Words are powerful. But also, words are cheap.
Someone can so easily say they love you, yet their actions belie it. In fact, they could actually be downright toxic.
How do you know then?
As someone who’s bought into sweet I-love-yous but had to put up with toxic behaviors in the past, I’d love to offer some guidance.
Here are 10 signs you’re in a toxic relationship, regardless of how often your partner assures you they love you:
1) Constant criticism
I’ve always believed that a healthy relationship should bring out the best in you. Should help you be a better version of yourself.
That’s why at first, I was okay with my ex’s “gentle suggestions for improvement”. He’d make comments on my wardrobe or my taste in movies or the way I laughed.
These suggestions were often followed by, “I only want you to do better because I love you.” And for a while, I trusted in that.
Eventually, though, the criticism became constant, and it took on a harsher tone. And it happened so subtly that I didn’t realize I’d become a self-doubter.
The truth is, constant criticism from your partner can erode your self-esteem. You start to accept the message that you’re not enough.
That’s how you can tell it has become toxic. Because when you think about it, how can you believe that they truly love you if they keep trying to put you down or change you?
In contrast, I’m now with someone who isn’t exactly liberal with the I-love-yous, but is perfectly happy with who I am. And wow, it’s so refreshing to be loved like that!
2) Lack of support
Another sign that you’re in a toxic relationship even if your partner says they love you is if you feel unsupported.
Constant criticism can do that. So can neglect and dismissiveness.
Someone who truly loves you will celebrate your successes and pick you up when you’re down. You’ll feel like you’re part of a team, which is exactly how a healthy relationship should feel.
If you don’t feel that way, then chances are, your partner isn’t as loving as they present themselves to be.
3) Jealousy and possessiveness
What if your partner is “too loving”? To the point of getting jealous and possessive at the slightest hint that you have a life outside of them?
That’s another sign of a toxic relationship.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that their jealousy is a sign that they care. My ex was the jealous type, and I admit to feeling flattered at first. I remember thinking that he just loves me so much that he can’t bear to be away from me.
It felt good to be wanted. To be missed so badly.
Well, the joke was on me and my ego.
Because over time, it became suffocating and completely squeezed the joy out of our relationship. I found myself making excuses for absolutely harmless things like a text from a coworker or a friend meeting me for lunch.
I hate to be the bearer of ugly truths, but possessiveness is simply a sign of a controlling nature.
It’s natural for partners to care about who we spend our time with, but when they feel like they own us…that’s a sign that it has crossed into toxicity.
You’re a fully grown adult, not a child who needs to be monitored. A partner with your best interests at heart understands that and gives you the freedom to live your life, even if it means being away from them.
4) Isolation from friends and family
This is a natural consequence of being with a controlling partner. With all of those restrictions and guilt-tripping, you’ll get less and less time to spend with the other people who matter to you.
It’s toxic when you let this happen for the sake of keeping the peace.
Actually, that’s all the sign you need – when you’re with someone who truly loves you, you shouldn’t feel the need to sacrifice your own well-being just to keep the peace.
Which brings me to my next point…
5) Unreciprocated effort
Are you always the one making sacrifices? Do you find yourself giving more than you receive?
Your relationship might not be just unbalanced. If this has gone on too long, it could already be toxic.
It’s totally normal for our partners to have off days, and definitely, giving them a little grace for those times is healthy.
The problem is when there seems to be a pattern of unreciprocated effort. They might say they love you, and yet do nothing to make you feel that way.
In case you need reminding, the ultimate measure of love is actions, not words.
I’ve been one-half of a partnership that didn’t really feel like a partnership because I was always the only one making a real effort.
And let me tell you, eventually words mean nothing if they’re not backed by action.
6) Disrespect for boundaries
Even with couples who are 100% committed to each other, boundaries are important.
In fact, I’d say that respecting each other’s boundaries is a major reason why their partnership is healthy.
You see, boundaries do a lot for us, both as individuals and as couples. They help:
- Reduce codependency
- Keep our self-respect and sense of autonomy strong
- Set expectations and responsibilities in the relationship
- Ensure that we’re comfortable, both physically and emotionally
When those aren’t clear, it’s so easy for the relationship to become imbalanced in one partner’s favor. And the other partner is then left feeling disrespected and taken advantage of.
In fact, constant disregard for boundaries can easily lead to…
7) Physical or emotional abuse
There’s perhaps no other glaring sign of a toxic relationship as this one.
Let’s face it – physical or emotional abuse has no place in love. Yet, too many of us make room for it because, well, “they said they love me!”
Isn’t it strange how much power those three words – “I love you” – hold? They can make us believe anything, even when there’s so much evidence to the contrary!
Look, whatever sweet nothings your partner says, tune in to your heart. And realize this – love is not supposed to hurt. It’s not supposed to make you feel unsafe.
It’s supposed to heal. Lift. Empower.
If you find yourself justifying behavior from your partner that you would condemn in others, it’s time to stop and reflect. And possibly, to walk away.
No one should ever have to stay in an environment that puts their body and mind at risk.
Speaking of emotional abuse leads me to talk about manipulation, which is so prevalent that it deserves its own section.
You see, manipulation is sneaky, and thus very hard to detect in relationships.
For me, I mistook it for compromise. I thought that agreeing to things I wasn’t comfortable with was part of the normal give-and-take of relationships.
Unfortunately, my ex had some serious manipulation skills. There was a lot of guilt-tripping, gaslighting, comparisons with other people, all the tricks that manipulators use to stay in control.
It took a while for me to catch on – that’s how it is when you’re in the clutches of a manipulator. It’s hard to see straight with all the threads of misdirection blocking the way.
If you suspect you’re being manipulated, I’d suggest removing yourself from the situation. Get some distance so you can gain some clarity.
It takes a while for you to learn how to trust your judgment (and sanity) again and gain back your self-worth.
9) A cycle of apologies but zero change
So, let’s say, to your partner’s credit, they know how to apologize. Should that be enough?
Not so fast. Just like love, the true measure of regret is actions. Real change.
“I’m sorry” is just as easy to say as “I love you”. But to truly change and do better? Only someone who really loves you would be willing to do that.
If your partner doesn’t, then sadly, you might be in a toxic relationship. Because ultimately, apologies just become another manipulation tool to keep you quiet.
10) Constant stress and anxiety
Finally, what does your relationship feel like, overall?
Honestly, even though your mind might not be able to pinpoint what exactly is wrong in your relationship, your heart can. Your gut can.
So, tune in to how you feel. If you feel like you’re always walking on eggshells, and you’re always worried about something, those are red flags you shouldn’t ignore.
Even if your partner says they love you.
I’ll say it again – a healthy relationship should feel like a safe space. Loving someone shouldn’t put you in a persistent state of worry or discomfort.
With the right person, you’ll feel a consistent and reliable source of comfort and support, not an emotional rollercoaster.
So, ask yourself – “Does this relationship bring me peace or stress?”
The answer to that should tell you everything you need to know.