Humans are social creatures, and most of us seek comfort and belonging through human relationships and connection. Through our lifetimes, we may experience amazing relationships and also unhealthy, volatile ones. But because our relationships tend to be important to us and we crave that connection, we sometimes are blinded from the signs and behaviors that may be telling us that we are in a toxic relationship or situation. Although it’s difficult to tell when we are in a toxic relationship, it can be even more difficult to get ourselves out of that situation. In Melanie Curtin’s article, 7 Signs you’re in a Toxic Relationship, seven different markers that point to toxicity in a relationship are explored. This blog post will reflect on Curtin’s article and offer tools for managing these difficult behaviors.
The first marker of toxicity that Curtin discusses is passive aggressive behavior. Passive aggression can take many forms, but one example of this behavior is when you ask your friend or partner “what’s wrong?” (because you can tell by their body language that they are upset or tense over something), and they respond with the silent treatment or do other punishing-like behaviors towards you. If you notice someone in your life constantly shutting down your advances to communicate on important issues, it’s possible that this individual is exhibiting toxic behavior. Try to notice when this person is being passive aggressive and express to them that this is something that is bothering you. If they continue to avoid you or this conversation, perhaps it’s time to think about where you want to channel your energy and if this person or issue is worth the effort.
Volatility is the second behavior that indicates toxicity in a relationship. A relationship that is volatile tends to have extremely high highs and extremely low lows, and these extremes tend to repeat themselves. These extreme behaviors tend to be unpredictable, and unpredictability causes stress and it’s a threat to your emotional safety in the relationship. The third toxic behavior that Curtin explores is belittling comments that are brushed off as “jokes”. These subtle insults and belittling comments that are delivered by toxic people aim to make their victim look stupid or seem like they are overreacting. If you notice this happening in your relationship(s), call it out and ask your partner or friend to stop this behavior. If confrontation is not a good option for you, recognize how these comments make you feel and do not internalize them or take them personally. Think of other ways to get out of this situation or relationship.
The fourth marker of toxicity is feeling like you’re walking on eggshells all the time. If you are constantly worrying about or trying to predict what is going to make your partner or friend angry, this could be indicating that you’re in a toxic relationship. Curtin identifies the fifth marker for toxicity as “you feel like you have to ask permission”. Curtin acknowledges that relationships, particularly romantic relationships, require compromise. However, if you feel like you need to constantly ask your partner for permission, even for small things such as making plans with friends, this may be unhealthy.
Constant exhaustion is the sixth indicator for toxicity that Curtin explores. Keeping up with your toxic friend or partner’s mood swings and volatile, unpredictable behavior will ultimately lead you to exhaustion. If you notice feeling constant fatigue that’s related to your relationship, consider taking time apart from that person. Take a breather and reflect on some of the issues that are making you exhausted from the relationship. Ask yourself maintaining the relationship is worth the toll that it takes on your mind and body. The final behavior that the author discusses is “becoming isolated”. Exhaustion leads to the possibility of you losing motivation to spend time with other loved ones in your life. If your partner or friend discourages you from spending time with other people, take this as a red flag.
Curtin writes that the first step to getting out of a toxic relationship is to first recognize and acknowledge that there is a problem. If you’re having difficulty navigating a toxic relationship and what to do about it, therapy may be helpful for you. Contact Symmetry Counseling to get connected with one of our talented clinicians.