Ah, love. It’s that age-old emotion that poets, artists, and musicians can’t stop talking about.
Yet, for something so commonly sung about, it’s surprisingly hard to pinpoint.
True love should make you feel uplifted, understood, and cherished. But sometimes, what we mistake for love is a much darker emotion.
Here are some signs to help you discern whether that special someone’s love for you is genuinely wholesome or hiding toxic undertones.
1) They often make you doubt your feelings and thoughts
Isn’t love supposed to be about understanding and trust?
Well, it should be. But there have been moments in my life—and perhaps in yours too—where expressing an emotion or a thought was met with skepticism or trivialization.
Instead of feeling heard and understood, you’re left questioning your own perception. This isn’t just simple disagreement; it’s gaslighting.
It’s a manipulative tactic meant to make you doubt your reality. True love respects and values your feelings, even when there’s disagreement.
2) You feel drained more than you feel uplifted
I remember a relationship where, after every conversation, I felt like I’d just come out of an intense negotiation session, utterly spent and drained.
Love, the real kind, should be a source of support and energy. It’s like a refreshing drink of water on a hot day.
But toxic love? It’s more like quicksand, slowly pulling you in, and leaving you feeling depleted.
If your interactions more often drain you than rejuvenate you, it might be time to take a step back and reassess.
3) Your achievements are always overshadowed by their needs or issues
Picture this: you’ve just accomplished something you’re incredibly proud of.
Excitedly, you share the news, only to have it met with a dismissive response or overshadowed by your partner’s woes.
Love, in its purest form, is about celebrating each other’s successes. It thrives on mutual respect and admiration.
But if your partner can’t share your joy and instead consistently shifts the focus back onto themselves, it’s a warning sign.
Genuine love cheers from the sidelines, it doesn’t push you out of the spotlight.
4) They are extremely possessive or overly jealous
When I was younger, I mistook jealousy for love. I thought, “He gets jealous because he loves me so much.”
But as I grew, I realized that love isn’t about possession; it’s about appreciation.
If every male friend or colleague becomes a “threat” or if every night out without them turns into an interrogation, then that’s not love—it’s control.
Real love trusts, and while occasional jealousy is human, constant suspicion isn’t affection—it’s suffocation.
5) You find yourself walking on eggshells around them
Nobody is perfect, and everyone has their off days.
Although, if you constantly find yourself monitoring every word, suppressing your laughter, or second-guessing every action just to avoid setting them off, there’s an issue.
Love should make you feel free and accepted, not like you’re treading on a minefield.
When every day feels like a challenge not to upset your partner, that love becomes a cage rather than a comforting embrace.
6) They frequently remind you of your past mistakes
We all make mistakes—it’s part of being human.
Sometimes, though, things go out of hand.
In one of my past relationships, my errors were constantly thrown back in my face. Every disagreement spiraled into a highlight reel of my past blunders.
This isn’t what love is about. Love understands that people grow and change.
If someone keeps you tethered to your past instead of encouraging your growth, they’re not cherishing your future together.
7) Their love feels conditional
Studies have repeatedly shown that one of the cornerstones of a healthy relationship is unconditional love.
This doesn’t mean unconditional tolerance for bad behavior, but rather love that isn’t based on a checklist of conditions.
If you find that affection or kindness from your partner seems contingent on your behavior, appearance, or achievements, it’s a sign of conditional love.
For instance, in a past relationship of mine, I felt a palpable shift in my partner’s demeanor if I didn’t conform to certain expectations.
This made me feel more like an actor in a play than a genuine partner.
8) There’s a significant lack of communication
Research emphasizes time and again that open communication is the backbone of any thriving relationship.
Toxic love often thrives in silence or in the unsaid. If you’re afraid to bring up concerns or feel like there’s a lack of transparency in your relationship, it’s a red flag.
Healthy love thrives on openness, on the ability to share fears, dreams, and insecurities without the fear of retribution or ridicule.
9) You’re isolated from friends and family
A hallmark sign of toxic relationships, supported by numerous studies, is the deliberate isolation from friends and family.
If your partner discourages or prevents you from spending time with your loved ones or constantly criticizes them, it’s a tactic to increase your dependency on them.
True love recognizes the importance of other loving relationships in your life and encourages those bonds.
10) You feel constantly criticized
Constructive feedback is one thing, but relentless criticism is a whole different story.
In healthy relationships, partners elevate each other, focusing on strengths while tenderly addressing weaknesses.
But in toxic relationships, there’s a persistent pattern of pointing out flaws, belittling, or making the other person feel inadequate.
I remember being with someone who criticized everything, from the way I spoke to the food I cooked.
Instead of feeling loved, I felt perpetually under scrutiny. It’s a profound difference when feedback comes from a place of love versus a place of dominance.
11) You’ve lost your sense of self
Genuine love should celebrate individuality. In thriving relationships, partners bring out the best in each other, cheering for personal growth and ambitions.
But in toxic scenarios, one might feel like they’re fading away, losing their passions, dreams, or even their sense of self. It’s as if the relationship becomes a fog that clouds personal identity.
If you find yourself looking in the mirror and not recognizing the person staring back, or missing the old “you,” it’s worth considering if the relationship is enriching or diminishing you.
12) Your gut instinct keeps sounding alarms
While we often delve deep into research and reason, there’s something innate about human intuition.
It’s that indescribable gut feeling that something is amiss, even if you can’t put your finger on it.
Trusting our intuition is a lesson I learned the hard way. In one relationship, despite all the smiles and sweet words, something deep down kept tugging at me, hinting that all wasn’t right.
Eventually, the masks fell, and the truth emerged.
Sometimes, our subconscious picks up on toxic signs before our conscious mind does. It’s essential to listen to that inner voice.
How does love become toxic?
Unresolved past traumas
Everyone brings their own baggage into a relationship.
Sometimes, unresolved traumas from the past (like childhood experiences or past relationship hurts) can unintentionally seep into the present relationship.
For instance, someone who experienced abandonment might become overly possessive or mistrusting.
Differing communication styles
As time goes on, the initial euphoria of love can give way to the reality of day-to-day life.
Couples might discover they have vastly different ways of communicating, leading to misunderstandings and feelings of disconnect.
Financial difficulties, health issues, or pressures from work can strain any relationship.
Instead of turning to each other for support, couples might end up taking out their frustrations on one another.
Neglect and complacency
Love needs nurturing. As the days become months and years, there’s a risk of taking love for granted.
The once passionate, attentive partners may become distant or neglectful, breeding resentment.
Healthy relationships respect boundaries.
But sometimes, these lines get blurred, and what was once a harmless tease becomes a consistent disrespect or violation of personal space.
Often, couples enter relationships with a set of spoken or unspoken expectations. Over time, if these aren’t met or addressed, it can lead to disillusionment and bitterness.
Is toxic love still love?
In my younger days, I would often romanticize the whole concept of love, viewing it through rose-tinted glasses.
I believed that love, even with its imperfections, was always pure and genuine. But as the years went by and experiences piled up, my understanding evolved.
At its core, love is an emotion of warmth, understanding, and connection. Yet, it’s possible for this emotion to get entangled with other, more damaging feelings and patterns.
So when love becomes toxic, it’s often not just love you’re dealing with, but a complex mix of fear, possession, dependency, or even ego.
One could argue that toxic love is still love, but it’s like a beautiful river polluted with contaminants.
The pure, nourishing water is still there, but it’s mixed with elements that make it harmful.
In my personal journey, I’ve realized that the most profound love is the one where you love and respect yourself first.
Only then can you truly love someone else in a healthy, uplifting way.
If love harms, belittles, or stifles, it might be time to step back and reassess. Because everyone deserves a love that heals, not hurts.