15 Signs of a Toxic Relationship

15 Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Toxic relationships will cause monumental breakage to people, families and workplaces, but they aren’t necessarily the territory of the weak, downtrodden or insecure. Strong, healthy, independent people can find themselves in the white-knuckled grip of a toxic relationship. Similarly, relationships that seem to begin strong because ‘omg we’re soooo in love you guys,’ can dissolve into nothing but ash and legal fees that could have bought a castle on the river Seine, if they weren’t being used to divide half your assets more ‘half-ly’.

Relationships evolve. They change and they grow. Sometimes they crash and they burn. We never know how things will look when each other’s less adorable, kind of awful habits start to show themselves publicly, or under the influence of alcohol or in-laws.

Some relationships are all shades of wrong from the outset (‘Darlin’ you’re so pretty. You’re the image of my ex. See? Here’s her photo. You can keep that one. I have plenty – in my wallet, as my screen saver, on my bedside table, at my mum’s house, on my desk, on my fridge and yeah, all over the place. Sometimes I just, like, hold it in front of me and run backwards and pretend like she’s chasing me. Wanna get some tequila baby?’) Some start off with promise and with all the right ingredients, but somewhere along the way, the right ingredients get replaced with resentment, jealousy, history and hurt.

We love love. Of course we do. Love sends us to joyous, 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. The hot pursuit of love can be blinding. Even worse, sometimes it’s not until you’re two kids and a mortgage into the relationship, that you realise something has been missing for a while, and that something is you.

What is a toxic relationship?

A toxic relationship contaminates 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. 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.

Can I fix it?

All relationships are worth the fight, until they’re not. In a toxic relationship there will always be fallout:

  • moodiness, anger, unhappiness become the norm;
  • you avoid each other more and more;
  • work and relationships outside the toxic relationship start to suffer.

If the relationship is toxic, it is highly likely that all the fight in the world won’t change anything because one or both people have emotionally moved on. Perhaps they were never really there in the first place, or not in the way you needed them to be anyway. Even worse, if your relationship is toxic, you will be more and more damaged by staying in it.

Fighting to hold on to something that is not fighting to hold on to you will ruin you. Sometimes the only thing left to do is to let go with grace and love and move on.

What are the signs that I’m 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.

  1. 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 are eroded down to nothing. Once that happens, you’re stuck.

  2. You’re constantly braced for the ‘gotcha’.

    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 boss tonight.’) The relationship is a jungle and somewhere along the way you’ve turned into a hunted thing 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.

  3. You avoid saying what you need because there’s just no point.

    We all have important needs in relationships. Some of the big ones are 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 end in a fight, a(nother) 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.

  4. There’s 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, too much is too much. 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.’

  5. All the work, love, compromise comes from you.

    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.

  6. When ‘no’ is a dirty word.

    ‘No’ is an important word in any relationship. Don’t strike it from your vocabulary, even in the name of love – especially not in the name of love. Healthy relationships need compromise but they also respect the needs and wants of both people. Communicating what you want is as important for you and the relationship as communicating what you don’t want. Find your ‘no’, give it a polish, and know where the release button is. A loving partner will respect that you’re not going to agree with everything they say or do. If you’re only accepted when you’re saying ‘yes’, it’s probably time to say ‘no’ to the relationship. And if you’re worried about the gap you’re leaving, buy your soon-to-be ex some putty. Problem solved.

  7. The score card. Let me show you how wrong you are.

    One of the glorious things about being human is that making mistakes is all part of what we do. It’s how we learn, how we grow, and how we find out the people who don’t deserve us. Even the most loving, committed partners will do hurtful, 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 on your weaknesses.

  8. There’s a battle – and you’re on your own. Again.

    You and your partner are a team. You need to know that whatever happens, you have each other’s backs, at least publicly. In healthy relationships, when the world starts throwing stones, the couple comes together and fortifies the wall around each other. Toxic relationships often see one person going it alone when it comes to public put-downs. Similarly, when attempts are made from outside the relationship to divide and conquer, the couple is divided and conquered as easily as if they were never together in the first place.

  9. Physical or verbal abuse. Or both.

    These are deal-breakers. You know they are.

  10. 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,’ 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 Svetlana by myself hey? 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.

  11. Nothing gets resolved.

    Every relationship will have its issues. In a toxic relationship, nothing gets worked through because any conflict ends in an argument. 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.

  12. 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. Next Saturday I get to choose what we do. K? [sad emoji, balloon emoji, heart emoji, another heart emoji, lips emoji].’

  13. 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.

  14. The lies. Oh the lies!

    Lying and cheating 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 fight 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.

  15. Big decisions are for important people. And clearly, you’re not one of them.

    If you’re sharing your life with someone, it’s critical that you have a say in the decisions that will affect you. Your partner’s opinions and feelings will always be important, and so are yours. Your voice is an important one. A loving partner in the context of a healthy relationship will value your thoughts and opinions, not pretend that they don’t exist or assume theirs are more important.

I think I might be in a toxic relationship. What now?

If it’s toxic, it’s changing you and it’s time to leave or put up a very big wall. (See here for how.) Be clear about where the relationship starts and where you begin. Keep your distance emotionally and think of it as something to be managed, rather than something to be beaten or understood. Look for the patterns and look for the triggers. Then, be mindful about what is okay and what isn’t. Above all else, know that you are strong, complete and vital. Don’t buy into any tiny-hearted, close-minded push that would have you believe otherwise. You’re amazing.

And finally …

There are plenty of reasons you might end up in a toxic relationship, none of which have nothing to do with strength of character or courage.

Sometimes the toxicity grows and blindsides you and by the time you realise, it’s too late – the cost of leaving might feel too high or there may be limited options.

Toxicity in any relationship doesn’t make sense. In an attempt to make it make sense, you might blame history, circumstance or your own behaviour. The truth is that none of this matters. It doesn’t matter where the toxicity comes from or the reason for it being there.

Love and happiness don’t always go together. The world would run so much smoother if they did, but it just doesn’t happen like that. Love can be a dirty little liar sometimes. So can commitment. Staying in a relationship should never have losing yourself as one of the conditions. You’re far too important for that.

It’s important to make sacrifices in relationships but your happiness, self-esteem and self-respect should always be on the list – always. If a relationship is built on love, it nurtures, restores, replenishes and revives. It doesn’t diminish. It isn’t cruel and it doesn’t ever violate a warm, open heart. Everything you need to be happy is in you. When you are with someone who suffocates those precious parts of you, be alive to the damage they are doing. You owe them nothing, you owe yourself everything. You deserve to thrive and to feel safe, and you deserve to be happy.

[irp posts=”1602″ name=”When It’s Not You, It’s Them: The Toxic People That Ruin Friendships, Families, Relationships”]

302 Comments

Teri

Wow, this is opening my eyes.
I have been with my partner for 19 years. We are not married and I now realize he will never ask.

We got together during a very dark time in my life, about six months after my son died. I know I was unable to set clear relationship boundaries at that time and should never have entered a relationship. Within a year I became pregnant with our daughter. I have a daughter from my previous marriage who was eight when we started dating.
Over the years he does not allow any arguments, will not discuss any disagreements and will passive aggressively take digs at any accomplishments I have made. He was very strick with my oldest daughter and very lenient with the daughter we share.
He does no housework or cooking but always makes time to go off with friends.
My youngest daughter has one more year of highschool then off to college, I will be 57 and really think it will be time to go and find myself. I just don’t know if I waited way to long.

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Evelyn

I have been in a horrible toxic relationship with a man over and over again. You see the difference in all that I am reading here is I am 69 years old.As you get older and if you are smart enough you will gain knowledge. I was on a dating app two years ago. I looked and was built like a 20 year old. I actually broke the app my granddaughter put me on! I was having the time of my life after being in a 31 years of marriage and had a broken heart because I loved him deeply. It took 4 years to finally move on then I met this man that I thought would be my last chance for love. I feel as though I look 100. I have lost the majority of my hair and a total wreck. This man lived 187 miles away and spent the weekend together. Oh it was great until the second weekend. Some how he started an argument with me and was cussing the heck out of me & he left and went home. I thought what the hell did I do? He started the texting I’m sorry I will make it up to you etc. The red flags started waving like crazy. I started writing down all of what he said his actions and so on Before I knew it I had filled out two pages of his behavior, his actions and I knew something was very wrong with him.I started researching and researching. I then hit on it. He is a Bona fide Narcissist. Dear God this had 18 failed relationships and. 5 failed marriages! I had never been even close to a true narcissist.Evy thing was all my fault! Never ever his! There was something wrong with every woman that he had been involved with.He was even homeless at times although he is super smart. Thing is I am a whole lot smarter and I started researching and researching in fact he gave all of the names and cell numbers incase something would happen. I called his 85 year old aunt and told her what was going on. She said “OhHoney he can’t hold down a relationship. You need to get away from him now you will never be happy,you will never be happy because he doesn’t know how to be happy. You will have your heart broke and you need peace at your age. I didn’t listen to her and I kept taking him back taking him back and on & on it has gone. Just when I finally got my self together I got counseling and she knew all about a narcissist is. I came out of counseling feeling strong like I use to but then the worse hurricane that could ever be hit where I live and I know I was in shock! Who drives up but him! He got me at my most vulnerable time and was so understanding. I allowed him to come right back in my life again only for it to happen over and over again. This horrible mental illness usually starts in the teens. Unfortunately there is no help for them and you can’t tell him that he needs help because they absolutely will deny it. It will always be you. From what I’ve read in the previous know and research the hell out of it before you either kill yourself or you will end up looking 100 years old and feel lost and alone. I will make it!!

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James

It’s time for couples therapy.

I am not without fault but I was able to tick a yes to all of the 15 signs of a toxic relationship.

10 years together, 7 married. Adult stepdaughter has moved out.

Been divorced once from someone with a gambling addiction who trashed our finances.

Time to fix things.

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Sarah

I dumped a guy because he wasn’t on the same page as me regarding kids and we know that it’s what men want but not every woman wants kids. He got upset said you’ll change your mind. Well I haven’t so far and may never change my mind but he isn’t changing it by stating this.

Be careful with dating apps. I was lucky not to meet this guy in person. I value myself over him.

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Annie T

My husband cheated on me every day with women and men. My sister has been with my husband in her room. I have never had a marriage. I went to live with my sister and her husband. He and I bond for the good of the family. She said he was sexing me and I want her dead. She and I have continued being family but he is not allowed to have any thing to do with me. What do you think I should do? I love my sister. I have not been with him or anything.

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Betty

I have been ina relationship with a guy for 8 years and he has not invited me to his house once. I don’t even know where he lives. I asked him for an address to send a gift and I found out that it was his office address. Every time I bring it up, he becomes the victim and I was so “wrong” to bring the topic up about where he lives. He has never let me meet his friends or family. When we go out, there is no conversation. He likes to be on the phone for hours without saying anything. I like him but do I need to end this relationship?

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Rutuja V

Dear Betty,
I hope you are reading this.
I think your partner is not so serious about you. He doesn’t take you to the house. You didn’t meet his family or friends. I feel that he is liar. He might have started new relationship with another girl. 8 years is a long time to test your relationship. Move on as soon as possible. You deserve a better partner. He doesn’t care about you and your future.
Move on and find another guy who will respect your feeling. And you won’t feel insecure anymore.

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Issa

We both confessed that we like each other…but nothing is happening after that. Its like we are in a relationship but there is nothing going on. We just casually talk and that’s it. It has just put me in a really awkward situation. I don’t know what’s going on.

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Babe jay

Am in a toxic relationship 😭😭😭😭
My partner is always abusing me verbally and always wants to be in control.. am tired of the relationship but I can’t go away.. my heart aches, this is not what I bargained for

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Cami

I understand what you are going through. It sucks and I am sorry. Leaving is a process. The first thing, after you realize it’s toxic (which you already have) it to lose hope. Lose hope in the relationship and lose hope in him and that he could ever change.
You have to assume that the future will be exactly the same as things are now. You have to know that you don’t want to live like that.
Then start making a plan. Know that you aren’t going back after the next fight or plan a day to move your stuff while he is at work etc.
Have your boundaries established in your head before the “it’s over” conversation starts. Know that if he starts his abusive tactics you will be ending the conversation. When he starts blaming you for everything and calling you names tell him the conversation is over and end the conversation, never to talk of it again. You are done. Period…
Be done with no chance of going back before you talk to him about it, otherwise he could lure you back in.

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SirDi

I always had a good self-esteem, knowing not to be perfect I had confidence in myself and my body. At the beginning of the relationship with my ex she told me details about her ex sexual partners and their performances in bed, it made me feel bad and during the 3 years of the relationship I did not forget what she told me without my asking. In the end we ended up because I found out she was hiding messages from another guy. I didn’t even think twice, i knew i had to get out of that relatioship… Still, I liked her and so it costs me, but I knew that her toxicity would be the end of me.

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Lynette

I just want to run away and start over. It started out perfect, but slowly after marriage things started to change. First the lies, then the lack of sex drive on his part, then the accusations and lack of trust on his part for no reason and now add #15 treating me like my options or thoughts are not as important because he makes more money and he is the man. Several years into this relationship and with no where to go, I just want to run away and start over. I work hard, am loyal, educated and a good catch – why didn’t I see that this was what would come. 🥲

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Tom

When I first met my now wife, she wanted to move things quickly. I was lonely, so I went with it. I turned into a “yes man” just to have someone with me, but I didn’t even realise it. I didn’t even see the manipulation until it was all too late.

We have three kids together, but after the third she changed a lot. She began treating me like a bad housemate, rather than a husband, friend, or father. Everything I did was wrong, and she only ever wanted my opinion on things, so that she could choose an option I didn’t or wouldn’t recommend. I found out she had been cheating on me for 5 years whilst I was working. I found out last year, and have had to spend the past year still living with her due to overly complicated circumstances (living abroad and visas don’t mix well with toxic marriages and child custody). I can leave soon, and I vow never to be a yes man to someone ever again.

I would never wish away my kids, but I should have seen this all before we got married – perhaps things could have turned out differently if I put my foot down sometimes. I always hear people saying you can’t change someone, but I changed so much for her, and I wonder if she would have changed if I was more assertive in the relationship.

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Patience M

My now ex and I were dating for 6 months have known each other for 7 months, backstory when we first started dating I found out he was single for 7 years and I had just gotten out of a relationship that March and started talking to him June of that same year, haven’t been single since 2012. Well when we first started talking and going on dates twice a week or more and we seen each other at work (worked at the same place same shift) things were amazing but moved fast and said I love you after a week and then broke up because of rumors and people saying things about me and he made the comment things were fine in my life before you now there is problems but he came to me like 3-4 days later and pulled me aside one day at work and said he didn’t mean those things just didn’t know where everything was coming from and I was the only new thing in his life and that he wanted to start talking again and see where it goes and we did and got back together and I moved in with him all within 2 weeks after this happening and we spent every minute together because we worked the same shift at work so seen each other on breaks and when we got home and slept at the same time so we had no time to ourselves which has been an issue since day one well then a couple months later I got moved to his department so we literally non stop seen each other every second and we started fighting badly and had just moved into our place and I started thinking he wanted to get back with his kids mom and started fights because I would think this would happen and he wouldn’t tell me because that’s what happened in my past relationships and well I got diagnosed with ptsd and generalized anxiety and depression from my childhood had something happen to me at 12 years old and then my kids dad and I were together for 6.5 years and he cheated 4.5 of those years and kept telling me it was because I wouldn’t give it up all the time and tried to justify his cheating and he got physical with me once and we caught everyday all the time my feelings didn’t matter and if I braught up something I didn’t like he did it was because of me or something I did every time he couldn’t hold himself countable for his actions and so it got taken out on my last boyfriend and we broke up a few days ago. But he said he still loves me and thinks if I can get my ptsd and generalized anxiety and depression taken care of we could work out but right now we can’t. What should I do? He stuck around and tried for 7 months but nothing helped. He said I love you and care about you but we just can’t be together right now but when I also ask if we have another chance of being together again and I’m not just getting my hopes up he said that’s out of the question and doesn’t want me to ask, so I ask if he means it if he says he loves me and he says yes he still does and he doesn’t have feelings for someone else either and doesn’t want to look or talk to any other woman either.

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Sock

Hey there.. My toxic ex keeps making accounts to stalk me and talk to me and keeps messing with me and my emotions and keeps trashing my friends and I am scared and don’t know what to do because one of his friends said he was going to do something really bad in a few months and he knows where I live.. what do I do? should I get police involved?

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terry c

my dad big mean. he insulted me, called me an old man and then called me a pig. and then he told me to look in the mirror to see how srupid look. and then when i siad no, he tried to smash my phone. he smashed it twice on the ground and then the screen protector came off. and then my mom came and siad it was wrong. and then my dad started fighting with my mom and insulting us and yelling at us. and now he siad that we need to wake up at 5 in the morning to workout for an hour and then eat. :(((((((
i have no idea what to do

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Mariela

Um hey so me and my bf had broken up last night after 6 months because he accused me of cheating which i clearly didnt cheat i just texted one of my old friends to see how theyve been so I would want to know what i can do in this case because i really do want a future with him and i also want to clear things up so i dont know what to do

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Sw

Hi, I don’t usually do this but I’m starting to get concerned and scared of my partner. Let’s start from the begining, about 3 months ago I went for a job interview and the boss interviewed me and he came off as very flirty, then me and him a couple hours after the interview went back to his and he cooked me dinner, I know it sounds corny but I believed it was love at first sight for many reasons. But everything was going good, until a week into the relationship, i found out he’s 24 not 20 as he told me. That was one barrier that he lied to me, then about on the 2month into the relationship he said “your mine now, you do what I say when I say, you leave when I say and we go when I say…” And at first I was very concerned as I’m only 19 years old and he’s 24?? Some people will say it sounds bad, but that’s there opinion. But then as soon as we hit 3 months yesturday he said to me “you will listen to me” and I said “and what If I don’t” and he said “then I will be beat you up” I asked him repeatingly if he was serious, and he was dead hand on heart serious.. no laughter nothing.. he acted like beating his girlfriend was normal, he’s never abused me or anything but he gets mad at small things. Like if I shake my head, he shouts at me saying “I don’t you not to do that, listen to me” and I am scared that one day he will actually hit me, I feel like it’s a ticking time bomb, and you all will say why don’t you leave, but it’s not that simple.. I’m carrying his child as we speak, I’m 2 months pregnant.. and he doesn’t know. I’m scared to tell him…. He’s a Turkish man, he believes in different things, all the time we are constantly loving and laughing around with eachother, sex life is good.. love is good… It’s just he gets aggressive for no reason, I can see it’s turning into a toxic relationship. Any advice please. Thank you

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Tessie

I don’t know if its me or him. He says things like this to me: you let little things get you all hung up. why are you so dramatic… He used to call me names.. Well about 3 weeks ago he called me a Lush. I am sure I play a part in all this. I had an abusive father and I know I can get triggered easily. I have been told all my life I am too sensitive. I’ve seen therapists and I am a therapist. I have worked really hard to clear all this old stuff out. I just repeat the scenarios over and over in my head that it is so confusing. Then I get depressed and lonely.

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AB

I am a therapist as well. I am actually a bisexual male married to a man. We have an adopted child, and a foster infant. The relationship has been toxic for a while, and we have been working through it because in some odd way he grounds me, or maybe just sucks the energy from me. I want to literally not move for his promotion and divorce; I try to tell him I don’t think the baby is in our best interest right now because I am trying to further my career and education; our son has major trauma and behavioral issues and the only reason we have the baby is because he thinks we need a full family right now and can’t wait. Gaslighting is literally what I’ve gone through for the past 6 years. I need out. I have no money because I have had more medical and mental health issues in the past year than I’ve had in my whole life, and I have one of the highest ACES scores of other therapists I know. There are all of these resources and research for women in emotionally abusive relationships, yet minimal to none for men in Southern states within the LGBTQ community. I get what you are going through for sure.

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Andrea

I really don’t have anyone to talk to. I’m hoping maybe someone can see this soon and have some encouraging words for me, to say I’ve got this – because I am in serious need of it.

I’ve been with my boyfriend on and off for 4 years, he did a lot of damage to me. It was only off ever because he’d leave me for his baby’s mama and tell me how much he doesn’t want me, can’t stand me, just wants me to go away and leave him alone.

Unfortunately, I was head over heels in love and wasn’t ready to give up. I stuck it out and fought for “us”. Severely out of character for myself. I’m very much a flighty person, the first sign of major red flags and I’m gone so fast.

When things were on, it was SO good. That’s what kept me hanging on, I think. I had this crazy idea in my head that we could make it through every rough patch and eventually be “ok”. Live happily ever after.

The baby’s mama has been gone for over a year but I recently found out he had been trying to get their family back together, again.

It has been so disheartening because I thought we really had it together finally. He was loving me, spoiling me, doting on me. Everything I’d ever wanted – finally after 4 years of hell. He was even telling people that he’s going to ask me to marry him. Which was a shock since he’d been telling me for years he’d never marry me, which was also very hard to go through.

Every once in a while, something reminds me of the past – it really does haunt me. I admit, I’m the toxic one when it comes to the forgiving forgetting and moving on. I don’t think I’m capable of it anymore honestly. I pick fights when something is bothering me about it. I think I’ve been conditioned over the years that I have to be angry to be able to speak my mind.

Tonight, I took a new approach and brought up what was bothering me point blank. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a very non issue but it has a major issue that festers below it.

For a long while, he had an internet romance with a girl almost two years ago. It was pretty progressed by the time I caught on to it. I got a fake profile onto her social media and let me tell you – it was devastating.

Everything I wanted him to be – she had.

He was loving all of her pics, giving her sweet nothings, promising her everything he knew I wanted from him.

Fast forward to today and embarrassingly – I still check her social media from time to time. Mostly waiting for karma to catch up to her. When I told her that he is in fact NOT single and living with me, she really did tell me I’m his crazy ex and obsessed with him and kept on doing her thing with him.

Today id checked on it, I hadn’t in a long time and I happened to catch a phrase that was familiar within her comments on a post.

One of her friends had quoted one of his compliments to her and they were both making fun of him, calling him thirsty and having a good laugh at his expense.

Remember, this was close to two years ago and his stint with her had that big of an affect on her. I couldn’t help but think “I wish he would say those incredible things to me so I could remember them for forever, too.”

I decided to bring it up to him. To let him know I would love that same treatment. Except I wouldn’t make fun of him years later, instead I would still be cherishing it. I told him that if he’d lay it on thick like that for me – I could heal myself. I’d be so happy. Instead I’m wishing that the love of my life would give me the same type of romance he’s given everyone but me.

I thought he’d hear me out and listen and want to fix that. I was dead wrong.

Instead he hit me with a barrage of insults – I’m jealous, insecure, needy, shelfish, manipulative, etc. – granted it probably wasn’t the RIGHT time to bring it up (he has court tomorrow for threatening his baby’s mama – whole different long story) and he made sure to let me know what an awful person I am for that. But I really can’t hold things in otherwise I do go crazy (I’m an anxiety ridden over thinker).

Maybe I am those things, who knows – but he really did dump me instead of wanting to uplift me and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I’m really am past the point of the bottom of the erosion of my self esteem and confidence which is probably why I’m being toxic as well.

I just hurt and I can’t stop bleeding all over everything all of the time. I want to leave so badly. I feel relief when we’re “not together” but I also feel like I can’t breathe when we’re “not together”. This really is the worst place I’ve ever been mentally or emotionally.

I just need for someone to tell me I’m right for wanting to run and I’m validated in it, or to please tell me I’m the toxic one and I need to fix myself for him.

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April

You don’t need to “fix yourself for him.”
You’re not toxic as far as I can tell, I’m afraid you’ve become the victim of a toxic person instead. Truly, this is not just a toxic relationship, he seems to be a problematic person and you shouldn’t spend any more of your life suffering along side that.

You are right to want to run away. I hope you do, I hope you did, because you do not need him.
What you need is some time to heal.
What you need to do is sever ties. Completely.

And I promise that eventually you’ll find the person who never hesitates to whisper sweet everything’s to you. Someone who will always find you interesting, and worthy, and strong, and loving, and everything else you are.

Take some time for yourself, but stop giving time to this person. Please.

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Anthony

Run and don’t look back! The guy is a full blown narcissist! Save yourself and get some counselling as to why you stayed as long as you did in such an abusive relationship!

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Dakota

I need some advise. I feel trapped, but I don’t know why. Some days I just don’t want to come home to anyone and an empty apartment where I can decorate and have my own. My S/O and I have good days and bad days, but I’m always doing something wrong or annoying her. I can do anything right. Everything is always my fault and I over think everything. Which I know I can do, but not with everything. In her eyes I do everything in the most round about way or I take the long way to find out an answer. I’m always the first to apologize and give in to make her happy. I do all the cleaning, cooking, pay all the bills, laundry, and take care of the animals. I work 2 full-time jobs, gave up on college, while she says home as full-time college student. I feel burnt out. She doesn’t do anything for herself and I’m always picking up after her. Every time I say something about how I’m feeling she comes off that I’m making her a victim, and that she can’t anything b/c of her depression/anxiety/PTSD. I’ve encouraged her to medicate and go to therapy. She can’t do anything by herself so I can never have a day just to myself b/c I’ll get texts all the time wanting to just talk b/c she can’t leave me alone. If I’m out an about and she texts me she expects an answer right away, or “i’m ignoring her.” Some days I just want to have a me day, but I can’t. I work at a place where I can’t have my phone, so we use google chat to speak. Sometimes I can’t get to my computer in time for her and she gets so annoyed and mad at me for not answering right away. I’m also hard of hearing that annoyed her to no end, but she speaks so soft. I’ve been very patient, but I just don’t know what to do anymore. We are set to get married in a few years and she has a dress and we have a venue. I’m afraid to leave everything we have. Also over the past month or two she’s told me that she doesn’t like her engagement ring (i’m still paying on it). She had huge “requirements” for a ring to be 2.5-3+ carats. I can’t afford that. So we went together and customized a gemstone ring at 4.16 carats within my budget. Now she doesn’t like it, “b/c it doesn’t sparkle enough.” My family also isn’t the best (story for another day) so I would have no one. Her family has been ever so accepting of me and loves me (which I’ve never had). She has a back up plan too if we where to separate, I’ve never had that or thought about one. I just don’t know what to do. I know some days I’m hard to love b/c I have anxiety/depression and my family isn’t the greatest.

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Mike A

I enjoyed this article, although I have definitely noticed a bit of gender bias in the comments section. I’m male, and I am the first to admit that, I, for the longest time, was the toxic individual. I didn’t do a lot of the the things on here out of being selfish or toxic. I never have been one to open up about feelings after I messed up with the love of my life. I locked up my heart and did everything I could to keep anyone away from it. I still do that. I do it honestly now though. I let my girlfriends know at the very start that I am a damaged individual that may never let anyone near to me as I did A*****a. So far, I have not. But, If I choose to suffer, that’s my choice. I feel that after what I put her through I deserve every bit of sh!t that rains down on me. I don’t put anyone else through the ropes now. It is going to work or it isn’t and most likely, it won’t because my old heart will only belong to one person. My body is another thing entirely. There are no head games and there are no lies. I grant myself no delusions that I will ever be as happy as I once was. I don’t want to be that happy with anyone else as it is not fair to her. Her happiness, to this day, is now I all I care about. She’s gone, and I hope every day that she is happy. That’s what matters. More guys need to catch on to that before they crush the delicate flower that is only blooming for them. You stop giving her the things she so needs, and she will have to fight or or leave to get them as they are necessary for her survival. Not physically, of course. But emotionally, certainly. You guys that read this: They need a love story, they need the real deal and not a novelty distributed to get into their pants. They are living and breathing things of beauty that need care and delicate way of being handled at times. They are not things to be harvested, but only to be nurtured. You take care of an apple tree and for the rest of your life, you can can have sweet delicious apples. So don’t cut it down to make room for more driveway space…..I know that if this is ever read, that I will probably catch some guff, but so be it. I know where I went wrong and I will never do that to anyone else just as I know that I will never be in love with anyone else. 16 years later and no one has ever come close. But I am not empty, because I find much truth in the old saying that “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all”. Some people never take the time to even think about it. I do, all of the time, and it doesn’t bring me pain because the love I do have, although it belongs only to me, brings me light, even in the darkest of times.

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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