How To Know Your Relationship is Struggling (or toxic) and When It’s Best to Let It Go
No relationship is perfect, whether it's romantic, platonic or in the business sphere. A good relationship makes you feel happy, secure, respected and free to be yourself. However, a toxic relationship is like a car without gas: you can stay in it all you want, but it wont go anywhere. It can make you drained, depleted and sometimes even distraught. Even the strongest and healthiest and most independent people can find themselves in the white-knuckled grip of a toxic relationship. Likewise, relationships that may begin strong because “omg I think they’re the one you guys! We’re soooo in love” can turn into nothing but ashes and legal fees that could have been used to get a castle on the river or a trip to Milan, with a first class and five-star hotel of course.
Occasionally, most relationships evolve. They change and they grow. Sometimes they blossom but otherwise, they crash and they burn. We never know how things will look when each other’s less adorable, kind of awful habits and quirks start to show themselves publicly, or under the influence of alcohol or in-laws.
We love love and we know you do too. Love sends us to cloud-nine, lofty heights that we never want to come down from, but the same heart that can send us into a loved-up euphoria can trip us up and have us falling into something more toxic.
What is a toxic relationship?
A toxic relationship stains your self-esteem, your happiness and the way you see yourself and the world. A toxic person will float through life with a trail of broken hearts, broken relationships and broken people behind them, but toxic relationships don’t necessarily end up that way because the person you fell for turned out to be a toxic one. Anyone can be toxic without realising and proper communication, even you. Relationships can start healthy, but bad feelings, bad history, or long-term unmet needs can fester, polluting the relationship and changing the people in it. It can happen easily and quickly, and it can happen to the strongest people. This does not limit to romantic relationships but also includes platonic or even your workplace bubble.
Can you fix it?
All relationships are worth the fight, until they’re not. In a toxic relationship there will always be fallout.
What are the signs that I’m toxic or in a toxic relationship?
Being aware that the relationship is toxic is vital in protecting yourself from breakage. To stay in a toxic relationship is to keep your hand hovering over the self-destruct button. Not all toxic relationships are easy to leave, but being aware of the signs will make it easier to claim back your power and draw a bold heavy line around what’s allowed into your life and what gets closed out.
Toxic behaviour exists on a spectrum. All people and all relationships do some of these things some of the time – but that doesn’t make them toxic. A toxic relationship is defined by the consistency, the intensity and the damage. Here are some of the signs.
It feels bad. All the time.
You fall asleep hollow and you wake up just as bad. You look at other couples doing their happy couple thing and you feel the sting. Why couldn’t that sort of love happen for you? It can, but first you have to clear the path for it to find you. Leaving a relationship is never easy, but staying for too long in a toxic relationship will make sure any strength, courage and confidence in you is eroded down to nothing. Once that happens, you’re stuck.
You’re constantly braced for traps, aka being constantly gaslighted.
Sometimes you can see it coming. Sometimes you wouldn’t see it if it was lit with stadium floodlights. Questions become traps. “Well would you rather go out with your friends or stay home with me?” Statements become traps. “You seemed to enjoy talking to your friend tonight.” The relationship is a jungle and somewhere along the way you’ve turned into a haunted predator in a skin suit. When the ‘gotcha’ comes, there’s no forgiveness, just the glory of catching you out. It’s impossible to move forward from this. Everyone makes mistakes, but yours are used as proof that you’re too uninvested, too wrong, too stupid, too something. The only thing you really are is too good to be treated like this.
You avoid saying what you need because there’s no point.
We all have important needs in any relationship. Those include connection, validation, appreciation, love, sex, affection. When those needs are mocked or ignored, the emptiness of that unmet need will clamour like an old church bell. If your attempts to talk about what you need could end in a fight, empty promise, accusations of neediness, insecurity, jealousy or madness you’ll either bury the need or resent that it keeps being overlooked. Either way, it’s toxic.
There’s minimal to no effort.
Standing on a dance floor doesn’t make you a dancer, and being physically present in a relationship doesn’t mean there is an investment being made in that relationship. Doing things separately sometimes is healthy, but as with all healthy things, moderation is best and when things are too much, it can be harmful for you. When there is no effort to love you, spend time with you, share the things that are important to you, the relationship stops giving and starts taking too much. There comes a point that the only way to respond to ‘Well I’m here, aren’t I?’ is, ‘Yeah. But maybe better if you weren’t.’
All the work, love, compromise comes from you.
Balance is key to achieve any mutually respectful relationship. Nobody can hold a relationship together when they are the only one doing the work. It’s lonely and it’s exhausting. If you’re not able to leave the relationship, give what you need to give but don’t give any more than that. Let go of the fantasy that you can make things better if you try hard enough, work hard enough, say enough, do enough. Stop. Just stop. You’re enough. You always have been.
The score card. Let me show you how wrong you are and how right I am.
One of the things that make us human is making mistakes. Commonly, from there, we get up, we learn and move on. That is how we grow and find out the people who don’t deserve us. Even the most loving, committed partners could do hurtful and stupid things sometimes. When those things are brought up over and over, it will slowly kill even the healthiest relationship and keep the ‘guilty’ person small. At some point, there has to be a decision to move on or move out. Having shots continually fired at you based on history is a way to control, shame and manipulate. Healthy relationships nurture your strengths. Toxic ones focus only on your weaknesses and not your potential and growth.
Physical or verbal abuse. Or both.
These are deal-breakers. You know they are. Do we really need to say more? If you are experiencing these abuse, run. Get out. And if things get overwhelming for you to be doing alone, and you feel unsafe to get away, you can contact the Women Aid Organisation (WAO) or any local authorities.
WAO Hotline: +603 7956 3488 (24 hours)
SMS/WhatsApp TINA: +6018 988 8058 (24 hours)
Talian Nur by JKM: 15999
Too much passive-aggressive.
Passive-aggressive behaviour is an indirect attack and a cowardly move for control. The toxicity lies in stealing your capacity to respond and for issues to be dealt with directly. The attack is subtle and often disguised as something else, such as anger disguised as indifference ‘whatever’ or ‘I’m fine’; manipulation disguised as permission ‘I’ll just stay at home by myself while you go out and have fun since you want to go out so much’ and the worst – a villain disguised as a hero, “You seem really tired baby. We don’t have to go out tonight. You just stay in and cook yourself some dinner and I’ll have a few drinks with Yeri by myself. She’s been a mess since the cruise was postponed.” You know the action or the behaviour was designed to manipulate you or hurt you, because you can feel the scrape, but it’s not obvious enough to respond to the real issue. If it’s worth getting upset about, it’s worth talking about, but passive-aggressive behaviour shuts down any possibility of this.
Nothing gets resolved.
Every relationship will have its issues. In a toxic relationship, nothing gets worked through because any conflict ends in a messy argument. Whether silent treatment or the classic of throwing things out of the balcony. There is no trust that the other person will have the capacity to deal with the issue in a way that is safe and preserves the connection. When this happens, needs get buried, and in a relationship, unmet needs will always feed resentment.
Whatever you’re going through, I’m going through worse.
In a healthy relationship, both people need their turn at being the supported and the supporter. In a toxic relationship, even if you’re the one in need of support, the focus will always be on the other person. “Babe like I know you’re really sick and can’t get out of bed but it’s soooo stressful for me because now I have to go to the party by myself and that would be so awkward for me, cant you just eat some medicine and rest later? [sad emoji, balloon emoji, heart emoji, another heart emoji, lips emoji].”
Privacy? What privacy?
Unless you’ve done something to your partner that you shouldn’t have, like, you know, forgot you had one on ‘Singles Saturday’, then you deserve to be trusted. Everybody deserves some level of privacy and healthy relationships can trust that this won’t be misused. If your partner constantly goes through your receipts, phone bills, text messages this shows a toxic level of control. It’s demeaning. You’re an adult and don’t need constant supervision.
Liar, liar, it's getting too familiar!
Cheating and lying will dissolve trust as if it was never there to begin with. Once trust is so far gone, it’s hard to get it back. It might come back in moments or days, but it’s likely that it will always feel fragile – just waiting for the wrong move. A relationship without trust can turn strong, healthy people into something they aren’t naturally – insecure, jealous and suspicious. The toxicity of this lies in the slow erosion of confidence. Sometimes all the fights in the world can’t repair trust when it’s badly broken. Know when enough is enough. It’s not your fault that the trust was broken, but it’s up to you to make sure that you’re not broken next.
However, if you cheated or cheated on, just stop. Get out. There is absolutely no point to build back the broken trust, it's literally like glueing back a broken egg shell, you can do it in a period of time, but it's too fragile and one wrong more, you’re back to square one of picking back those pieces you’ve glued over.
You can’t help who you love is a common cliche. By all accounts, this is true. Love is not a rational process, whether it's platonic or romantic. Logic and reason can certainly help you filter out the fully toxic cads and sparkless duds, guiding you toward a healthy relationship with power to go the distance. But compatibility and chemistry are determined somewhere else. Deep down in your gut, you feel the weight of information your subconscious has processed. Therein lies the answer. My mom was right.
Remember this: You know you.