Toxic relationships. We have all had one or know someone in one.
According to PsychAlive.org, “a toxic relationship is often characterized by repeated, mutually destructive modes of relating between a couple. These patterns can involve jealousy, possessiveness, dominance, manipulation, desperation, selfishness or rejection.”
I will be honest with you. When you live with mental illness, the chances of becoming a part of a toxic relationship skyrockets.
Relationships are difficult under the best of circumstances. When you add mental illness to the mix, the waters become treacherous. Click here to read my post about the reasons the mentally ill struggle with relationships.
You just don’t wonder if people will leave, you know they will. At least, that’s what your experience tells you. You have been so damaged by the losses you have experienced that you believe you must accept any treatment you receive, so you can have a relationship.
For the purposes of this post, I use the word relationship to mean a romantic pairing, but you can easily apply the signs depicted below to any relationship.
And even though this post is directed at the mentally ill who become embroiled in toxic relationships, they do not have the market cornered on dysfunctional relationships.
Anyone can fall into a toxic relationship. Read this post knowing that even though you don’t think so, the signs below could very well apply to you.
Here are five signs that your relationship is toxic:
1. You are putting more into the relationship than you are getting back.
We have all had relationships like this. You give, give, give and get almost nothing in return.
It takes more than a 50/50 commitment of effort for a relationship to flourish. Both parties must give 100% for the relationship to grow and mature.
Sure, there will be times when one person has more to give than the other. That is perfectly normal. When the one you care for is struggling, it is always the right thing to hold them up when they can’t carry themselves.
But when your relationship is always about you carrying the other person, and they are nowhere to be found when you are in need, a warning alarm should go off in your head.
The best relationships occur when both parties put in 110% of their effort. If your relationship is more like 80-20, it may be time to move on.
2. Whenever you try to talk about issues in the relationship, your significant other gaslights you.
According to Dictionary.com, gaslighting “is a form of emotional abuse or psychological manipulation involving distorting the truth in order to confuse or instill doubt in another person to the point they question their sanity or reality.”
The mentally ill are not the only ones vulnerable to gaslighting. Those who gaslight are master manipulators who can make even the sanest person believe there must be something wrong with them. That they are crazy. That they are an unreliable narrator of the events in the relationship.
Sometimes the manipulation is so subtle that you don’t realize it is happening until it engulfs you in a sea of confusion and doubt. And unfortunately, some people are so desperate to have a relationship—any relationship—they buy into the lies they are being told or ignore the signs.
3. The relationship is abusive.
Many people believe that physical abuse is the only form of abuse that is damaging. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Have you ever had someone browbeat you with inflammatory words? In its own way, emotional abuse is arguably as painful as physical abuse.
When you are physically or emotionally abused over time, your brain chemistry changes. The physical abuse wears down your defenses one blow at a time. The flood of negativity your abuser feeds you become ingrained in your mind.
It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. You become who they say you are.
Don’t believe the lie that because there are no bruises on your body that your relationship is not abusive. Abuse comes in all shapes and sizes. Any behavior that devalues you and makes you doubt your self-worth is abuse.
4. Your significant other is a narcissist.
According to Dictionary.com, a narcissist is “a person who is overly self-involved, and often vain and selfish.”
I found this definition to be overly simplistic. On some days, we all have narcissistic moments according to that definition.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I have vain, self-involved, selfish days. I bet you have those days too.
That definition makes narcissism look like run-of-the-mill self-absorption. I found the Mayo Clinic’s definition to be more compelling.
According to the Mayo Clinic, narcissistic personality disorder is a “mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.”
A lack of empathy for others often means that your narcissistic partner is still thinking, “Me. Me. Me,” even when the energy it takes to feed their ego and meet their unrealistic demands drains you.
I think is important to remember that the narcissist is the one with the mental condition even though they are likely a master at manipulating you to believe that you are the problem.
5. You and your significant other are unequally yoked.
Not all relationships are toxic because of abuse or a narcissistic partner. Relationships can be made up of two great people who are just not great for each other.
If you are Christian, you are familiar with the term “unequally yoked.” In biblical terms, that means that you and your partner are not on the same page about matters of faith.
If you and your partner don’t share the same religious ideals, it is only a matter of time before the relationship crumbles or the person of faith falters. My only caveat to that would be that the relationship could endure and thrive if your partner came to faith in Jesus Christ by seeing your example.
Christian couples are not the only ones that can be unequally yoked. Two people of any belief system can be a bad match because they don’t have the same core values.
Everyone has deal breakers. When you are unequally yoked, those deal breakers rise to the top as the relationship progresses. The little things become big things. And then the big things become huge things until something gives.
If you nodded the entire time you were reading this post, then your relationship is probably toxic. It is one thing to know a relationship is bad for you and another thing to take the steps necessary to leave an unhealthy pairing.
There are no easy answers about how to navigate the waters of mental illness and cultivate great relationships in the process. I could write a book on that subject, and my response would still be inadequate and incomplete.
Stay tuned because next week I will be back with part two of my series on toxic relationships. I will provide you with practical and actionable advice about how to break free from toxic relationships.