Never Ignore These Red Flags When You're In A Toxic Relationship

A toxic relationship is a huge red flag sewn together from many tiny ones. From jealousy to insecurity and apathy, there's no lack of pests that can eat away at the love between two people and threaten heartbreak. When toxicity seeps in through the cracks in a relationship, it can shake the very foundation of a human-to-human bond. According to body language expert Dr. Lillian Glass, who is supposedly the brains behind the concept, a toxic relationship can look like many things: disrespect or competitiveness or even just an unfortunate mismatch (per Time). 

Interestingly, your gut knows more than your heart does right from the get-go, says clinical social worker Jennifer Kelman. It sagely tries to alert us to people's red flags, but the emotional fool in us all brushes them aside. "Red flags need to get the attention they deserve and they need to not be pushed away or given excuses for," Kelman told Forbes. If there's no scope for healing — meaning, the red flag just keeps getting redder — then it's probably best to walk away from all that toxicity. To navigate those complex circumstances, it would do good to have a shrewd mind to detect what constitutes an unhealthy relationship. So take note of these red flags.

Lying becomes second nature for you or your partner

It never stops at just one lie. Dishonesty can eat away at the very core of love. It goes without saying that lying is a major red flag in romantic relationships. But wait ... before you go ahead and chide your significant other for lying about eating that last slice of pizza you had saved for later, know that minor fibs are part of all relationships and, as experts quoted by Women's Health suggest, white lies are sometimes even healthy.

Things take a turn for the worse when lying becomes a compulsive habit or is used for ulterior motives. "Lying for self-gain or personal agenda, to manipulate or hide information, and lies that are hurtful or betray a trust are the lies that do damage," psychologist Joseph Cilona told the publication. 

Though it's not the easiest thing to judge if someone is lying to you, a pattern of common tells can alert you to your partner's deception — continuous canceling of plans, evasiveness or defensiveness, inconsistencies in stories, and unusual lack of intimacy. From romantic cheating to financial fraud, there's an open field of opportunity behind your back that your partner could be sneaking through. Mind you, keeping tabs on them by checking their phone or hiring a private investigator won't be durable long-term solutions. And if confrontation, confession, or communication don't bring resolution, your relationship might have reached a dead-end. 

You're bombarded with unsolicited, destructive criticism

Criticism is best when it's constructive. When it veers into spiteful territory where the red flags are, that's when you need to call an end to it. Destructive criticism will not only destabilize the love and trust that form the bedrock of your relationship, but it will also wreak havoc on your self-esteem. "Criticism is when a complaint is expressed as a character flaw," couples therapist Zach Brittle told HuffPost.

The fundamental idea behind nasty criticism is attacking the person instead of resolving the point of dispute arising from one partner's behavior. It's easily distinguishable from healthy feedback, which focuses on problem-solving with the intent to find actual solutions. So don't let your partner pass off criticism as feedback! 

"Conflict happens between couples, criticism is delivered from one person to another," Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist, told Elite Daily. It's important to differentiate between conflict and criticism in romantic relationships, in tandem with the checks set by personal boundaries. If being joked about by your partner before a group of friends is where you draw the line, it deserves consideration. A supportive romance isn't about one-upping or punching down at your significant other to win dominion or appease an ego. 

You have a feeling of being gaslit

We finally have a name for all the times that our partners manipulated us into questioning our own confidence: gaslighting. It seems to be quite a common phenomenon in romantic relationships, apparent in Merriam-Webster's choice of it as the word of the year in 2022. Describing it as "the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one's own advantage," the dictionary observed that the term gaslighting was in popular use throughout 2022, with a 1,740% increase in online searches for it. 

In more ways than one, invalidating a partner's feelings or experiences constitutes emotional abuse and can severely affect their sense of worth. "Over time, being gaslit breaks down the victim's self-esteem and their own ability to trust their own perspective on things," psychologist and relationship expert Betsy Chung told Cosmopolitan. She added that such patterns of behavior could prompt an imbalance in the relationship and increased interdependence from the victim. 

Being gaslit can look like a lot of things, from being told that an emotion you felt never happened or that you're too sensitive, to being guilted into believing a partner's innocence. If you feel like you're losing control over yourself or are hearing phrases like "you're crazy" way too frequently, that's exactly when you should trust your gut and get out of this toxic cycle. 

There's a clear lack of trust

A relationship can neither thrive nor survive without trust. That's because a lot of other equally important things are linked to trust, according to experts. Feelings of safety, comfort, belief, and conviction in love all stem from how openly both partners are able to give themselves to each other, with the faith that their trust is in safe hands.

Trust issues are the bane of any romance and induce self-defeating behaviors like excessive control, suspicion, obsessive stalking, or delusion, which can't be good for either partner. And so, building on it is an essential exercise in a relationship. But, as Women's Health notes, exchanging TikToks with your significant other on social media hardly qualifies. Spending quality time with each other is a gateway to healthier communication and trust. On the flip side, "Belittling, criticizing, and yelling erode trust — fast," marriage therapist Theresa Herring told the publication, highlighting that a long-term relationship sustains through trust.

"A relationship should give you the confidence and also the safety net to feel like you can do you and be more," dating coach Laurel House explained to The Healthy, pointing out that a lack of trust can prove detrimental to the status of a safe zone that a partnership holds. 

Your partner falls into patterns of abusive behavior

The greatest, most glaring red flag in relationships is a normalization of patterns of abuse, whether physical or emotional. The phenomenon of intimate partner violence captures a spectrum of mistreatment in relationships and, as noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can entail anything from sexual violence to stalking and psychological aggression, which studies show are experienced by millions across the United States. According to The Hotline, the figures for emotional abuse are staggering, with data from 2020 stating that 96% of the domestic violence helpline's callers experienced it. 

Pioneering psychologist Lenore Walker's influential theory on a four-part cycle of abuse developed in 1979 scrutinizes a noticeable pattern of violence in relationships: growing tensions, expression of abuse, and reconciliation followed by calm, before the cycle repeats. While emotional abuse in relationships can be hard to detect, some expert-vetted warning signs include extreme possessiveness, stonewalling, screaming or threatening, increased jealousy, and isolation. 

Given its blatant nature that could manifest in forms of domestic violence or hurt, physical abuse makes itself more evident than emotional abuse, which can be an equally damaging affair to navigate. The complication of identifying emotional abuse stems from its signs being more subtle and gradual, according to counseling psychologist Sherry Benton, who told Brides, "Each time, you're getting more adapted to the negative patterns, so it gets more difficult to see — as well as to leave."

Conflicts are usually left unresolved

Films and pop culture may make angry sex look cool, but is non-confrontation actually an effective way to heal conflicts in relationships? Healthy and open communication has long been understood as the hallmark of successful partnerships — as have conflicts. An amalgamation of the two is what determines the longevity of a relationship. "Although we tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness, a lasting relationship results from a couple's ability to manage the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship," according to The Gottman Institute

The operative idea here is that conflicts are unavoidable in relationships. You may squabble with your partner over something they said at a party or argue with them over certain lifestyle choices, and conflict resolution doesn't necessarily have to end in agreement. In fact, research suggests that 69% of relationship conflicts relate to never-ending issues, but what's important is to not let them fester into "gridlocked conflict" (per The Gottman Institute).

Even if it takes a fight to resolve a conflict, psychologist Harriet Lerner urges couples to go for it and "know we can survive conflict and even learn from it" (via HuffPost). Avoiding or delaying communication about a dispute can fuel stress in a relationship, and if you catch yourself or your partner falling into such habits, it may be time for a reality check. 

Date nights are no longer a thing

Remember the early days of new love when you looked forward to those dreamy dinners with your partner? If those date nights are a thing of the past in your relationship, then we have news for you that you may not like. The decline of dinner dates or intimate outings between partners unfortunately signals a major red flag in relationships.

The length of a relationship shouldn't be inversely proportional to the private time you allot for your significant other — whether it's a short-term involvement or a long-term marriage, date nights are key in all contexts. "The benefits of date nights are increased connection and a reminder of why the couple wants to be together," Brides quotes therapist K'Hara McKinney as saying. 

Date night doesn't necessarily have to be an elaborate affair with candlelit dinners and rose baths. Sexuality educator Melanie Davis notes that simply playing cards or cooking together does the trick just as well: "Maybe it should be renamed 'date time,' since it doesn't matter when you do it — as long as you do it," she told CNN. Date nights strengthen communication and emotional commitment, experts observe. The foundation of personal downtime with your partner is that you love each other enough to make time for each other despite your busy lives. Taking each other for granted can snuff out the whole relationship!  

Your social life outside the relationship becomes restricted

It should set off alarm bells for you if ever your friends complain that in prioritizing your romantic relationship, you have stopped making time for them. Sure, you may choose to give precedence to your significant other when blocking time for dinner dates or vacations, but forgetting to have a life in the process is a huge red flag!

A relationship is like a Venn diagram comprising two entities that overlap, but not fully. It's a concept referred to as differentiation, important to have in relationships where the partners can appreciate being separate in heart and mind. Your partner should ideally be secure, even happy, with the information that you have a thriving social life outside their purview.

Isolating yourself (or worse, having a controlling partner isolate you) from friends, some of whom may have been around since before your relationship, is a toxic situation to be in. In the worst-case scenario, it can even point to your relationship being emotionally abusive – something your friends, from their distinct vantage point, may become conscious of long before you do. Just like you should never ignore the good sense of your gut, so should you pay heed to the feelers your friends put out about your love affair. 

There's a lack of respect for the boundaries you set

We've been made to believe that unconditional love is the most superior form of commitment there is. Is that at all fair ... or true? Like all relationships, romantic alliances are at their healthiest when secured by personal boundaries. Unfortunately, for many of us, the concept of setting boundaries carries an unfavorable connotation that ties to guilt "because we may be afraid that if we do, we'll lose someone we care about," author Helene Lerner told Reader's Digest. These boundaries can be anything that protects your peace — whether it's reluctance for sex on certain days or not bickering over minute details — but once established, they should be respected. 

Setting and respecting boundaries in a relationship is key to establishing trust between partners, as well as prioritizing yourself, therapist Janet Park told Insider. Overstepping boundaries and breaking trust can thus be detrimental to the relationship and each partner's mental health. That said, not all limits you set in a partnership have to necessarily be watertight, and partners can communicate to find a place where both their boundaries converge. As Park puts it, "It is a two-way street." Disrespecting a partner's safe zones is a sure-shot way of telling them you don't value them enough and is a big, flapping red flag!  

You feel emotionally drained in their presence

A loving partner should fulfill you, not drain you. If you catch yourself worked up over a text from your partner, or the thought of meeting them for lunch tires you in advance, it's a red flag you shouldn't ignore. Being with an emotionally draining person won't do your mental health any good.

"It's hard to concentrate on other relationships and your career if you're always mentally exhausted," dating coach Cherlyn Chong told Insider about the damaging effects of a romance that saps your energy. Naturally — if your partner's emotional needs demand more time than your own or communicating with them in any way burns you out, you won't have any time or energy left to invest elsewhere.

Healthy communication may see a setback, and intimacy could take a back seat. One of the biggest indicators of an emotionally draining relationship is when their absence makes you happier and you find yourself able to comfortably be yourself without the burden of constantly worrying about your significant other. "If you're all that excited to have a weekend alone, consider that the reason for your joy is that they're draining you when they're around," relationship expert April Maccario told Bustle. A nurturing relationship is built on equal partnership: you give what you take. An imbalance in that dynamic may warrant a relook at your relationship! 

Jealousy hangs over your relationship

The green monster comes bearing a red flag. Jealousy is never a good color on people, and if you notice that monster rearing its head at any point in your relationship, consider it a warning sign that needs redressal. Though it stems from a place some may consider endearing — of not wanting to lose your partner — toxic jealousy opens the door to hell that can set loose the demons of mistrust, control, and even abuse in a relationship. "What began as a partnership of equals can degenerate into an unhappy relationship of guard and jailer," expert Daniel Freeman told NBC News

That said, jealousy can be perceived differently by different people. You may feel flattered when your partner gets overprotective of you around a certain friend. And, believe it or not, some envy could keep your romantic health in check.

"When you see that someone else finds your partner interesting, it can re-fire your own desire for them," according to couples therapist Kalanit Ben-Ari (via Cosmopolitan). However, if jealousy is influencing your partner to monitor every move you make or resent every milestone you achieve, that's not something to be taken lightly.

You are highly codependent on your significant other

Everybody needs a shoulder to lean on. But if you use that shoulder way too often, even to the point of finding that you can't thrive in a difficult situation without your partner's assurance, it's not the best sign. Clingy or needy is what such a person is often referred to, in common parlance. "Codependence is an imbalanced relationship pattern where one partner assumes a high-cost 'giver-rescuer' role and the other the 'taker-victim' role," NBC News quotes psychologist Shawn Meghan Burn as saying. 

Codependency in a relationship may feel like you're existing in a vacuum of personal agency, while the regulation of your moods, emotions, actions, and reactions lies in your partner's hands. "Feeling excessive guilt for doing anything for yourself is another major characteristic," according to clinical psychologist Coda Derrig, who points out that boundaries may be hard to establish in such a dynamic (via Cleveland Clinic). 

One of the biggest advantages of being in a supportive relationship is having a significant other who can fulfill one's needs, but if it's not an even give-and-take, the emotional investment can become lopsided and end up allowing one partner's low self-esteem to be strong-armed by the other.

You feel like you're being controlled

If you feel like you're being controlled in a relationship, you probably are. The conundrum may have existed since the beginning of your relationship or gradually developed over the course of it — whichever the case, an unequal power dynamic is a stressful situation to be in. With your partner taking charge on all matters, from financial to social, it's natural to feel robbed of your voice and autonomy.

According to therapist Heather Lofton, a person's disposition to control another could be rooted in childhood traumas and "influenced by core fundamental needs that have not been met in the past" (via Newsweek). As such, your partner may not even be cognizant of the fact that they are pulling the strings in your life — but you'll feel the effects.  

Living in the shadow of a hegemonic partner, you may find your social circle getting restricted, feel like they're hovering over you all the time, have your opinions rejected and patronized, or even be at the receiving end of threats from them. "Pay attention to how they speak," advises relationship expert Lisa Concepcion, telling Insider that the language used by controlling people comprises greatly of what you "should" do. Their manipulation, conscious or unconscious, is aimed at the fulfillment of their own needs, without any regard for yours. You don't need this.

Insecurity gets in the way of love

Insecurity can affect even the most confident of us. It's a core part of being human. The experience of feeling like you're just not good enough can manifest itself in a variety of contexts, from your workplace to your social life. But when it snakes into your personal life and refuses to leave, your romantic connections run the risk of toppling over. From jealousy to codependency, insecurity can foster a range of responses unfavorable to a relationship. Worst of all, it can leave you with a constant itch of inadequacy and an urge for perfectionism, which could create misunderstandings that override love. 

That said, feelings of insecurity aren't always accurate determinants of a toxic relationship. "You can be insecure in your relationship and absolutely be with the right person," relationship therapist Alysha Jeney told Brides, with a key observation that our insecurities can be traced back to our attachment and trust issues. While a manipulative partner may see your insecurity as a window of opportunity to exploit in the relationship, an emotionally evolved one may be able to open the doors of communication — and if the relationship is worth saving, work at it!