s usually something that happens over a period of time, with small, gradual changes that you might not even have noticed.
Realising that your relationship has some toxic elements does not necessarily mean that relationship needs to end. There may be certain things that, through effective communication and compromise, you are able to rectify and continue on with the relationship.
However, some of these red flags may suggest that the relationship is beyond repair.
Whatever you decide, there is help available, whether it’s mediation, counselling, or help in getting out of the relationship. I’ve listed just a few of these options at the end of this post.
Here is a list of potential red flags that might suggest your relationship has become toxic. They are in no particular order.
Gaslighting is when person A manipulates person B by psychological means into doubting their own sanity. For example, if person B sees and hears person A on the phone talking to someone about “meeting up later”, then when person B asks person A about it, person A outright lies and says they were never on the phone and weren’t even speaking. If person A continues this lie persistently and convincingly, person B may begin to doubt their own sanity, for example, “Did I imagine the whole thing?” or “Am I just making this up?” and so on.
- Provoking you into arguments
Similar to gaslighting, if your partner is deliberately provoking you into arguments in order to make you feel like “the bad guy” or to give them an excuse to leave and hang out with friends, this behaviour is toxic, and again, potentially damaging to your self-esteem.
- The silent treatment
Using the silent treatment or deliberately withholding affection as a punishment is abusive. Now there’s a difference between someone saying “I need to take some time before we talk about this, I’ll call you tomorrow” and someone just ignoring you without explaining why. Communication is key.
- Persistent criticism/name calling
If someone is persistently putting you down or calling you horrible names, this can have devastating effects on your self-esteem and confidence. This can also take the form of back-handed compliments, such as “That shirt would look great on you if you lost some weight”. This is toxic behaviour because at first, it sounds like a compliment, but then you realise it’s actually a criticism of your weight. Again, this can be extremely detrimental to your self-esteem.
- Controlling behaviour
This can come in many forms, such as:
– Isolating you from friends and family
– Insisting on accompanying you everywhere
– Blocking your access to bank accounts/bank cards
– Insisting that you wear certain clothes
– Checking your phone/social media accounts
– Denying you any privacy or alone time
Some of these things are often difficult to notice, for example, they may persuade you to let them come out with you to meet friends, which you don’t really see as a problem, but if you really think about it, you might realise you now never get to meet your friends without your partner being present. This is a form of control, ensuring that you don’t talk about your partner to your friends.
- Emotional blackmail
Emotional blackmail is manipulating someone’s emotions in order to get them to do what you want. An example of this is “If you loved me you would…” or “If you don’t, I’ll hurt myself”. This evokes in the person a sense of duty to protect the blackmailer and keep the relationship, often resulting in them complying under duress. This may escalate into being pressured into unwanted sexual activity, which is, in other words, sexual assault. Even if you reluctantly consent, if you have consented due to being pressured or emotionally blackmailed, that is still an assault.
- “Clipping your wings”
Is your partner supportive of your goals? Do they positively encourage you to go after your dreams? When you decide to go for a promotion (that, for example, would mean better pay, a more interesting job, and about which you’re really excited), if your partner tries to talk you out of it for reasons such as “I don’t want you to earn more than me”, squashing your dreams and keeping you down, that’s abusive. Again, there’s a difference between having a calm discussion about the practicalities of taking a promotion, and any implications this may have on the relationship (such as limited time to spend together, or having to relocate), but this should be a fair, open, and honest discussion, not an outright “No”.
A certain amount of privacy in a relationship is healthy. We all need some alone time, and we need to feel like we can keep at least some things to ourselves. However, if your partner has become overly secretive, such as deleting and blocking you from their social media accounts, using two phones, or leaving the room to make secret phone calls, this may be a cause for concern.
- Constant false accusations
Toxic behaviour can also come in the form of constant false accusations, such as unfounded accusations of cheating or lying. We all have moments of jealousy or suspicion that can turn out to be nothing, but if these accusations are persistent and you are doing nothing to warrant them, something needs to change.
- “Using” you
Relationships are not always equal in terms of give-and-take 100% of the time. Sometimes one party is giving more, but usually, this fluctuates and balances out in the long term. However, if your partner is only taking and giving nothing in return, this is another red flag for a toxic relationship, particularly if they seem to lose interest when money is tight, then suddenly reappear after your payday…
- Lack of respect
A huge part of a successful relationship is about respect. You may not always like each other (having the odd row every once in a while is natural), but you should always respect each other. If your partner is disrespectful to you, such as openly flirting with other people in front of you, or treating you poorly in front of friends or family, this is a sign that they do not have your best interests at heart.
- Lying about you to others
Does your partner lie about you to their friends and family, or even your friends and family? Do they falsify or exaggerate arguments you’ve had, again, making you the “bad guy”? This is abusive, and also ties into gaslighting and isolating you from loved ones.
- Physical abuse
This one may seem obvious, in terms of the well-known physical abuse, such as punching, hair-pulling, using weapons, etc. However, if you are experiencing what you might think of as “less serious” abuse, such as pinching, pushing, or grasping your arm, this is still abuse, and it’s no less serious than any other form. Your partner also may not actually touch you, but may threaten to hurt you, or use their body to appear threatening or make you fearful. This is absolutely toxic and is not what happens in “normal” disagreements.
If you have identified with any of the red flags listed above and you want to reach out for help, either to make changes in the relationship or to terminate it, you could speak to a friend, a family member, or even a colleague. If that’s not an option, and depending on the circumstances, you can also reach out to your GP, the police, or one of the services listed below.
Relate – Relate is a charity that offers free counselling services for every type of relationship. They provide advice on marriage, LGBT issues, divorce, and parenting. Sessions are available both individually and as a couple.
The Spark – A free, confidential telephone and online chat service for help and support on any relationship issue.
Marriage Care – A helpline offering information and listening support for people with marriage or any relationship difficulties.
YMCA Mediation Services – Many local YMCA centres offer mediation services to help you resolve disputes in a calm, structured, and safe way. To access this service, click on the link and select your local YMCA branch.
National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline – If you are experiencing domestic violence, you can call this helpline at any time, 24 hours a day, and receive advice and support from fully trained support workers and volunteers. The helpline is run in partnership by Women’s Aid and Refuge. All calls are confidential, and they have translation facilities for non-English speakers and services for the deaf/hard of hearing.
NHS Choices – Help after rape or sexual assault.
Rape Crisis England and Wales – Help for women and girls who have been sexually assaulted or raped.
Survivors UK – Help for males who have been sexually assaulted or raped.
Mind – Mind is a charity that offers support for those struggling with mental health issues.
Samaritans – The Samaritans offer emotional support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide. They have a free helpline, and you can also email them, write a letter, or visit your local branch in person.
If you know of any further useful services, please leave the link in the comments below.