Most clients question at some point whether they are in a healthy relationship. Other questions may be “is my partner right for me,” “is our fighting normal,” and “am I really happy?”
No human being is perfect. Every couple has conflict and disagreements. However, certain behaviors and traits can create significant pain, hardship, and overall struggles in relationships. The lack of warmth, empathy, and validation can lead to low self-confidence and self-destructive behaviors. Below represents several patterns that are consistent with being in a toxic (e.g., jealous, manipulative, rejection, dominance) relationship.
- Dismissive: Being ignored; dismissing behaviors or accomplishments as insignificant. This often leads to dismissing or denying individual feelings and needs. There is a deep feeling of longing for love and attention, yet these individuals begin to believe they are unworthy of attention.
- Unavailable: Withhold and withdraw love and affection. Unavailable can mean physically (e.g., no hugging or comforting) or emotional (e.g., not responding to cries or other forms of affection). As adults, this may lead to individuals being emotionally hungry and clingy in their respective relationships—needing constant reassurance.
- Controlling: Micromanages plans, dismisses ideas, and may monitor behavior or use tracking devices. This sends the message that a person is inadequate, cannot be trusted to make decisions, and would falter without guidance or direction.
- Enmeshed: No boundaries in the relationship; co-dependency often develops and other people begin to “feel” each other’s emotions.
- Combative: Privately or publically, these relationships are filled with criticism, competition, fear, and jealousy. Blame and shame are high as verbal and emotional abuse is often utilized.
- Self-Involved: Narcissistic partners rarely give empathy and want the outward appearance of perfection. All connection is superficial, and manipulative and controlling behaviors are high.
- Unreliable: Unpredictable; one day the partner may be “nice or good” and the other day “bad and mean.” One day the partner shows love and the next is dismissive or overly hypercritical.
- Role Reversed: One partner may become the caretaker, physician, therapist, mother or father, etc. rather than focusing on his/her role as partner.
Toxic relationships are often repeated, which is largely an unconscious process. People often choose a partner that fits with his/her individual defenses. For example, if someone is passive or indecisive someone who is dominating or confidence may be attractive—ultimately leading to imbalance in the relationship and creates limitations for self-growth and awareness. If one of these patterns describe you, don’t be afraid to seek out counsel.