Most of us have been through a bad relationship at some point in our lives, but when a relationship is really bad it’s known as toxic. A toxic relationship is recognizable by the fact that one individual is benefiting from the relationship while the other is hindered by it. Toxicity in a relationship differs from other relationship problems because it is caused by one individual alone, and it is not something that can be worked through or “fixed”. Toxic individuals create toxic relationships so that they can thrive off of the emotional energy of their partner. Unfortunately, most toxic relationships are difficult to spot while we’re in them. If they were, we’d never get into them in the first place. Here are some signs to watch out for if you think you may have a toxic partner.
7) They view the relationship as a transaction
Narcissistic people are not capable of loving unconditionally. They will consider everything they do for you to be part of a trade. Don’t expect a good birthday present from them if what you got them for their birthday wasn’t up to their standards. Keep an eye out for this early in the relationship when they will likely subscribe to the idea that paying for a date means you owe them sex, or that “giving” you sex means you have to pay for dates.
6) They are selfish lovers
Does your partner check in with you during sex? Do they ask you if you are enjoying what they are doing? When you suggest something, are they willing or even eager to try it? Do they respect your boundaries? When they don’t want to try something you suggest, do they tell you in a way that is non-judgemental? If so you have a giving lover. But if they don’t listen to what you want, focus on their own pleasure above yours all the time, pressure you into things you don’t want, or call your desires weird, that’s a selfish lover and a toxic partner.
5) They are straight up abusive
Not all abuse is physical, and it comes in two parts. First comes the part where they hurt you, and then the part where they soothe you. Toxic people know that they can’t be selfish all the time if they want to keep an intelligent person around. They are very good judges of just how much poor treatment a person will take before realizing they are in a toxic relationship. This is why a toxic partner will “put in time” being nice to you to keep you from realizing that they actually don’t care about you. They might buy you a nice present, make you dinner, or watch the movie you want to watch, then once you are feeling secure and confident in your relationship, they can start being selfish or hurting you again. They know that if you always have a recent example of a small kindness they did you, you will give them the benefit of believing they are just a normal, complex individual with changing moods instead of the calculating sociopath they really are.
4) They want to be the leader
The old adage “if you’re not a leader you’re a follower” is a simplistic dichotomy, and not actually true. Humans are complex animals and while it may be easy to imagine a society or relationship that operates by having one person make all the decisions while everyone else supports that person, the truth is that most people’s social and relationship roles fluctuate depending on the circumstances. Empathetic people are in tune with their partner or group and they can sense and decide when to take a leadership role and when to take a supportive role. In fact, empathetic people won’t even see it in terms of leadership and support, they just figure out how they can best serve the common purpose at hand and do it. Toxic individuals see the world in terms of leaders and followers and they always have to be the leader. To them, it is more important to feel that they are in control of every situation than it is to build a trusting, equal partnership.
3) They are overly competitive
If your partner gets really into sports or enjoys a bit of rousing internet discourse, that’s just fine. A little competition is healthy as long as the competitors stay in control of themselves. But toxic people will make everything into a competition. Because it is important to them that they be powerful, it is also important to them that they be “the best” at everything in the relationship. If they can outdo you at any task or activity, they will, and they will belittle as a whole any activity that they cannot best you at. Do you like to paint? If they can paint too, they will try to compete with you, if they can’t paint, they will tell you that art is stupid.
2) They are negative about everything, not just your relationship
One tactic toxic people use to keep you down is general negativity. Even the most optimistic person can be drained of their spirit with the application of a constant strain of exterior pessimism. If your partner refuses to get excited about events and focuses on the flaws of every situation, it may be their way of bringing you down so that you are easier to control. If they can suck the fun out of your life, you’ll be too busy feeling sad to notice how toxic the relationship is. Don’t judge your partner too quickly on this point though. If they are negative and they fit a few more points on this list, chances are they are a toxic individual. But if general negativity is the only entry on this list that fits your partner, they may actually be very depressed and in need of support.
1) They value what you represent for them but they don’t value you.
For toxic people, status is everything – and they often see having a romantic partner as a way to gain status. It’s a way of projecting an image of desirability. Does your partner refer to you in conversation with others as “my partner/girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse” instead of by your name, even when the people they are talking to know who you are? Do they post lots of pics with you on social media but always frame themselves as the main subject? It’s okay to be proud of your relationships, but if your partner doesn’t show any interest in you or your needs when you are alone together and if you feel more like an accessory than a member of a partnership, you may be in a toxic relationship.
Identifying and breaking out of toxic relationships can be difficult. If you need help, reach out to friends, family, and mental health organizations in your community who can offer you a support system. Often individuals who are labelled “toxic” have narcissistic personality disorder and without help from a therapist there is little chance they will change, though it is possible. This doesn’t mean that you have to keep a toxic partner in your life or try to help them, especially if you feel threatened or abused in the relationship. Check out these sources for more information on mental health and narcissistic personality disorder.