Let’s face it, no relationship is perfect. Both you and your partner are flawed humans and slipping up every now and again is okay. You get angry, say something you don’t mean, and hopefully at the end of it you apologize and try to do better. But one the flip side, there are those who treat their partners in ways that are seriously problematic…
Toxic behaviors, which we will detail below, are red flags. A toxic relationship can be draining mentally, emotionally and physically, and can even affect your finances. But one of the terrifying things about these relationships is that it can be tricky to spot the warning signs – and, let’s be honest, sometimes we ignore them.
According to Leanne Burroughs, a registered counselor, criminologist and educator at the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP), one of the reasons we may turn a blind eye to our partner’s abusive behavior is fear. “Fear could impair judgement. Fear of being alone, fear of rejection and fear of the unknown. It obstructs us from moving forward and may keep us in the very relationship that is poisoning us,” she says. Here, she breaks down three tricky-to-spot toxic behaviors that should have you questioning if you’re with the right person.
BLAME SHIFTING: “IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU”
If something goes wrong in your relationship, even if it’s completely out of your control, it’s somehow always your fault. But when things go amazingly well, your partner takes all the credit. You’re made to feel worthless, like you and your efforts aren’t good enough – and that without your partner, you would never be a success.
Specifically, your partner doesn’t take responsibility for their own actions. For example, they tell you if you didn’t nag so much, maybe they wouldn’t need to yell at you. Instead of taking responsibility for their emotions and reactions, it becomes about you causing them to react negatively. Relationships like these are extremely draining as they eat away at your self-esteem and self-worth, explains Burroughs.
We’re all guilty of the occasional half-truth – kinda the truth, kinda not. But in a toxic relationship, your partner will often tell you half-truths. So, only details that are beneficial to their story are shared and used as explanations. For example, you couldn’t get hold of your other half one evening. Finally, the next day, when you do hear from them, they mention that they were at home. And that’s the end of the story. The fact is, they were at home, but later on they went to a bar on the other side of town, hooked up with some other people and stayed out all night.
So, technically, the truth was told, but the majority of it was conveniently omitted. “Truth is the foundation of a healthy relationship. When trust is broken, it can take a long time to repair… Even omitting, should it come out, would shake the foundation of trust,” says Burroughs.
ABUSIVE LANGUAGE: STICKS AND STONES
This is probably one of the more obvious signs of a problem, but it’s also one we tend to dismiss as them “being in a bad mood”. Your partner may use derogative, negative words towards you. It could be as subtle as comparing you to someone else – for example, “Did you see how great Jane is? Why can’t you be like her?” Or it could be way more obvious, like saying, “You’re useless and broken – no one will ever want you.” Either way, their words are meant to hurt you, but still keep you around so they can continue to manipulate you.
The sad thing is that the more you hear these negative words, the more you believe it. You actually start to believe that you are useless and broken, and that you’ll never find someone else – none of which is true. “There’s power in the word. You hear it enough and it becomes the way you think about yourself, your thoughts become your words and eventually direct your behavior,” explains Burroughs.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP
Any relationship – not just a romantic relationship – that exhibits these behaviors is not healthy and should be dealt with. Burroughs suggests making an appointment with a counselor or psychologist, who can assist you through the process, and ultimately help you decide if a relationship is worth saving or not. Also, talk to someone, a friend or family member, who can support you through the ups and downs.
Remember, healing is hard, but worth it. You deserve to be surrounded by people who love and value you. Perhaps most importantly, you need to love and value yourself – enough to cut toxic people out of your life.