17 Signs of a Toxic Relationship—Are You the Cause?

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What is a toxic relationship? It’s when you and your partner engage in behavior that is emotionally and sometimes physically damaging to one another on a frequent basis. Keep in mind that it takes two people to make a relationship toxic.

You have a major superiority complex


Having a superiority complex could be a sign of a toxic relationship waiting to happen. Contemptuous people destroy relationships because they see their partner as inferior. Rolling your eyes, curling your lip in disgust, or using a sarcastic tone with your partner are just a few telltale signs of a toxic relationship. “Contempt is degrading,” says Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, developer of A Psychological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT). “It says, ‘You’re an idiot.’” In fact, University of Michigan researchers surveyed 373 newlywed couples and found that couples who screamed at one another, showed contempt, or withdrew themselves from conflict within the first year of marriage were more likely to divorce

You’re a master manipulator


If you find that you’re always trying to manipulate things it could be a sign of a toxic relationship. It’s no secret that compulsively lying to your partner is detrimental to the success of your relationship, but gaslighting takes it to a whole other level of destruction. Gaslighting is when you accuse your loved one of being crazy or paranoid to keep them off your trail of lies in a toxic relationship. “It’s a triple threat when you withhold information, lie about it, then gaslight your partner and make them think it’s them,” says Dr. Tatkin. “They’re damaging the relationship irreparably.” Make sure you also know the signs of a codependent relationship.

You’re a Debbie Downer


People who are insecure tend to sabotage a perfectly healthy relationship by overanalyzing every kiss and word or harbor irrational fears that their partner wants to break up. If you or your partner has these thoughts it could be a sign of a toxic relationship. Studies suggest that individuals with low self-esteem may be more likely to expect rejection from their partner and avoid behaviors that risk rejection, like telling their partner how they truly feel, than individuals with high self-esteem. If you show these signs of a toxic relationship, it may be best to take a break from the relationship to work on yourself, unless your partner is willing to help you work through your self-doubts. “The key to change this is to surround yourself with positive people who care for you and value you,” says Sadie Leder-Elder, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at High Point University in North Carolina. “Spend your time with friends and family and not new relationships.” Do something that makes you feel good about yourself like a new exercise class or volunteering at your local animal shelter. Check out these science-approved tricks for building confidence.

You’re always threatening to break up


No one likes to waste their time and energy arguing, but you can’t draw the break-up card every time things get tough. If you do, that’s a sign of a toxic relationship. Threats of taking a break or ending the relationship aren’t going to solve anything and are signs of a toxic relationship. “People use threats as a way to get their partner in line,” says Dr. Tatkin. “People should never threaten the relationship unless they intend to get out. It’s only valid if you mean it and do it, otherwise it just damages the safety and security of the relationship.” Instead of using threats to get your way, walk away to cool down and think rationally before you start spouting off erratic thoughts that you may regret later. These are toxic signs you’re in a bad relationship.

You’re hot-headed


You may find it doesn’t take much to get your blood boiling and that could be a sign of a toxic relationship. One wrong move and suddenly you snap and blurt nasty remarks you don’t mean. “You continue to have these cycles of anger, remorse, shame, and provoked anger without understanding,” says Sari Cooper, a licensed clinical social worker and director of Center for Love and Sex in New York City. “You have to look at yourself and ask, ‘What’s going on here?’” Dr. Cooper suggests journaling when you feel your anger emerging to figure out the cause or “taking your temperature” on a scale of 0 to 10. If you know you fly off the handle at a 9, try to figure out how you feel at a 2 and then pinpoint what aggravated you to bring yourself down to a calmer state. When you reach a 6 or a 7, take a time out to gather your thoughts and emotions. If you don’t, you may skyrocket to that dreaded 9. See if you can trust your partner using these telltale signs

You never fix problems


If you neglect to nip problems in the bud, they’re just going to fester and blow up in your face down the road, which can cause your partner to resent you. Something in our brain called the negativity bias may be to blame for this resentment because our brains are more likely to remember the negative aspect of things, according to Dr. Tatkin. In fact, research has shown that adults tend to use negative stimuli more than positive information to help them learn, form first impressions of others, and make sense of their experiences. This may be because the amygdala, the emotional processing center of your brain, tends to be slightly more attuned to negative emotions because they’re often a bit more intense than positive ones. “If you never apologize or admit that you’re wrong and make things right, your partner will accrue a host of negative memories related to being unfairness and injustice,” says Dr. Tatkin. “That will break the relationship.” Avoid these mistakes after fighting with your significant other.

You’re addicted to social media


We’re constantly on Facebook and Instagram snapping selfies and posting statuses without a single thought about the consequences.  But studies show that engaging in social media can create ambiguity in the relationship, which can cause jealousy and spiral into signs of a toxic relationship. That may be because you’re posting scandalous selfies, neglecting to post about your relationship, or flirting with exes and random strangers on the Internet. “Letting technology get the best of you can make you accidentally be the toxic one in your relationship,” says Dr. Leder-Elder. “Your desire for other people to validate you may cause unnecessary jealousy in your relationship.” It’s best to sit down and talk with your partner about how social media could play a role in the success of your relationship. It’s probably best to never post these things about your relationship on social media

You’re losing friends and relationships quickly


If you find that you’re only spending time with your significant other and your other relationships have fizzled, it’s probably a sign of a toxic relationship. Take a step back and look at who surrounds you. Do you have family and friends or have you burned a lot of bridges? If so, you may want to take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself if you’re the problem. “A lot of people who are engaging in these bad behaviors don’t realize that they’re bad behaviors,” says Rachel Sussman, a licensed clinical social worker and marriage/family therapist in New York City. “You can’t come up with a game plan if you don’t know what’s wrong.” Try calling a friend or an ex to ask where things went wrong so you can see the error of your ways.

You only think about yourself


Narcissists are extremely self-serving and feel no remorse when they hurt others, which makes them difficult to be around. “You’re only aware of what your partner does to you and not aware of what you do to them,” says Dr. Tatkin. Narcissism is a behavior that’s difficult to overcome, but it can be done if you identify that you’ve treated others unkindly and are self-serving in relationships.  The first step to changing any behavior is recognizing you have a problem and finding ways to resolve it. Here are signs you’re a narcissist. Knowing this will help you curb the signs of a toxic relationship.  

You’re wishy-washy


Nothing irks people more than someone who is indecisive. Your rewarding relationship gets snatched away the instant you start going hot and cold on your loved one. “People don’t like breakups,” says Dr. Leder-Elder. “They don’t like being alone. We want social connections.” This way of thinking turns into signs of a toxic relationship when you end up stringing someone along when you’re not ready for a relationship but still want companionship.  Make sure you’re honest with your partner in the beginning about your uncertainties in regards to your wants and needs from the relationship. That way they’ll know what they’re getting themselves into.

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