Let me tell you a seemingly harmless, but really toxic story.
Imagine two young and healthy people get together, a man and a woman. They are both very physically attractive (above average in looks in fact) and they both have decent jobs.
On the surface, everyone, even their peers, think that they have a good marriage and above average lifestyle. They make good money and look good together too. They have everything in front of them. They’re building a car wash business together, and together they have a whole lifetime ahead of them.
About their personalities. One of them seems a bit silly, ok maybe a bit nuts (read: abusive). And the other seems friendly, civil and quiet; he likes his peace. With these two different personalities, they seem to complement and tolerate each other well.
However, there’s a problem that slips under the radar. They both start this seemingly beautiful relationship with poor relationship skills.
What does poor relationship skills mean? It just means that they have poor connection with themselves and with each other. In fact, both of them tend to operate in relationships from a place of fear and approval seeking, and they feed off each other’s negativity. The worst thing is that their ‘go to’ place of comfort is not in connection, but in distance, avoidance and disconnection. Not a good base from which to start a healthy relationship, right?
I’ll give you an example. Her go-to insult is “Oh Joe, you’re SO BORING.” And his go-to response is: “Hmm. Yes.” – and this happens repetitively throughout a 40 plus year marriage.
Seems like he’s keeping the peace right? Seems decent enough? At least he’s not “reactive” to her insults that he is SO boring…
Hmmm. Seemingly harmless, right?
But imagine these same two people who find more connection in tv shows, books, food and cigarettes than they do with each other.
You see, these two people, they don’t have true loyalty to each other, but just a sense of selfish convenience. They both had this subconscious belief that their job was to stay married no matter what, because divorce would bring them shame.
You see, it’s one thing to connect with tv shows, cigarettes and food. And it’s a whole other thing to truly, deeply connect with another human.
Often, what looks like a good relationship on the surface, is really just a toxic relationship on the inside. Like these two people remaining “married” for the sake of selfish convenience.
These two attractive people, they love each other in theory, and in theory they are loyal to each other because they’ve never cheated on each other before, but they’re not at all loyal to each other, they’re just loyal to their own sense of comfort and numbness.
These two people never had the skills to create deep connection and attraction with each other. Instead, their go to place was to blame and disconnect.
Imagine then, that these two people want badly to have children, but unfortunately, they couldn’t produce children after more than a decade of trying to have them. Can you imagine a marriage between two people like this would have really thrived after such a huge challenge of not being able to have children, when they both wanted to?
Could you imagine that this couple had a good base from which they would be able to overcome any adversity?
I mean, the inability to have children is one of the leading causes of divorce around the world. It’s not an easy challenge for the healthiest of relationships, let alone two people with poor mindsets, beliefs and coping mechanisms.
So, they stay married because of their rigid rules regarding divorce. For 50 whole years, they remain married. Where do you imagine these two people are 50 years later? Do you imagine they’d be happy? Do you see a beautiful, trusting and vulnerable connection between them, because after all, they’ve remained married for so long?
Maybe not? Well, I know a couple just like this who are now approaching their older years. They have the deepest resentment towards each other. They can’t even sleep in the same bed without insulting each other over the other’s bad breath, body odor or loud snoring, and they have virtually no one around them either. No real friends, and no real family.
One of them is brewing with such deep resentment after years of holding in anger and frustration that they have become quite senile and ill.
I dunno about you, but illness in your later years is supposed to bring you closer together with the ones you love. But not in this case. In this case, they simply resent and hate each other more. Even on their last leg of life.
Some say that everybody’s life is either a warning or an example. I tend to agree. And this is why I’ve put together the 10 seemingly harmless signs of a toxic relationship. Because there’s nothing more urgent than to stop doing toxic relationships. NOW.
I want to give you some steadfast guidelines to go by to see if you’re in a healthy relationship or if just maybe you’re in a toxic relationship. Hope you enjoy these signs and leave me a comment below, letting me know which one of these signs you’ve experienced in your past relationships.
Firstly, I speak mainly to women, and my website is written for women, so this article is directed towards women. But if you’re a man reading this, then just substitute the word “he” for “she”.
Often when we’re stuck in a toxic relationship, we can’t logically pinpoint what is actually wrong with the relationship, because there’s no obvious signs that it’s a toxic relationship.
OR because we ourselves always had dysfunctional relationships, so now we have become insensitive to relationship toxicity. In fact, we think the most toxic things are normal.
That’s why it’s important to be aware of the ‘seemingly harmless’ signs of a toxic relationship.
Here we go…
1: You feel like the relationship drains you, it doesn’t fill you
Go ahead, ask yourself, do you have that deep seated feeling in your gut that this relationship drains you. Forget all of the superficial stuff, ask yourself… Do you feel drained or stressed around this person? Or do they energise you?
And perhaps you have to ask yourself, do you perpetuate the pattern by going back to that relationship to also take value for yourself? For any relationship to work long term, It’s important to continually add value to the relationship basket, rather than always taking from the relationship basket.
Your intimate relationship is supposed to be a sacred place of mutual vulnerability, sharing, and support. It is supposed to deeply connect you to what matters in life: which is connection and relationship. Your healthiest relationships should remind you of why you’re here on this earth: to connect. To make art together. To love each other.
What makes us women truly strong and truly successful is the health and quality of the relationships that we have in our lives. In order for us to shine as feminine women, we need to have strong, loving and supportive relationships that allow us to feel safe. Otherwise we as women, actually become more masculine in order to cope and deal with the trauma and lack of safety.
Relationships are supposed to inspire us, make us feel deeply, and give us a reason to do the hard things.
If you’re the type of person who likes to go to your relationship to complain, to take or to put the other person down….or if you’re in a relationship where the other person only calls when they need something, they are never there for you, and they seem to disappear without warning when it suits them, then ask yourself: “Is this filling me up?”
Because as you would know, takers will take, take and take. Until the other person gets to a place some months, years, decades down the track where they physically cannot take it anymore, and they stand up and say, “THAT’S IT. I have nothing left for you. I feel nothing for you. I’m out.”
Unless you’re that old couple I told you about in the story. Then you just swallow the toxicity and reach the end of your life, with every cell inside your body riddled with resentment.
2: You feel like he intentionally magnifies your fears, rather than helping you overcome your fears
And as you can probably imagine, by exposing your fears, it’s really a way to gain some level of control over your thoughts, feelings and actions. It also doesn’t have to be this huge act of exposing your fears and insecurities…
It could be a small snarky remark that pinpoints an area that you are already sensitive about. In an ultimately healthy relationship, there is no need to magnify anyone’s fears. In a healthy relationship you actually get your perception of control from the value that you add, rather than the value that you take.
So If there’s somebody in your life right now who seems to bring up your fears, in whatever way, I’d like to ask you…how much more can they strip from you, until you turn into a puddle of nothingness?
How long would it take to repair the damage this is created upon your self esteem? And what are you gaining from this situation that makes you want to stay, allowing yourself to feel smaller, and become smaller each and every time you spend moments with them?
Sometimes, a partner’s anticipatory jealousy can cause them to creatively magnify your fears so that you can feel bad enough that you won’t cheat on them or take your reproductive resources elsewhere.
Sometimes, it’s not jealousy. Sometimes, people who for one reason or another, feel like they are not enough – or whom have a pattern of feeling small and threatened, can tend to want to magnify your fears rather than alleviate them.
Maybe ask yourself: Do you even trust them? What are you gaining from the situation that would make you want to stay, allowing yourself to feel smaller and become a little smaller each and every time you spend moments with them?
As I’ve said before…don’t fear those who are gorgeous, smart and successful. Fear those who play small, hide from their brilliance, and want to make you just like them.
Do you know what the TWO critical elements of an intimate relationship are and how they will make or break your love life? Find out here.
3: He seems to always have an underlying energy of resentment
You see, any type of resentment that lives inside of you affects everything else in your life, especially your relationships. If someone has underlying resentment, then it has probably been brewing for years if not decades. And the only way forward, the only way to grow beyond that, is for them to express and release all the old trash in their system.
Because that’s exactly what it is – old trash. Old anger, sadness and hurt that they have pushed down repeatedly and never cleansed from their system. And that resentment eats away at them and negatively affects everything else in their lives.
See, I’m not against having anger. I think anger for the most part can be very healthy. True spontaneous anger can be valuable in a relationship when you release it in private, or even if it’s expressed with total connection to each other’s heart. But resentment is a different beast altogether.
Some people’s bodies are so riddled with resentment from being hurt and abused by others, from feeling small and incapable. But more likely, excessive resentment can come from years of pushing down genuine anger, that the person becomes ill and unable to have any kind of proper relationship.
Sometimes the most difficult thing for you and I to do, is to look at the way someone speaks (and even look at ourselves speak) and admit to yourself that their words are full of resentment. Sometimes you have to trust your gut when it is telling you that this person has a lot of resentment about a lot of things.
Because often, we can justify resentful energy in someone, and we can brush off resentful comments from another person, calling it “just a moment of anger, jealousy, or even passion.”
But true anger, jealousy and passion that is useful and valuable in a relationship is expressed with total connection to each other’s heart. And it doesn’t have this bleak, yucky feel to it, like the feel of tar schlepping off their every word.
If someone has enough resentment pent up over enough time, then they will have less and less resources available to make a relationship work with you.
I think sometimes, resentful people have sold their soul for approval so many times, that now, they’re a walking ball of resentment, waiting to burst into a massive firestorm that may or may not engulf you as well.
You can stay and help them through the firestorm. If you want. It depends how much you love them.
But often, it helps to realise that even when we try to help people with our own best intentions…their resentment can turn on us and hurt us instead.
So what’s the solution here? The solution is to see if there’s enough connection and trust inside that relationship that maybe this person wants to release some old tension and anger and let you be a part of that journey without hurting you.
Sometimes, all these resentful, spiteful people have left IS their resentment! It’s become that last resource that feeds and meets their needs, because they’ve been doing it for so long. And if that’s the case, they may be too far gone.
Also important to remember is this: if you’ve stayed with a resentful person for a while, chances are that you now have built up resentment too, and that’s OK! It may just be time to release the old anger (waste product) so that you can free yourself once again.
4: It feels like he always has to be right and you never feel heard
I’m sure we can all relate to having someone in our lives who never gives you a chance to feel heard. It’s like you’re talking to a wall. You can’t bring anything new to them, you can’t go deeper, you can’t discuss ideas, thoughts and feelings.
It’s not that they don’t respond to what you say, it’s that they have their usual reaction before you even finish what you have to say. They make sure that they never, ever feel the slightest bit vulnerable or exposed. The common pattern would be someone who criticises you as their first reaction to anything you say, and never actually spends time thinking about what you said.
It’s like a way to dominate you in conversation. And that is a very toxic pattern to get into.
I can hardly even call that a relationship.
It hurts to engage with people who show up like this. Why? Because these people generally see themselves as separate from others. They don’t have a sense of closeness and togetherness and they don’t necessarily perceive the power of connection.
Sometimes, someone will always try to be right out of fear, but regardless of the reason, they want that sense of control, rather than connection.
Here’s a wonderful article written by my husband on 5 Telltale Signs He Has Crippling Low Self Esteem.
And just a quick note: Sometimes…that ‘needing to be in control’ person is ourselves. Maybe now is a good time to reassure the girl inside you, named Cecil Control Freak that her work here is done, and that everything is OK.
5: You feel like he’s physically there, but never emotionally there for you
Some people, even if they enter in to a relationship, will physically be there in the room or in the house with you, but they will never fully embrace connection and engagement with you.
It’s hard to get through their barriers or go deep with them. For some reason, they are shut off to it. Maybe they were a survivor of abuse themselves. Maybe they are too fearful, perhaps they have adopted bad patterns of intimacy. Or maybe they have too much pent up resentment, anger and sadness that they know if they truly engage with you, they will have to take some kind of responsibility or god forbid, maybe even feel exposed.
So what is left is this feeling of coldness, even if the relationship looks perfect on the outside.
In fact, this happens a lot more than you think, especially in this day and age of social media. People who are very image focused and not very present in their real life relationships like to project how good their lives are publicly but it is almost always at a cost to their private lives.
And an intimate relationship will always be private. If it wasn’t, then it isn’t an intimate relationship. So to end this toxic pattern, think about what patterns you are encouraging with your actions or inaction. If you keep tolerating this year after year, decade after decade, then can you imagine how emotionally dead you’d be and how much soul destroying loneliness you’d feel?
Feel how much it hurts in your heart to tolerate this over the long term. Listen to your heart. Often, your heart will feel the hurt even if you’ve made your mind ignore it time after time.
It doesn’t matter how often he is with you or around you, if he’s never actually emotionally with you or connected to you, then you don’t have a healthy relationship!
6: He has a million rules for you, but none for himself
This isn’t just about double standards, it’s about the pattern of being controlling. Ultimately anything that seems or feels controlling is a value taking behaviour in a relationship.
The more value taking it FEELS to your heart, to your gut and to your feminine intuition, the more toxic it is to your soul.
Perhaps he has these rules for you because he prefers to make you his pet rather than making you his lover. It could be a tactic of “concealment” where he expects you to limit your exposure to other people (and therefore not risk cheating on him with other men).
In fact, the whole setup isn’t about love, it’s about power and control. And a relationship that is based upon power and control, is a toxic relationship in my books.
But if a man seems to often expect you to follow rigid rules that he has set up, yet he doesn’t have any rules for himself or his life, then this is more of a pet and owner situation, and I call that toxic, because what our heart truly wants is to experience love and belonging, and being in such an unequal situation will eat away at your natural trust in love and connection.
When you lose trust in love and connection, that poisons your ability to engage and trust in relationships. Don’t let this happen to you, because all we truly have in the end is connection.
7: You find yourself always seeking his approval and validation. Or, he seems to always seek your approval and validation
OK, so some level of approval seeking is normal. Especially in a growing relationship, where you’re getting to know each other. But when your only real method of trying to connect is perpetual approval seeking because the other person doesn’t really care about you, then you have toxicity rather than healthy. Whenever anyone perpetually seeks approval, this becomes a massive weight upon the shoulders of that relationship.
With this weight, it becomes difficult to truly connect. It becomes harder to express love freely. I’ve noticed that the reason why women seek approval is often because there never was an actual relationship in the first place, but we just desperately wanted there to be a relationship of some sort.
Often, we seek approval because there never was a relationship in the first place, but we just desperately wanted there to be a relationship or connection of some sort. It doesn’t just always happen in intimate relationships, it can happen in familial relationships and parent-child relationships and friendships, too. Ask me how I know!
Let me tell you that if there was never a real relationship in the first place, seeking approval will never magically bring a relationship to life. Not to mention that the act of seeking approval can make a woman seem low value and kill the attraction and therefore perpetuate a pattern of dependency in a relationship, rather than a pattern of real love and connection.
Try to be aware that when there’s no real connection between yourself and another person – that’s often a time when we are vulnerable to chronically seeking approval from them. It’s easy to want to hang on to the people in our lives, and to the men you date, but as much as we feel like there is beauty in ‘keeping’ them in our lives, there’s also beauty and freedom in letting them go.
The comfort and certainty that you get from staying in a toxic relationship where you’re seeking approval all the time or he is seeking your approval all the time, is nowhere near as valuable as the person you will become from having the courage to walk away.
8: Every time a conflict comes up, small or big, he seems to avoid it
In other words, it’s the pattern of being stonewalled. It’s the pattern in the relationship where the other person would never have the courage to face conflict and instead, they’d rather preserve their own sense of peace and certainty.
In fact, studies have shown over and over that stonewalling is one of the worst and most damaging patterns of a relationship, because in order to stonewall someone, you have to value your own certainty and significance more than love and connection.
Of course, if you’ve followed my work, you’d know that we always talk about how conflict in intimate relationships, believe it or not, is the instigator of deeper love. You can’t have a deeply loving and passionate relationship without having to experience a boatload of conflict.
As long as you’re running away from conflict, you are saying “hey, I don’t value the relationship at all.” And if you stay in that kind of relationship long enough, those feelings and unresolved issues will just build up in your system. Ultimately that breeds alienation, resentment and contempt.
Everyone avoids conflict at times for varying reasons, and that’s ok. Sometimes we’re in the middle of something important or sometimes we are too exhausted to think.
We all have stress in our lives and we all need a break sometimes. But if you’re in a relationship with someone who has a pattern of stonewalling you, that’s not a good sign. It becomes toxic if the other person is always running away from every conflict every single time…because essentially, they’re saying “hey, I don’t value the relationship at all.”
And if you stay there long enough, those feelings and unresolved issues will just build up in your system.
Conflict in intimate relationships, believe it or not, is the instigator of deeper love.
So, does this mean that every argument you have and every problem you have should be dealt with immediately? Not necessarily. It just means that you don’t want to be that person who abandons the relationship and abandons the connection whenever a conflict shows up.
9: He seems to give you money and pay for things for you, but it’s just a way to create leverage to manipulate you
Who the hell uses money to manipulate another human?! Well, as it turns out, a lot of people do. And us women are especially vulnerable to being manipulated this way. Because we as women collectively are a lot more sensitive to the emotion of guilt than men will ever be.
So, in a toxic relationship, the act of giving you money or other resources, isn’t always an act of generosity but instead, it is actually a calculated effort to guilt you into giving them what they want – to them, the money is leverage.
This is a very different experience to having a man give you resources out of love, generosity and care. Ultimately, a truly healthy relationship isn’t about horse trading. It’s not about calculating how much you give versus how much you get.
Sometimes, people use money to manipulate because they don’t believe they have anything else of value – or because they don’t want to really connect.
I am not talking about prostitution here or any other exchange, because that is, generally speaking, an agreed upon exchange of money for services. I’m talking about men (or people in general), who specifically seek out (and attract) financially vulnerable people in order to exploit and manipulate for their own entertainment.
What this does is it makes you their little b*tch – and not out of love either.
I know that we all need money and we all value money to a certain extent, especially if we grew up without any money, or if we are struggling financially. But if someone is using money to get you to tolerate their dreadful company, to get you to listen to them, make them look good socially, be their friend, have sex with them, or listen to their complaining…and you actually despise them, but you keep going back because you need the money, then that is toxic!
I don’t care how much you need the money….there will come a point where it’s not worth sacrificing your soul for.
Not only that, your soul knows what it’s doing. It’s watching you – even if your mind is not. And one day, you will pay the price of tolerating this toxicity. By the way, here are 6 Behaviours You Should Never Tolerate in A Man.
10: He often blame shifts you
“Well Mary, if you hadn’t of annoyed me so much, then I wouldn’t have up and left you and the kids!”
Why is this one a seemingly harmless sign? Because the person being blame shifted can genuinely start to see themselves as fundamentally unworthy and unlovable, rather than feeling safe and connected. Because blame goes in circles and never inspires anyone to want to trust more, connect more and love more.
For example, if he says: “Oh, well if you didn’t get so upset, then I wouldn’t need to lie so much!” then as a woman, it can be easy to feel like we are fundamentally wrong and bad.
It’s also seemingly harmless because often, those of us who have grown up with abuse tend to not see the real harm in being blame shifted. Sometimes we can assume that we were the “bad person” that did “the wrong thing” and should be a better person.
Any type of blame is toxic. Blame is poison. Blame is a way to protect yourself at the cost of the relationship and the other person. See, in an ultimately loving and healthy relationship, it’s not about who is right or wrong. It’s not about pointing fingers. It really should be about taking responsibility and dealing with what has happened in a vulnerable way as a team together.
It’s a non zero sum game. In other words, if you win, your lover doesn’t lose. You either both win or both lose. Blame has no place in an ultimately healthy relationship.
Often, people who tend to feel small, unfortunately don’t see the harm in being blame shifted. Well, if that’s you, when is now a good time to wake up?
And that concludes the 10 seemingly harmless signs of a toxic relationship. One thing I’d like to suggest is to be careful that when you read this article, try not to project. It’s easy to speak of how other people are toxic to us. It’s much harder to notice our own patterns of adding to toxicity in relationships.
This is not to say that you’re a toxic person, it is just a little reminder!
Let me know below in the comments, which of these 10 toxic signs you have experienced, AND which of the toxic signs you never noticed in a relationship but should have!
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