Being in a relationship with other people is a fundamental need of humanity. There is a reason even reclusive monks live in monasteries surrounded by other reclusive monks. It’s because human beings were designed by God to be in a relationship.
God Himself is intrinsically relational, existing eternally in love shared between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As his image bearers, humanity is intended to reflect his relational character.
However, God is perfect, and humanity is not. This means that even in your best, most healthy relationships, there will be conflict and issues. But what happens when these issues and conflicts go from being occasional occurrences to the dominant force in your relationship? What happens when your relationship starts to drain you of love, energy, and life, rather than fill you up?
If you are asking yourself those two questions, then you might be in a toxic relationship. According to Psychology Today,the definition of a toxic relationship “…is any relationship that is unfavorable to you or others.” Now, it’s important to note that this definition doesn’t say is “occasionally unfavorable.”
All relationships will at times be inconvenient and require sacrifice because that is the nature of being in a mutual relationship. However, when a relationship ceases to be positive and instead becomes unfavorable all together, then there is a problem.
Relationships are meant to consist of give and take, and if the other person will only take and not give, then you might be in a toxic relationship. Here are some key signs of a toxic relationship.
Warning Signs of a Toxic Relationship
Uneasiness Around the Person
One warning sign of a toxic relationship that sometimes goes unnoticed is a sense of unease. In a safe, healthy relationship, you will feel secure to be who you are and say what you think. Even if you do get into conflict because you disagree, you will work things out.But, in a toxic relationship, you don’t feel free to be yourself and say what you think because you never know how the other person will respond. While this is hard in any relationship, it is particularly devastating in a toxic marriage because having to hide who you are emotionally drains you over time.
In severe cases, this sense of uneasiness and mistrust can even begin to manifest as things like ulcers, throwing up, passing out, chest pains, or new skin flare-ups. These are ways that your body is trying to tell you something. Symptoms like this could be related to other sources of stress or issues, but if you can’t find any other explanations for the symptoms, then they might be caused by stress from your relationship.
They Can’t Acknowledge Wrong
Regardless of who you are, what you do, or how talented you are, everyone makes mistakes. While human fallibility is universal, the willingness to acknowledge it isn’t. In a healthy relationship, both people will make mistakes and hurt one another.
And part of that healthy relationship is being willing to acknowledge your part in the conflict and ask for forgiveness. When this happens, a relationship is able to grow because each person feels seen, known, heard, and mutually respected.
However, not everyone is willing to acknowledge their mistakes or wrongdoing. This is a key sign of a toxic relationship – the inability to admit wrong. When a toxic person is confronted with something they’ve done, they will likely place the blame somewhere else, maybe even on you.
The conflict will escalate either into a fight or into an icy distance between you and the person. Rather than being willing to acknowledge their mistake, they will refuse to accept responsibility.
Conflicts Don’t Get Resolved
Again, conflicts are going to come up in relationships. However, as previously noted, in a healthy relationship, both people will want to hear each other out so they can resolve the conflict. This may not be a neat or tidy process, but the point is both people, at the end of the day want to work things out and are willing to sacrifice to do so.When the conflict is with a toxic person, then conflicts won’t go smoothly. A tell-tale sign of a toxic relationship or a toxic marriage is stonewalling. Stonewalling is when “the listener withdraws from the interaction, shutting down and closing themselves off from the speaker.” (The Gottman Institute)
Stonewalling doesn’t just occur in fights, although it commonly does. It can also exist when one person is unwilling to discuss important topics, such as having children, career, finances, etc. When this happens important discussions and conflicts never get resolved, they just get replayed over and over again. This only multiplies the conflicts.
You Begin to Feel Isolated
A toxic person wants to pull you away from your friends and family. If you are connected to other people, then your friend or partner will have less influence over you. But, if you become isolated, their voice will hold more power.
This is the importance of having healthy relationships with other people who can speak into your life, even when you are in a dating relationship. It’s normal to spend less time with friends and family when you enter a romantic relationship, but you shouldn’t give up or be asked to give up those other relationships entirely. If you feel like you are being guilted or shamed for maintaining other healthy friendships and relationships, then they may be attempting to isolate you.
With all that being said about isolation, another key warning sign of a toxic relationship is when other trusted friends and family are concerned about your relationship. If people you know and trust question what’s going on, then that can be a sign that there is a problem.
Competition Becomes Demoralizing
Competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to push our friends and partners, and a little bit of healthy competition can do just that. Competition becomes toxic when the other person starts to belittle your success or mock you for failing.
For example, think about playing games with a friend or partner. In any game, there is a certain level of competition because someone will win, and someone will lose. Healthy people can win and lose with honor and dignity, realizing what is important is spending time with the other person. The game is only a vehicle of relationship.
A toxic person will care more about the game than the relationship. If you win, they will discredit your victory by saying you cheated or somehow won unfairly. That’s not a good sign. It’s also not a good sign if when they win, they mock and ridicule you for being inept.
These examples may sound extreme, but if you’ve ever played games with a toxic person, you’ll know they are very realistic. In a healthy relationship, competition should push one another forward, so you can celebrate the victories together.
In a toxic relationship, your victories are a threat to their security and will not be celebrated. They may even be discounted, which may make you feel like you need to hide your accomplishments from your partner or friend.
A toxic relationship or a toxic marriage is not a joke. It’s not the temporary conflict and tensions healthy people will go through. Instead, it is a prolonged relationship that over time drains and demoralizes you as a person.
When God created humans for relationship, this was not the type of relationship he intended. God’s heart for his people is put on display through Scriptures as he calls human beings to be kind, patient, loving, and forgiving. Some of his harshest words and commandments are for people who live in hate and an unwillingness to forgive other people.
If you see some of these signs in your life, please reach out to a Christian Counselor. A mental health professional can help you process what is going on in your relationship and how to move forward. This is one of the best ways to move from a toxic relationship to a healthy one.
“Love”, Courtesy of JUrban, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Lonely”, Courtesy of Wokandapix, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Pensive”, Courtesy of Pexels, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Love”, Courtesy of PhotoMIX-Company, Pixabay.com, CC0 License