Psychological insights on relationships: rejections, breakups, making relationships happy, unhealthy dynamics, and general psychology.

Am I in a Toxic Relationship?

What does unhealthy love look like? Nine typical characteristics explained.

Man and woman

Definition of a toxic or unhealthy relationship

Lack of communication

It can come from the person’s need to ignore or hurt you. Maybe you get on their nerves, so they want to punish you, and it has become a habit. It is immature revenge, which can escalate into the manipulation of your feelings. The final resort is the silent treatment.

Of course, ignoring issues or avoiding conversation can lead to tension, sadness, depression, and misunderstandings, so the relationship will definitely become unhealthy. If you believe that the background is the person’s need to humiliate you, consider leaving the relationship.

But I would like you to consider another possibility.

A lack of communication does not necessarily mean that such a person wants a bad relationship.

Attractive man thinking

Many people are naturally less energetic, raised as neurotics, or introverted. Also, poor communication often stems from family dynamics. A person might be accustomed to a lack of communication in their family, where issues are suppressed and endured.

In my practice, I’ve encountered many poor communicators who cannot express their concerns, thoughts, or desires or present them poorly.

Through example and encouragement, poor communicators can learn to communicate better.

  • The warning lies in that, due to personal injury and emotional blockage, you may not accurately assess the type of person in front of you: a poor communicator or someone who doesn’t care about you.

How To Leave Someone You Love But Is Toxic

Unhappiness 

If a partner deliberately induces unhappiness in you, or if your relationship can’t become happier, there is a high chance that your partner is trying to keep you in that state. Perhaps there are sadistic, psychopathic, or narcissistic intentions.

Also, of course, there is a possibility that your partner makes you unhappy, without doing it either intentionally or consciously. The assumption is that the partner is not evil, but so preoccupied with their problems, that he has no energy or attention for you and makes you unhappy along the way. He doesn’t really care about your feelings at all.

But there is another option worth considering.

A beautiful woman

Some individuals habitually lean towards anxiety, sadness, unhappiness, or depression. You need to carefully consider whether you are such a person before you declare your relationship unhappy or your partner cruel.

Self-reflection is crucial to determining whether our unhappiness originates from within us or from the relationship. If, by our nature, we tend towards dissatisfaction, leaving one relationship won’t change our happiness levels. Similarly, entering a new relationship won’t alter anything, as the problem lies within us.

How to test if you are making the relationship unhappy or if you are in an unhappy relationship:

It would be good to determine if you try to be satisfied beyond your relationship or remain unhappy and dissatisfied. If you don’t manage to be happy even outside of your relationship, then maybe the problem is not in the relationship and the partner, but in you, and you need to seek professional help. It’s a shame to be unhappy.

How To Know When It’s Time To Break Up

Bad relationship

Lack of mutual respect

The absence of fundamental respect between partners, which manifests as belittlement, criticism, or a lack of support, can be a sign of unhealthy love.

It’s possible that the person really thinks you’re miserable and that you don’t deserve their respect. This obviously means that you are in a relationship with someone who has already declared you less valuable, and such a status in someone’s eyes is very difficult to change. What people think of us usually stays that way forever. It is changeable only after our great inner changes, which are possible only with separation from that partner.

However, this is a good place to ask oneself: How did I end up in a relationship where I received such treatment and a lack of respect?

Is my partner toxic, or am I?

In this case, I’m not suggesting self-exploration in the sense of questioning if I’m wrong and my partner is right. Instead, it’s about realizing that if I have such a person in front of me, it can only mean that we are compatible and I’ve allowed him or her into my life. If they don’t respect me, it’s because I permit it.

Then come the questions: Why do I allow it? The answers to these questions usually require the expertise of a professional.

Woman in bad relationship

1. The assumption is that you have either experienced a relationship full of disrespect in the past and now find it normal, even subconsciously expecting and seeking it.

2. Or you’ve never had such a relationship and are naively attempting to fix it now. This is a lack of understanding of fundamental human nature and tendencies.

But what if you are on the other side and you don’t respect your partner?

This opens up several new questions:

  1. Why do you need to be in such a relationship?
  2. Are you inclined towards aggression? Or sadism?
  3. Or do you believe you deserve something better than your partner?
  4. Do you want a weak person as a partner that you can humiliate?

It is necessary to answer these questions because if the answers are positive, changes in your character are necessary. You may not think so, but if you gravitate towards weak people who you don’t respect, your relationship will be full of aggression and bigotry. The person in front of you won’t be happy, but neither will you.

How To Recognize Hidden Toxicity in Relationships?

Lack of boundaries

Man and woman in toxic relationship

Setting boundaries is important for maintaining healthy relationships, but some people, due to habit, don’t want to establish their limits. Unhealthy love often involves a lack of clear boundaries, leading to feelings of suffocation or privacy.

Some of my clients come from families where their boundaries were not respected, which is not unusual in parent-child relationships. Parents don’t have to respect the child’s boundaries, and this dynamic is hard to define because the parent simultaneously violates the child’s boundaries, sets them, teaches the child how to set them, sends the message that the child should set boundaries for others and not for the parent, etc. It requires exceptional maturity from parents to guide the child correctly concerning boundaries.

However, due to this undefined relationship, adults who were once children might struggle to define and protect their boundaries.

How To Set Boundaries In a Relationship – 12 Steps

Man and woman are arguing

Another group of people might copy this family dynamic or adopt an identity similar to one of the parents.

What I mean by this is that if, for example, the father was an absolute ruler of the house, the son might think there are no limits for him, just as there weren’t for his father. Then, he might not need to respect others’ boundaries.

If you are in a relationship where your boundaries are not respected, understand that this dynamic can change.

A person can learn to respect the boundaries of others. The prerequisite is that the person wants to stay with you and is willing to change their habits because of it.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that you are dealing with an aggressive person who doesn’t care about how you feel or your boundaries.

Increased aggression and aggressive behavior are challenging to change because they could be part of one’s nature and character.

Man and woman in toxic relationship breaking up

It’s possible that because you’re in a relationship with an aggressive person, you’re just looking for moments of peace, and that’s why you don’t set boundaries. All your energy is focused on making sure that one day passes in peace. That’s why your boundaries are never a priority; the priority is to appease other people’s aggression.

Consider leaving that relationship if you recognize that someone doesn’t respect your boundaries due to heightened aggression (feeling dominant, stronger, more important, etc.).

However, if you think the person needs to learn proper behavior or has adopted someone else’s behavior, consider going through boundary-setting training.

11 Hidden and Subtle Toxic Behaviors in Relationships

Physical, verbal, and emotional abuse

An obvious sign of unhealthy love is the presence of any form of abuse. This can include physical violence, verbal insults, or emotional manipulation.

If you are experiencing any abuse, start by withdrawing from the relationship to recover emotionally. Then, get started with psychotherapy to heal the resulting traumas and learn how to protect yourself in the future.

Indian couple

The act of withdrawing from the relationship gives you time to stop idealizing that bad relationship, feel less guilty about leaving it, and gain an opportunity for a more realistic perspective. Never forget or ignore the possibility that you might be a victim of Stockholm syndrome, tending to seek tyranny and becoming accustomed to your tyrant’s behavior.

Two additional valuable instances:

  • Feeling helpless and on an emotional rollercoaster as a result of the other person is a sign of emotional abuse.
  • Confusion and guilt, a sense of uncertainty about one’s position on any issue, constant and unreasonable demands, experiencing injustice, and a lack of ability to voice complaints are all signs of psychological abuse.

Any form of abuse can be recognized by the typical victim-abuser role.

How to protect yourself from toxicity in relationships

Woman in toxic relationship

Power Imbalance

Unhealthy love often implies an inequality in power between partners. One person may dominate, control, or manipulate the other.

Here, we must be cautious because it’s one thing to be egotistical, competitive, and unable to accept one’s inferiority. And it’s a completely different thing if you can’t come to terms with the fact that you are in a relationship with a powerful person.

If I were to describe this through an example, taking Donald Trump and Melania might illustrate the point. He is a more powerful figure than her, but this might bother her only if she feels completely powerless. If one person is more powerful but still respects the other person, it doesn’t qualify as an unhealthy relationship.

It becomes problematic when power is entirely taken away from a person, essentially making them a hostage to their partner or the relationship.

Couple in unhealthy relationship

In the first case (you cannot cope with your partner being powerful) I recommend striving to become the best version of yourself in areas where you want to have some power. Or become powerful in places where you can improve yourself and stop feeling inferior or competing with your partner. For example, Donald Trump is powerful, but Melania is far more attractive and excels in other areas.

In the second case (your partner is making you powerless on purpose), it’s necessary to distance yourself from the relationship for some time. To gain peace and a more realistic view of the relationship. Then, psychotherapy is needed to heal false beliefs about how a relationship should look.

What Are the Long-Term Consequences of Toxic Relationships

Lack of Personal Development

Man and woman in toxic relationship

It might be due to them.

  • It could be unhealthy dynamic in a relationship where partners sabotage each other or one uses the other. All the energy of one partner goes into the development of the other. For instance, someone does a monotonous job without progress to support someone else in completing their doctoral studies and progressing.
  • If it is not a mutual agreement with a plan for the first partner to develop, it is an unhealthy relationship. If energy will always be invested disproportionately in one partner, it is a bad relationship.
  • And if your partner is hindering your progress by keeping you in an inferior role, changing the dynamics of the relationship is crucial.

It might be due to you.

  • Some people blame their lack of personal development on their partner, not realizing that we all have neuroses that hinder our growth. Stories of individuals claiming they had many talents but failed to develop them because of someone else are not uncommon.
  • If there is no pressure on you or your energy, resources, and finances aren’t drained for the other person to move forward, consider whether you are self-sabotaging and blaming your partner. Consider factors like laziness, lack of ambition, skills, etc. to get a more realistic picture.
  • Never forget that we often project our traits and behaviors onto another person.
Bad relationship

Feelings of Guilt and Shame

If a partner makes you feel guilty, first check if that’s their intention. There’s always a chance they do something they don’t perceive as imposing guilt.

If you recognize this, it’s possible that you have a trigger for guilt. It is possible that this feeling lies within you and that you are just waiting for your partner to do something to awaken the feeling.

  • One of my clients, in his first marriage, was constantly blamed for not trying harder and being more successful. In his second marriage, he always believed that his new partner radiated the same feeling towards him. After they discussed it and taught both how to behave, the relationship became more pleasant.
Bad toxic relationship

However, if the partner needs you to feel guilty or embarrassed, you can recognize sadistic tendencies, psychopathy, a lack of empathy, etc.

Leaving such partners is the only way, because such partners are unchangeable. These behaviors closely correlate with narcissistic personality disorder, which makes such people immutable.

Of course, the logical continuation is understanding how you found yourself in a relationship without critical thinking. With the help of critical thinking, the entire situation could be analyzed, and a person could relatively easily conclude whether he is guilty or not.

If you are in a relationship where you constantly feel guilt and shame because of your partner’s comments and behavior, I recommend that you leave that relationship.

Man and woman

A good test to see where your feelings of guilt and shame come from is to remember if you already had this dynamic in your childhood, so you constantly feel guilty about everything.
If you didn’t have that and your partner puts the blame on you, then it’s a toxic relationship.

How To Heal From the Toxicity In Relationship

Willingness to Inflict Pain

In unhealthy relationships, one or both partners may be inclined to inflict pain on each other.

Recognizing sadistic or psychopathic intentions is crucial.

If a partner enjoys or feels no remorse for causing pain to the other partner, it indicates psychopathic roots.

However, if a partner causes pain and then regrets it or punishes themselves, it suggests a different situation—possibly self-defense or a learned reaction when feeling threatened.

The reasons for inflicting pain can be different, and none of them are good.

  • The first variant has psychopathic roots and requires distancing from that partner.
  • The second variant can be unlearned over time (probably years) as the person adopts new and better coping mechanisms when feeling threatened. But during all that time, their partner was insulted and humiliated.
Couple breaking up

What Causes Obsession With a Certain Person

In any unhealthy relationship, it’s crucial to introspect.

Reasons for staying in such a relationship are either a need for such a relationship or a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature. This unhealthiness is solvable in some cases, but in others, it isn’t.

One key characteristic to determine whether you should try to correct the relationship is whether you have a good or bad person in front of you.

Good people are cooperative and fundamentally kind-hearted. They can correct their poorly learned behaviors. People with psychopathic, narcissistic, or sadistic characteristics are unchangeable, and you should leave them.

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