It’s no secret that emotions can cloud our better judgment. When we fall in love, it’s common to idealize our partner, ignore red flags, and overlook the telling details that indicate we’re not a good match.
As a result, it’s almost impossible to be objective about your own relationship. At some point, you might ask yourself: Is this connection healthy or unhealthy? Sometimes it can be hard to draw the line between normal ups and downs and signs of incompatibility.
Interestingly, the tendency to be involved in toxic relationships stems from our childhood. We unconsciously seek out the types of connections we had when we were young, so if you had negative relationships growing up, it’s likely that you have repeated that pattern into adulthood.
“The tendency to unconsciously seek out toxic relationships frequently starts with past negative experiences when we are children and might carry on throughout our lives,” says Rosemary K.M. Sword, counselor and time perspective therapist. “The toxic person in our lives (and maybe it’s us), is generally concerned about themselves and their needs; the relationship is classic codependent.”
At the start of the New Year, we’re all committed to self-improvement, which includes getting rid of what—or who—is holding us back. Here are five warning signs of an unhealthy relationship:
1. Your partner brings out your worst qualities.
When you’re in a stable and healthy relationship, you’re generally happier, and that positive energy usually overflows into other aspects of your life, such as your career, your friendships, and most importantly, your relationship with yourself.
Dr. Kristin Davin, Psy.D., explains that when you are in a toxic relationship, “you don’t feel free to speak your mind. You feel like you have to put on a different face just to be accepted by that person.”
When you can’t be your authentic self, it’s emotionally draining. A healthy relationship should make you feel fulfilled, while a toxic one leaves something to be desired.
“You realize you don’t even recognize yourself anymore, and neither do your closest friends and family,” Davin adds.
2. There is a constant power struggle.
When you argue, does it seem like your partner is focused on winning rather than on resolving the conflict? Instead of approaching the situation with compassion and empathy, does your partner seem more concerned with being in control?
If you’re concerned about the balance of power in your relationship, it can be helpful to imagine your relationship as a seesaw, says Suzanne Lachmann, Psy.D.
“If both partners understand their power (or are empowered), the seesaw stays relatively level and balanced,” Lachmann explains. “But if one person in the relationship has brought in a feeling of powerlessness, he or she may try to compensate by baring down on the seesaw, shifting his or her weight, and perpetually uprooting, destabilizing, ungrounding his or her partner on the other side.”
3. You have contrasting communication styles.
When you get in an argument, is your natural reaction to walk away or to fix the issue at hand? A toxic partner typically ignores problems, or refuses to discuss them. If you’re more passive and prefer to process your emotions alone, but your partner is assertive and needs to get everything out in the air immediately, it will be a challenge to sustain a healthy connection. In some cases, assertiveness can become aggressiveness and may be hurtful to the person on the receiving end.
“Attempting to hurt someone with words is not the way to resolve conflict or communicate hurt feelings,” says Keri Nola, holistic psychotherapist and bestselling author. “Problems usually escalate quickly when name-calling is present and it makes it especially difficult to create intimacy and connection in the relationship.”
4. Your partner is prone to irrational and frequent displays of jealousy.
Some people mistake jealousy for a sign of being loving and caring, but it’s often the mask for someone who is controlling and possessive. It also indicates a lack of trust, which is essential to maintaining a healthy connection.
“Jealous behavior is a way of saying, ‘You must prove you won’t hurt me too. Until then I’m going to watch you very closely.’ But it’s impossible for anyone to prove what they won’t do — and unfair to expect them to try,” eHarmony experts report. “Here’s a better approach: ‘You are free to be yourself. I will trust you until you give me a reason not to.’”
5. You feel bad about yourself when you’re around your partner.
A healthy, loving relationship is filled with support and encouragement, not criticism and contempt.
“Signs of criticism and contempt may appear as your partner distastefully making fun of you. One female client of mine would tell her husband he was sexually inadequate in response to him criticizing her excessive spending habits,” says Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. “To experience the one you love, or once loved, ripping you with incessant fault-finding barrages is highly demoralizing and emotionally unhealthy.”
If you’re in a constant state of anxiety around your partner and feel like you can never do anything right, that’s one of the biggest signs that your relationship is dysfunctional.
It can be hard to be objective about our own relationships, but it’s important to be honest and admit if you’ve noticed red flags that indicate a toxic relationship. Overall, if your partner isn’t making you feel like the best version of yourself, it may be time to ditch the destructive relationship in favor of a fresh start for 2015.
Have you ever been in a relationship that meets these criteria? Do you think these signs accurately predict that your relationship is toxic? Tell us in the comments!