The True-Tale Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship

The True-Tale Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship
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In the past few years, there have been more than a handful of discussions around toxic relationships and what they can look like.

To get a better sense of what people are talking about when they describe toxic relationships, we chatted with Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno over email, who was able to offer some insight. Here’s what she shared.

Warning: this article deals with the topic of toxic relationships and abuse and may be triggering for some, if you or someone you love needs support, you can find it through resources like Beyond Blue and Lifeline (13 11 14). If you’re experiencing an emergency, call 000.

What is a toxic relationship?

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To begin, it’s important to highlight that toxicity can appear in any kind of relationship, not just romantic ones. While toxic partners, or exes, tend to sit at the centre of most conversations in this space, they are not the only damaging examples we see. As Sokarno explained, “toxicity can happen in any kind of relationship”.

In terms of a definition, Sokarno shared that “A toxic relationship can be defined by one that is emotionally and/or physically damaging to each other”.

And while it’s often the case that there is one person inflicting the pain, that’s not the only way these relationships play out.

“Sometimes there is one perpetrator that displays toxic behaviour towards the other, and other times it is both parties inflicting damaging behaviour,” Sokarno said.

Red flags to look out for

While any relationship that is leaving you in pain or distress is one that’s worth assessing, there are a handful of clear signs your partnership may be leading to toxic territory. Addressing these red flags is sometimes more easily said than done but in the long run, prioritising your well-being is always worth it.

Here are the signs that may indicate your relationship is a toxic one, according to Sokarno:

The below quotes are all attributed to Nancy Sokarno.

  • Constant conflict: If you feel constantly in a state of conflict in your relationship, that is a big red flag. A state of conflict looks like always fighting or arguing or just constantly disagreeing on things. It can be exhausting and emotionally draining. What’s more, that state of conflict can start to impede on other aspects of your lives, such as affecting your friendships or relationships with other people. Over time, staying in a relationship that is constantly in a state of conflict can start to tarnish your perspective of the other person (and this is never a good thing).
  • Co-dependency: Understanding if you’re co-dependent on someone (or vice versa) can be hard because on the surface it often looks like an abundance of love and not wanting to ‘be without each other’.Whenever there is emotional co-dependency in a relationship, there is often an erosion of the ability to regulate emotional states alone. While co-dependency can happen in any kind of relationship (friends, family, colleagues) it is quite prevalent in romantic relationships. Unfortunately with co-dependent relationships, a whole host of other issues come with it such as dysfunctional communication, lack of boundaries, and even obsession.
  • A lack of trust: Most relationships are often founded on something, whether it’s built on similarities or differences, or whether it is developed from that undeniable chemistry that often can’t be put into words. One basic thing we often forget to really value is trust. When thinking of trust, most people associate it with loyalty – but that’s not the case. You should always explore trust by considering if the relationship can provide a safe pair of hands for you emotionally. A relationship that is devoid of trust or one where trust has been broken can lead to feelings of insecurity and anxiety.
  • Controlling behaviours: Controlling behaviours in a relationship isn’t always obvious because we often think of controlling behaviour as someone who is physically or verbally aggressive. However, elements like overactive jealousy, accusations, constant criticism and gaslighting all fall under the banner of controlling behaviour. Similar behaviours such as making you feel guilty for spending time with family or friends or going through your phone are all signs of controlling behaviour. Other more subtle signs can look like manipulative and financial abuse (such as withholding money) or not respecting your need for time alone.

What to do if you’re worried you’re in a toxic relationship

The first and most important point to make here is that help is always available. 1800RESPECT is available to offer advice and support for anyone experiencing abuse of any kind. Sokarno also highlighted that reaching out to loved ones you can trust is an important starting point if you’re concerned you’re in a toxic relationship.

“Turning to people for support can help you make a safety plan and access resources for additional support. It can also help you to realise that you are not alone and have people to rely on if you need it.”

She also highlighted that speaking to a psychologist (which you can access for free or for a lower fee using a Mental Health Treatment Plan) may help you to recognise certain toxic relationship behaviours.

“Psychologist appointments are available online through places like Lysn, where you can book an appointment via video chat from the comfort of your own home. However, if you are concerned that your wellbeing or safety is at risk, contact 000 immediately.”

Sokarno also pointed to couple’s therapy as an option in less extreme instances. It’s worth noting here, however, that “if the relationship has become violent or emotionally abusive, suggesting couples therapy could trigger further problems and it is best to turn to support first”.

Additionally, she highlighted that in some cases the only option forward is to end the relationship and cut off contact. However, in dangerous circumstances, it’s always best to speak with a support unit first and make a plan specific to your situation.

For additional insight, White Ribbon also has a list of concerning behaviours in relationships to keep in mind.

Nancy Sokarno is a psychologist at LysnLysn is a digital mental health company with world-class wellbeing technology which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.

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