By Valentine Lacour
Why should we talk more about toxic relationships?
I am not a relationship guru (nor a therapist!), but I am usually that one friend who people call for relationship advice. I believe it is because I have had my share of bad experiences when it comes to relationships… and I have recovered from them!
Amongst the (numerous) mistakes I have made in the past, I count “staying in a toxic relationship for a whole year” as the biggest. Although toxic relationships are very common, it is not an easy topic to write (or read) about. I believe that most of us have been – or will be – involved in a toxic relationship at some point in our lives, and as one of the unfortunates who has been there already, I have decided to share with you my tips to identify red flags of typically toxic behaviour.
You are not alone
A few years ago, I was reading an interview about a woman who left a toxic marriage. She was describing the multiple toxic behaviours of her partner: the cheating, the lying, the guilt, the blackmail, the stealing… and many more. While reading her testimony, I felt more than just empathy for her. I could relate to her story (or to some aspects at least.)
Obviously, our stories were very different (and so is yours!), but I couldn’t help but think about one of my past relationships. A flow of negative, overwhelming memories that I thought were forever deeply buried in my brain resurfaced instantly. That’s when I realised (or admitted) that I had myself been in a toxic relationship.
If you think you have been, or currently are, in a toxic relationship, you need to know that you are not alone!
What is a toxic relationship?
I wish I could give you one specific definition of a toxic relationship, but unfortunately, it can be many things and take any shape. According to psychiatrist Dr. Tracey Marks, toxic behaviours can appear in any relationship you have with a person who “takes up space in your life”. You can have a toxic relationship with your parents, your siblings, your friends, your partner, and even your work colleagues or boss.
If one of these people makes you feel deeply uncomfortable, pressures you to do things you don’t want to, or tends to lie and manipulate, you might want to distance yourself from them. These are some major red flags. That said, I am aware that in relationships, nothing is perfectly black or white. The grey area in which arguments and disagreements happen exists and it’s normal.
Three red flags you should watch out for in your relationship
I have listed for you three toxic behaviours that I personally no longer tolerate in my relationships, and I advise you to do the same!
1. The Bullying: when you feel scared, stressed, and anxious
Unless you have social anxiety, you should not feel awfully anxious or sick when thinking about meeting your friends (or partner, or family), because you are worried that your dress, your job, or your apartment will be criticised. When someone criticises EVERYTHING about you “as a joke”, trust me, they are bad news!
Of course, it is important to be able to laugh about yourself and even a good friend might laugh at you sometimes. When your relationship is strong enough to take the hit and the trust is there. When you know you can return the joke and laugh together. But it is not acceptable to be the constant target of jokes.
You shouldn’t let yourself be bullied by your friends, family, partner or in your workplace!
If you are in this situation, you should explain that you feel uncomfortable, and it is your right to expect an apology. If you are told to “stop being a mood-killer” or to “calm down” because “it’s just a joke”, then it’s time to rethink your relationship!
2. The Disrespect: when they cross your physical and moral boundaries
You have probably been told before that you need to “gain someone’s respect”. Well, I think this is wrong. You can gain someone’s trust or admiration. Eventually, you might lose someone’s respect and gain it back. But I believe we are all entitled to be respected in the first place.
In a toxic relationship, you might have to confront someone who does not respect you, your choices, your opinion, your body, your personal space, or your boundaries.
Often, our boundaries are clear: for instance, “no cheating”, “no lying” are common rules in a romantic relationship (assuming you agree on the definition of “cheating”). But sometimes, our boundaries are difficult to define or express because of social expectations. For instance, you need to remember that it’s not because you are involved in a committed relationship that you have to spend all your free time with your partner. You can refuse to have your partner coming over to your place without having to justify yourself. You can refuse a sexual relationship and you can change your mind as many times as you want. Nobody can push you to do anything you don’t want to.
If someone in your life constantly crosses your physical or moral boundaries without your consent, then they are not respecting you. It is time to say STOP.
3. The Manipulation: When you feel under pressure, guilty and isolated
Another warning sign that you are probably in a toxic relationship is if you feel manipulated. A toxic relationship is often built around an ego complex. The toxic person might exert pressure on you in order to control you. Remember that you have full ownership of your actions and thoughts.
When talking about toxic relationships with my friends, one thing that often comes back is that their partners make them feel guilty about everything. It can be because they didn’t respond fast enough to a text, they went out with friends instead of staying home or refused to give them the passwords to their private devices. These are typical toxic behaviours.
You shouldn’t feel guilty for hanging out with your friends or protecting your privacy. Being in a relationship does not mean that you have to expose your whole life. You should feel free to share the different aspects of your life in your own time, and only if you want to.
Self-love and recovery
Finally, If you feel you are currently in a toxic relationship, I have one last piece of advice: Take care of yourself (and stay away from toxic people! as mentioned on Harry Styles’ jumper). Call your friends, treat yourself with comfort food and hours of facemasks! You deserve it! You can also seek professional help if you feel like it. Do not feel guilty for letting a toxic person in your life: it is not your fault!
Taking time for self-care is essential.
When I was going through the recovery process, I relied a lot on my friends and family for a while. I also made myself a little “self-care package” that helped me feel better (see some of my favourites below):
Shop our self-care edit
If you identify some (or all) of these red flags in a relationship you have with a friend, a partner, or a family member, you might want to start thinking about it as a toxic relationship. If you decide to take your distance for them (or already have), take some time for yourself to recover. Toxic relationships hit on different levels and tend to affect your self-confidence.
Allow yourself some time to recover. Don’t be too harsh on yourself!
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