Toxic relationships are difficult to define. As no two relationships are the same, there’s no one set of symptoms that clearly define an unhealthy relationship. However, the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one is often how it makes you feel. Luisa Williams from My Family Psychologist explains more.
The negative impact of a toxic relationship is significant, affecting both physical and mental health. While healthy relationships have a foundation of trust, independence and respect for each other, unhealthy relationships often lead to feelings of low self-worth, a lack of agency, as well as feeling helpless, fearful, anxious, and often paranoid.
The term ‘toxic’ doesn’t only refer to romantic relationships. It can apply to any kind of connection you make with another. An unhealthy relationship with a friend, a family member, or a co-worker, can be equally damaging to your well-being, but the most common signs that these relationships are toxic may vary.
The signs that a relationship is toxic can accumulate over time and often the boundaries are blurred making it difficult for some to identify. However, if you’re drained by your relationship and your partnership isn’t equal, you might be in a toxic relationship. Signs that your relationship may be toxic:
Toxic relationship: Friend
- They cross your boundaries
If you have a toxic relationship with a friend, they might constantly do things that upset you or make you feel uncomfortable. Whenever you try to bring them up and set a firm boundary, they might become defensive or make you feel bad for wanting space. If they apologise, the apology rarely sounds sincere.
- They never listen to your problems
While they might frequently come to you for advice, they don’t devote equal attention to listening to your problems. Whenever you need them, they appear busy, and every conversation tends to be about them.
- They can’t be happy for you
Instead of celebrating your victories, they see you as competition. Your every achievement reminds them of their own shortcomings and means they feel they’re being left behind.
- They’re judgmental
Instead of offering you mental support, they frequently judge your choices and make you feel bad for making them.
- You feel drained
If the friendship feels suffocating and one-sided, chances are it really is. When your friend isn’t there for you when you need them, you end up feeling lonely and unsupported.
Toxic Relationship: Family
- They compare you to other people
No matter what you do, your family member is never satisfied. Somehow, you are never good enough while other people can do no wrong. If you have siblings, you’re often being compared even if you’re completely different people.
- They’re always right
They always think they know better and treat you like you’re incapable of making your own decisions.
- They dismiss your feelings
Rather than being empathetic, they’ll often simply tell you that other people have it worse or that you should be grateful for what you have. You aren’t allowed to feel unhappy and express any negative emotions.
- They pick on you
They frequently make personal or critical comments about you. They might give you backhanded compliments, for example, “You look so pretty with makeup on, you should wear it more often” or “Are you sure you want to eat that?”.
Toxic Relationship: Coworker
- They act superior
A toxic co-worker might act like their role is more important than yours. Even though you might have the same duties, they feel superior and enjoy telling you what to do. Nothing is ever their fault, and they think they’re always right.
- They gossip
They might frequently talk behind people’s backs, enjoy spreading doubt and deliberately turn colleagues against each other.
- They can’t work as a part of a team
They struggle to cooperate because they want to look better than everyone else.
- They complain a lot
More than venting about the odd bad day at work, toxic co-workers are never satisfied. They will regularly talk about how much they hate their job and feel every piece of constructive feedback is a personal attack. It becomes draining and can quickly causes discontent to spread.
Toxic Relationship: Romantic Partner
- They have issues they aren’t willing to work on
The key to a healthy relationship is mutual respect and growth. If your partner isn’t willing to work on themselves, they aren’t able to fully commit to the relationship. For example, your partner might have anger issues and throw things when you’re having an argument. They might not be abusive towards you but make you feel uneasy and unsupported.
- They can’t, or won’t, communicate
Instead of talking things through openly and honestly, a toxic partner might disguise their feelings by giving you the silent treatment, lying, or becoming passive-aggressive. These manipulative tactics allow toxic partners to express their resentment or disappointment, while denying your opportunity to respond or express your feelings. This can leave you feeling misunderstood and isolated.
- Controlling behaviours
Toxic partners often assert control over others using a range of behaviours including humiliation, intimidation, threats, and violence. They may isolate you from your friends and family, seek to control your finances, and monitor your time and whereabouts. This pattern of behaviour is often subtle and gradual, becoming apparent all of a sudden.
- The effort isn’t equal
Your partner is emotionally detached and disinterested, unwilling to invest any effort or time into your relationship. They are always the priority. You’re always the one initiating plans, and the one who always texts or calls first. You feel you have to work hard just to sustain your partner’s attention, but your efforts never pay off.
If you have recognise any of these behaviours or you have concerns about a relationship, it’s a good idea to seek help by speak to an experienced professional.
If you need help and support understanding a toxic relationship you can contact My Family Psychologist, who offer specialised counselling services for adults, couples, and children as well as mediation services.
Family Law Advice
If you are in an toxic relationship and would like advice on your legal situation, please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist lawyers.
Other Helpful Contacts
National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327
The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428
Samaritans (24/7 service) – 116 123