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8 Signs of a Toxic Relationship and How to Save Yourself from It

8 Signs of a Toxic Relationship and How to Save Yourself from It

You know what it’s like to have the honeymoon phase of any relationship die down. It’s fun and exciting in the beginning, but you get comfortable and the relationship can begin to get a little stale.

The longer the relationship lasts, the more ups and downs you will run into. While this is all totally normal, it’s important to be aware of certain negative behaviors you may run into so that you can guard yourself from their toxic effects.

So take a moment to ask yourself,

“Do I know what an unhealthy relationship looks like and how to handle the situation?”

Now imagine how much heartache you can save yourself if you knew the answer to this question more in depth. You’d be able to pick up on things much earlier before it’s too late where the relationship already reaches an unhealthy level.

Keep reading below to learn about the eight signs of toxic relationships to look out for and how to deal with them.

1. Your partner has become apathetic

When you notice your partner being more disengaged, this may be a sign that s/he is beginning to give up on the relationship. You’ll notice either they don’t argue as much with you or they just give in to your wishes because they don’t really care as much anymore.

Your partner has stopped feeling the same highs s/he felt when the relationship first started. And when you work even harder to make the relationship work, this can become even more toxic if your partner just sticks around because now s/he feels guilty. You find that the more of yourself that you keep giving, the less reciprocation you receive.

What should you do?

Before going on and trying to repair the relationship, it’s important here to provide an environment for your partner where s/he feels safe to tell you what s/he is going through.

Asking “Are you okay?” usually isn’t the greatest question. Being candid and open with your own feelings are a great start. You may want to start off with something more along the lines of “It feels like you’ve been so disengaged and distant lately, what’s been on your mind?”

Helping your partner feel emotionally safe with you is the key to starting the process of repairing the relationship that will help your partner feel connected to you again.

Other times, even though you haven’t done anything wrong and you’ve been a great partner, sometimes the best thing you can do at this point is to give your partner some space to work his or her own problems out.

2. Your partner is controlling

An important part when it comes to a healthy relationship is to make decisions together. Not for each other.

People who are controlling feel the need to be in charge of everything and express this need by being manipulative with both their environment and the people around them.

If you find yourself feeling like you need to ask for permission for simple things like meeting up with other friends or even family members, it’s a sign that you’re partner is exhibiting controlling behavior.

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Controlling partners will also use threats to get you to do what they want and they may even go as far as threatening to end the relationship.

This kind of behavior stems from a deep sense of insecurity and it’s toxic because it kills any opportunity for intimacy and connection.

While in the beginning it might feel like your partner is making such strong suggestions because s/he cares so much, you’ll eventually realize the behavior really is more selfish than selfless.

What should you do?

Controlling behavior is usually a reaction to anxiety, jealousy and insecurity. A great place to start is by helping your partner feel safe to talk about this specific behavior.

Sometimes, partners will be able to acknowledge that this behavior is inappropriate and that they should be able to trust and respect you. If this is the case, there is hope for growth in the relationship.

Other times, there may be excuses as to why they act this way. One common excuse is that they are just looking out for your best interest because they want to make sure you don’t run into trouble. It’s likely that partners like this view you as someone to be fixed.

They may try to change things like your behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs in order to help themselves feel more in control. If this is the case, they are in a judgmental mindset and you may want to consider getting professional help if necessary or start setting boundaries (See number six) and keeping your distance from them.

3. Your partner shames you

Do you often find yourself feeling like a horrible person after interacting with your partner?

If you do, it may be time to start paying attention to how your partner speaks with you. If you find that your partner is often criticizing your character, this is a clear sign that s/he is shaming you.

And this will kill your relationship because of one important thing.

Shame makes intimacy impossible.

When someone attacks your character, it causes you to feel shame rather than guilt. And to illustrate the difference, guilt is “I did something bad” versus shame, which is “I am bad”.

Rather than making you feel included in the relationship, shame will make you feel alone and isolated.

Some cases where toxic partners might shame you is by directly attacking your character with verbal abuse through yelling, berating, and judging.

Other times, partners may shame you in more subtle ways through making demeaning sarcastic comments or saying hurtful jokes about you. This is cold violence.

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What should you do?

People who shame others really do it to make themselves feel better about themselves.

If you find yourself feeling hurt because of the comments your partner makes, it’s important to reevaluate if this relationship is one worth staying in. People who shame others are usually are emotional bullies and will often make you feel like you’re stupid or overreacting when you express how hurt you are.

If you find yourself feeling small, isolated and alone, first go find someone who your trust and love and share the story of what happened. The reason for this if your partner isn’t someone who validates your feelings, you need to find someone who will.

Then it’s time to start thinking about how to either repair or end the relationship. Speak with your partner and if s/he isn’t willing to listen or try to understand how the toxic behavior is affecting you, then it’s probably best to distance yourself from the relationship.

4. Your partner is passive aggressive

Have you ever had a situation where you ask partners if they’d be willing to do something for you and they say yes, but do it in a resistant way? While they’re helping you, they are half-hearted, making harsh complaints, and resentful at what you asked of them.

This is passive aggressive behavior.

It’s like those times you ask someone if s/he is okay and you get the reply “I’m fine,” but you get the silent treatment the whole time.

Passive aggressive behavior will show itself through procrastination, resistance and sabotage. You’ll also notice a lot of passive aggressive behavior the most through non-verbal communication. People will be holding expressions of contempt and anger during their interactions with you.

Here’re 12 Ways Passive-Aggressiveness Can Slowly Killing Your Relationships.

What should you do?

People who are passive aggressive don’t know how to clearly communicate their feelings. They often expect you to read their minds and already know what they are going through.

The reason they have so much trouble being open and honest is usually because of the fear of disappointing others. They are worried that if they say no to you, that you might end the relationship.

So they would much rather say yes when you ask of a favor that they would rather not do. This causes them to do it unwillingly while resenting you because they feel you should’ve known not to ask in the first place.

When dealing with a passive aggressive partner, the key is to help them feel safe enough with you to be honest about how they really feel.

Open up conversation to reassure partners that you value their honest opinion and that you would never hold things against them for it even if it means having to have a hard conversation about it. Then express how hurt or troubled you are by the behavior so this can open up the conversation on how to improve the relationship.

5. Your partner holds grudges

People who bring up the past issues you’ve already settled over and over again usually means they haven’t gotten over it yet. Partners who hold grudges like this mean they have never truly forgiven you.

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As more time passes in any relationship, there will come a point where you get hurt. And unless you’re planning to ditch every relationship that you started whenever you get into a conflict, forgiveness will play a key part in keeping the relationship healthy and growing.

The strongest relationships are strong not just because of all the positive situations they have, but it’s more-so because of how they handle the negative ones together.

You’ll find that these couples know how to tackle the tough conversations and always try their best to find a healthy way to use forgiveness in effort to move towards reconciliation in times of conflict.

What should you do?

If you’re partner often holds grudges that s/he can’t let go of, this can lead to a toxic situation.

If you notice your partner subtly or obviously bringing up past issues you thought were already resolved, it may be time to have a conversation about it again.

You will probably need to dig deeper to see if your apology wasn’t enough and if it wasn’t, you may need to first figure out what is expected of you to help you reconcile with your partner.

If the expectation is unreasonable, there may be a chance the grudge is not only towards you.

You’ve probably triggered a reaction to some painful experiences your partner has gone through because of other people that s/he has still not gotten over yet. If this is the case, professional help may be required. But the key first step is to really validate your partners feelings as s/he express them.

6. Your boundaries aren’t respected

When you get comfortable in a relationship, it may be easier for your partner to try and pressure you to do something s/he wants. It may be okay with you the first few times to give in, but the more frequently this kind of situation occurs, the more toxic the relationship becomes.

People in healthy relationships understand each other and know how to respect the other’s boundaries. When partners start to cross those boundaries, it’s a sign that they no longer respect your own needs and values.

What should you do?

Being firm with your boundaries can be really tough to do especially with people you love and care about. Nevertheless, it’s ultimately your responsibility to set them. Otherwise, people will never know and may often cross them without even knowing.

You will end up being the one suffering the most because you might end up in situations where you are resentful, exhausted and overwhelmed.

If your partner crosses a boundary, first thing to do is to speak up about it. Let the conversation flow so you can get on the same page and let your partner know how you would like him or her or to adjust the behavior.

If you find that your partner repeatedly crosses your boundaries, you will have to make the tough choice and take action to prevent him or her from doing it again whether it’s taking a break from the relationship or cutting it off entirely.

7. You feel like you’re always walking on eggshells with your partner

If you find yourself in fear of how your partner will react to something reasonable that you’re wanting to do, you’re likely in a toxic relationship already.

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For example, you might be hiding certain text messages you received from certain people because you’re afraid of how your partner may react. Or maybe you’re afraid to go out with certain friends from work because you’re afraid your partner will get jealous.

Assuming that you’re a loyal and caring person, if you find yourself constantly feeling this kind of fear and anxiety when making decisions, it means you don’t feel safe to share these things with your partner. Hence, at times it leads you to be secretive and even dishonest about some things.

What should you do?

The healthiest relationship are always built upon a foundation of trust and open communication.

If you’re frequently thinking about how you might make your partner mad and you intentionally avoid doing those things, it is an unhealthy relationship; especially when you end up avoiding doing things that are reasonable and something you normally would want to do such as hanging out with new friends or going to new events.

This will be tough, but since the relationship is probably moving towards a toxic one anyway, it’s important to have a discussion with your partner how you have been feeling. If your partner’s jealousy and anger are causing him or her to engage in irrational behaviors, it’s important to understand and address why s/he is doing so.

These situations often stem from your partner’s fears and insecurities because of previous painful experiences from other relationships. The key here is to help your partner feel safe enough to talk about those things first. So then you can then open up the conversation about how it’s been negatively affecting you and discuss how to improve things.

If you can’t get to a place where you feel safe enough to be yourself around your partner because of how s/he is behaving, the relationship is probably not one worth investing in.

8. Your partner is overly dependent on you

If you’ve been feeling like you always have to tend to your partner’s needs at a moments notice, you have a partner that overly depends on you. This usually occurs in partners who who don’t have a strong sense of identity and struggle with a low sense of self worth.

This kind of relationship is toxic because you don’t feel the freedom to be yourself. Instead, you start taking on the role of being a servant rather than a friend or partner.

You’ll start to feel guilty for wanting to spend time on yourself when it’s probably one of the most important things for you to do at this point.

What should you do?

It’s important for you to care for yourself too and if you find it difficult to express this to your partner, it’s only going to end up for the worst.

Express how you’ve been feeling to your partner. It will be a difficult conversation so if the first few ones don’t go too well, you may need to seek professional help or worst case scenario may be to start considering ending the relationship.

Either way, if you’re finding yourself stretched too thin and starting to feel like this is a one-sided relationship, it’s important to get the conversation about it started with your partner. It’s the only road that leads to the possibility of reconciliation and a healthier relationship.

Final thoughts

The healthiest relationships are formed from people who continually build up a safe environments for each other in order to make it feel okay to be vulnerable.

Toxic relationships always cause people to feel unsafe to express their opinions and really be their genuine selves .

Review the 8 signs mentioned here and if you feel like you are stuck in a toxic relationship, the first step is to acknowledge that this is a problem. Seek professional help if necessary, take care of yourself and most importantly, stay true to yourself.

Featured photo credit: The HK Photo Company via unsplash.com

More by this author

Eugene K. Choi

A life coach who helps people discover how to best utilize their passions and talents through a proven process.

How to Be Happy Again: 13 Simple Ways to Shake off Sadness Now How to Attain Self Realization (Step-By-Step Guide) 17 Tactics to Drastically Improve Communication in Relationships 15 Ways Meditation Benefits Your Brain Power and Your Mood 8 Signs of a Toxic Relationship and How to Save Yourself from It

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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