When you’re in a bumpy relationship, at a certain point you become so used to the bumps that it can be hard to spot signs that the relationship has become unhealthy, or even toxic. Part of what makes it difficult to recognize that a relationship has declined into being unacceptable is that all relationships go through difficult times – times when not-so-good days are just part of life.
So how do you know when your relationship has crossed the line from “going through a rough patch” to being unhealthy? To help you decide, consider these 4 criteria:
1. Time spent together leaves you feeling badly about yourself. There are characteristics about yourself that you value – perhaps it’s your generosity, your optimistic nature, or your cooking abilities. When your partner devalues these traits and leaves you feeling disrespected, you will feel worse about yourself for being in the relationship. Also, your relationship cannot be happy in the long term. When your partner’s negative thoughts and feelings about you become how you relate to yourself, then the relationship is toxic for you.
2. You or your partner is not capable of an interdependent relationship. The strongest relationships are ones that support both independence and dependence. Each partner feels supported as an independent individual and is encouraged to depend on the other for comfort and encouragement. When either of these aspects of a relationship is missing, the relationship is weakened and will likely deteriorate over time.
Relationships descend from being unhealthy into being toxic when at least one partner works against the other one in an overpowering way. It could be that a highly dependent partner clings so much that their behavior becomes controlling and may even include stalking. Or, a partner might so value independence that they are not there at all emotionally for their partner, and may even be highly critical or condescending toward their partner. If you are at this point, your relationship may be toxic to your emotional health. (And what is toxic to your emotional health is often eventually toxic to your physical health.)
3. Your partner is not ready for a committed relationship, but you are. Partners are often out of sync with each other at different points in time. However, if you remain in a relationship for an extended time, hoping that your partner will change their mind, then you may find that it takes a huge emotional toll on you. At some point, you may need to decide whether it is unhealthy for you to continue in the relationship – despite how much you care.
You are facing an even more difficult problem if your partner says they want to commit, but does nothing about it. Maybe they are struggling with fears of commitment that you can support them in working through. Or, maybe they are trying to keep a good thing going without concern for your feelings. If you think it’s the latter situation, then pay attention to this. The relationship will likely just continue until it is so unhealthy that you will have caused great harm to yourself by staying.
4. You and your partner do not communicate well. Good communication is key in helping partners to become emotionally close. Also, when tensions arise, it is essential that you can both talk through differences constructively. These conversations don’t need to go perfectly smoothly, but you do need to be able to work together to keep them on track. Otherwise, the strains and stresses of your relationship will create an unhealthy situation.
While there are no perfect relationships, it is important to distinguish between needing to smooth out some problems and being in an essentially unhealthy situation. By assessing your situation, you put yourself in the position of being able to fix or change an unhealthy one, whether directly with your partner or through couples therapy. Or, you may decide that you need to end it. The choice is up to you.