It's a common refrain: relationships in Massachusetts are hard work. Fights are normal and rough patches are par for the course.
True as that may be, however, these platitudes can distract from legitimate causes for concern in one's social and romantic life including signs that a relationship may have become, or always was, toxic.
Here's what you need to know about toxic relationships, and how to tell if you're in one.
What is a toxic relationship?
Experts define a toxic relationship as "any relationship between people who don't support each other, where there's conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there's competition, where there's disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness."
A toxic relationship is consistently unpleasant and draining for the people in it, to the point that negative moments outweigh and outnumber the positive ones. Toxic relationships are mentally, emotionally and possibly even physically damaging to one or both participants.
And these relationships don't have to be romantic: friendly, familial and professional relationships can all be toxic as well.
What makes a relationship toxic?
People who consistently undermine or cause harm to a partner - whether intentionally or not - often have a reason for their behavior, even if it's subconscious. Maybe they were in a toxic relationship, either romantically or as a child. Maybe they didn't have the most supportive, loving upbringing. They could have been bullied in school. They could be suffering from an undiagnosed mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, any form of trauma.
Sometimes toxic relationships are simply the result of an imperfect pairing - like two people who both need control, or a sarcastic type dating someone with thin skin. It's just that the combination is wrong.
What are the warning signs of a toxic relationship?
The most serious warning signs include any form of violence, abuse or harassment, which should be dealt with immediately. But in many cases, the indicators of a toxic relationship are much more subtle.
The first, and simplest, is persistent unhappiness. If a relationship stops bringing joy, and instead consistently makes you feel sad, angry, anxious or "resigned, like you've sold out," it may be toxic. You may also find yourself envious of happy couples.
Negative shifts in your mental health, personality or self-esteem are all red flags, too. These changes could range from clinically diagnosable conditions, such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders, to constantly feeling nervous or uncomfortable especially around your partner. Feeling like you can't talk with or voice concerns to your significant other is another sign that something is amiss.
You should also look out for changes in your other relationships, or in the ways you spend your free time. You may feel bad for doing things on your own time, because you feel like you have to attend to your partner all the time. You cross the line when you're not your individual self anymore and you're giving everything to your partner.
If the harm is emotional or mental, you'll have to decide if it's possible to work through the issue. If underlying triggers such as depression or trauma are influencing one or both individuals' behaviors, then therapeutic or medical treatments may help. Experts agree that getting to the root of the problem is important, but says that sometimes, the answer may be to walk away.
Love should never cost you your peace. It should never cost you your joy. It should never cost you your happiness. If there's more negative in the situation than positive, something has to change.
Should you be in the midst of a divorce or contemplating divorce, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.