No one intentionally enters into a bad relationship, and every couple hits a rough patch from time to time. But there's a difference between coping with some temporary glitches and being stuck in a relationship that's turned toxic. Yet some people linger long after the warning signs arise.
“People stay in toxic relationships for many reasons,” says Kimberly Hershenson, L.M.S.W., a therapist who specialises in relationships. “We get comfortable with the status quo and just continue on the same path because change is hard. We engage in denial and go on because it's easier.”
That denial can make it pretty difficult to figure out that you ought to cut ties ASAP. While you likely have an inkling that something is amiss, you might not be sure if you've ended up in a toxic relationship that's beyond saving.
Not sure how to sort it out? Start by asking yourself these seven questions.
ARE YOU OFTEN SCREAMING AND FIGHTING?
There’s no such thing as a couple who always agrees on everything, but you shouldn't feel like you're on an emotional roller coaster.
“If your conflicts are incredibly intense and lead to drastic words or actions, then there is cause for concern,” says Erin Lewis Ballard, L.M.F.T., a marriage and family therapist. “Experiencing 'zero to sixty,' or being fine one day and then in crisis the next day, is also a sign that your relationship is toxic. And of course, any physical violence is a clear signal to get out now. (Find help here.)
ARE YOU CONSTANTLY KEEPING SCORE?
Relationships shouldn’t feel like a game of basketball where each person is keeping track of how many times they’ve done something good or even something bad.
“We all fall victim to this at times, but a relationship that is consumed by keeping score is toxic,” says Ballard. “Whether you and your partner constantly highlight one another's faults or you find yourself reciting your resume of good deeds, it's a sign that you've turned against each other."
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ARE YOU AFRAID TO TALK TO YOUR PARTNER ABOUT THE IMPORTANT STUFF?
We're not talking about whose turn it is to take out the garbage. If you're hesitant to tell your partner about what's really weighing on your mind—which might include things they're doing (or not doing) in the relationship—watch out, says Jane Reardon, a Los Angeles-based therapist who treats individuals and couples with relationship issues.
“Let’s face it, it’s not always easy to confront someone you care so much about," she says. "But when couples opt for keeping it comfortable instead of keeping it real, I hear a death knell ringing" for the relationship.
DOES YOUR PARTNER ONLY CARE ABOUT THEMSELVES?
You might not have realised it in the beginning, but over time a narcissist's true personality traits will be revealed. “When you're with a narcissist, there will only be one person who matters, and it won't be you," says therapist and couples counselor Evie Shafner.
A narcissist will try to manipulate or guilt you into meeting their needs while ignoring yours. "They mostly talk about themselves and aren't really responsive to what's going on with you. And the biggest issue is that they have no empathy,” says Shafner.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN'T DO ANYTHING RIGHT?
If you're working overtime to please your partner yet getting nowhere, you probably never will.
“Making someone feel like they can't do anything right can be a serious sign of psychological abuse,” says Shafner. “Your partner is supposed to be your biggest cheerleader, a soft place to land. If they're not, buyer beware—and love yourself enough to leave.”
ARE THEY SELFISH IN BED?
Although sex is only one part of your relationship, it's usually a pretty important one. And a partner who treats you poorly in the bedroom is unlikely to be kind in other areas of the relationship.
“Guilt-tripping a partner into having sex when they don't want to or ignoring a partner's need for pleasure might be signs that you should end things," says Hershenson.
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