So you’ve fallen in love. Everything in your life is touched by magic. The sky is bluer, your heart is lighter, and even garbage juice smells like fresh flowers.
At least until your feet touch the ground again and you’re wondering what that vomit-inducing stench is and why you’re surrounded by red flags.
This would probably be a good time to contemplate the dynamic you and your significant other share.
Some cracks appear. An unkind word, a disrespectful action, a shove during a serious argument. But you’ve ignored these warning signs, wanting to believe that your partner is just having a crummy day.
But it’s not an aberration because the frequency of similar incidents increases. Then one day you wake up and realize that you’re in a toxic relationship.
Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you’ve been sucker punched. Toxic behavior patterns can be insidious. It creeps up on you, then pounces.
And if we don’t have the bandwidth to address it, both ourselves and those around us pay the price.
Cultivating self-awareness around red flags and toxic behavior can help us avoid them altogether.
We all know there’s no such thing as the perfect relationship. But it’s a red flag of epic proportions when a relationship is mostly pain and challenges instead of happiness and mutual support.
The bedrock every healthy relationship is built on, romantic or not, is solid communication skills.
Constructive communication is done calmly, respectfully, and honestly.
Dysfunctional communication, on the other hand, is characterized by spinning your wheels and getting more frustrated by the minute.
It seems no matter what you do or how hard you try, you just can’t get through to your person.
You feel not heard and even deliberately misunderstood. You guys are rehashing the same tired arguments repeatedly and getting nowhere.
You may find yourselves yelling at each other and name-calling like your relationship is a grade school playground. The mutual disrespect is glaringly obvious.
2) No respect
Without mutual respect, love cannot exist. Yes, it really is that simple.
If someone says that they love you but treats you like garbage, they are lying to you. Talk is cheap so always judge their behavior, not their words.
Love and respect are inseparable companions.
If you’re in a dysfunctional relationship, there’s usually a lack of mutual respect. Your feelings and opinions are not taken seriously.
You feel dismissed, inconsequential, and undesirable. Personal attacks are not only on the table but are frequent occurrences.
Criticism is a constant, and your partner may compare you negatively to other relationships they’ve had. Your happiness is not a priority to them anymore if it ever was.
They will embarrass you privately and in public, and everything (and I mean everything) is your fault.
3) Let’s play the blame game!
In a dysfunctional relationship, blaming is rampant. Some even elevate it to an art form, especially if they have narcissistic tendencies.
Instead of owning how a person contributes to the dysfunctional relationship patterns, they shift blame to their partner. They may believe it’s up to their partner to change and improve the relationship. They absolve themselves of any responsibility and might even cast themselves as the victim.
Most of the time (but not all), both partners contribute to the emotional turmoil savaging their relationship.
To correct the dysfunctional behaviors, both people need to be willing to put the work in and take responsibility for their unhealthy relationship patterns.
If both people in the relationship are open to doing that, there may be hope for them yet.
4) Born again virgin
When dysfunction overtakes a relationship, it’s no surprise that intimacy will suffer, and your emotional, mental, and physical connection will deteriorate before you can say “born again virgin.”
As replies to texts are fewer and far between and you no longer inquire how each other’s day went, the quality of your sex life also suffers.
This lack of intimacy points to the further deterioration of an already dysfunctional union. And odds are you both harbor resentment over it.
5) Simmering resentment levels
When your core needs aren’t being met over an extended period of time, resentment is bound to build up. This is actually a good thing. It’s your intuition warning you to pay attention as something is out of whack.
Resentment can indicate that you need to set boundaries to protect your emotional well-being. On the other hand, resentment can signal that your expectations might be a bit unrealistic and you need to reevaluate them.
So, when you feel resentment building up like a pressure cooker, it’s worth pausing to ask yourself a few questions :
- Which of my needs are not getting met in this relationship? Are my expectations realistic?
- Have I expressed my feelings to my partner effectively?
- And seriously, how did my glasses end up in the freezer again?
A good relationship rule of thumb is to give only what you can give without resentment. Seems like a no-brainer, but like everything else relationship-related, it’s usually easier said than done.
If you want to quell resentment, setting boundaries is a good place to start.
6) Boundaries? What boundaries?
A telling sign of a toxic relationship is that your boundaries are disrespected. When you tell your partner “no” in a dysfunctional relationship, they ignore you. They may even ridicule or shame you for it. The other person does what they want without factoring in your well-being, and you’re left feeling unheard and unloved.
Boundaries are protective mechanisms you need to have in place to ensure your emotional well-being. A lack of boundaries can add a lot of needless suffering to your life.
You, and you alone, are responsible for your emotional health. You need to be your own advocate and teach other people how to treat you. Setting clear boundaries and, more importantly, sticking to them, is a necessary part of that.
7) Oh no not you again
When negative interactions lead to emotional distress in a relationship, it’s pretty normal to not want to spend time together as a couple. Consciously or not, we all seek to minimize pain and maximize pleasure in our lives.
So once you’ve hit that point, you avoid being present with your person, both physically and emotionally. You could be staying later at work, scrolling nervously on your phone when you’re together, or even starting an emotional affair with an outside party.
In a happy, healthy, functional relationship, both people enjoy spending time together and prioritize each other. They consistently choose their partner as their primary person to hang out with.
If you’re not doing this, it’s time to stop and ask yourself why that is and what you can do about it.
Some people act like being in a romantic relationship is the be-all and end-all in life, when your relationship with yourself is far more important.
But you still want to find that relationship to complete you? Sorry. No one else can complete you, that’s your job.
But you can take charge of your emotional health, make better choices, work on your bad relationship habits, change your negative behavior patterns to constructive ones, and, in time, gradually create a life you love.