I try to be healthy (though as a chip-aficionado, it doesn’t always pan out). I “sweat out” toxins in hot yoga, I buy nontoxic, BPA-free water bottles, and I spend $4 on organic avocados. (JK re: avocados, haven’t sold out that badly.) But what does “toxic” even mean? Mildly unhealthy? Straight poisonous? We throw the term “toxic” around when it comes to relationships, but what are the actual signs you’re in a toxic relationship? Must there be actual physical or emotional abuse, or is a toxic relationship simply a broken relationship that hinders you from growing?
I think it’s important to acknowledge the different levels of toxicity in partnerships before identifying the signs that you might be in one. First, if you are being physically harmed by your partner, your relationship has crossed the toxic threshold and is dangerous, and you should get help immediately. (The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great resource.) Second, if your partner is constantly putting you down or emotionally abusing you, you might not realize it, but you are in dangerous territory.
Let’s call a spade a spade: A truly toxic relationship is any relationship that is not healthy — to any degree. Healthy things help you grow, healthy things make you stronger, and healthy things make you feel good about yourself. Experts Monica Parikh, of School of Love NYC and Dr. LeslieBeth Wish of lovevictory.com weigh in on three signs you are in a toxic relationship and should get out immediately:
1. Your Partner Is Controlling
A controlling partner initially feels like a loving partner. Oh, they’re jealous when you are out with single people? Of course they are. They know you are special and will be hit on by all of the cuties. A partner’s desire to keep you around and snuggle you rather than encourage you to go out with friends sounds like a person who is super into you, not necessarily a person who wants to control you, right?
Parikh explains that a controlling partner will often start by encouraging you to stick around in subtle ways. “[They] may not like your best friend. [They] may even complain you talk to your family too often,” says Parikh. “The goal is to isolate you from your support network, making you an easy target for emotional manipulation and abuse.” So maybe your partner doesn’t forbid you from going out with your BFFs, but they offer a cooler work event where Cardi B is performing that you can accompany them to instead.
Another sign that your partner is controlling is if they feel entitled to know what you are up to at all times. “A controlling partner may feel entitled to have access to your email, phone, or internet history,” Parikh explains. This suggests a deep insecurity on the part of your partner. This is an unhealthy relationship.
2. You Prioritize Your Partner’s Wants And Needs
Early in a relationship, putting your partner first seems like the healthy thing to do. Compromises are necessary when two people enter into a partnership, and some imbalance in whose needs are being met more than the other’s is bound to happen. However, if you are constantly expected to rearrange your life around your partner’s, and you don’t expect the same flexibility from them, you should take a closer look at that is happening.
Dr. Wish explains that partners in toxic relationships often suffer from “Death By 1,000 Accommodations.” If you are constantly rearranging your schedule to match that of your partner’s, you’re not taking care of yourself. If your partner expects you to be there for them at the drop of a hat, while rarely going out of their way for you, there’s a power dynamic at play that is unhealthy at best. It’s very possible to be in a relationship and maintain your independent interests and lifestyles.
3. You Make Excuses For Your Partner
“In a healthy relationship, you don’t make excuses to yourself or others about your partner,” says Dr. Wish. This should be the golden rule of healthy relationships. If you find yourself explaining your partner’s actions, or bending the truth to your friends a bit, you should look at your relationship closer.
Let’s say your partner goes out, gets drunk, and doesn’t come home one night. You cry to your friend about it, and she is genuinely worried about you. When your partner does come home and explains what happened, you forgive them. When your friend checks in with you, maybe you find yourself making up excuses for your partner’s actions — but even if they weren’t cheating, they scared you. Are you making excuses because deep down you know you should be treated you better?
I’m going to get totally cheesy, but very real, and remind you that you get one life to live, and it flies by. You work hard to take care of your own health (you know, with a side of weekend nachos and beer), and you should value yourself in whatever relationships you are in. You may have experiences from your family, your childhood, or your past relationships that will make it hard to identify whether you are in a loving relationship, or a toxic one. They can feel similar, and abusive partner’s may even say “I hurt you because I love you so much.”
If you or a friend is in immediate danger, please use the National Domestic Violence Hotline as a resource. If you are not in physical danger, but you are in a relationship where you don’t feel like you are growing, your partner is limiting you, and you are constantly making your SO the priority, you should talk to a family member, friend, or therapist about what steps you can take to adjust your partnership accordingly, or let the relationship go. Remember, “you is smart, you is kind, you is important” and your partner should treat you that way.
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