3 Signs You're In A Toxic Relationship & What To Do About It

I used to believe that a good relationship was one where it was all about making the other person happy.


Today I know a good relationship is more than that. It’s one where I’m happy, the person I am in relationship with is happy and were both continuing to add value to each other lives. It means we get to be authentically who we are, and we support each other in the process.

It took me a while to get to this place and really know this was possible. You see I’ve been the girl in the toxic relationship. I’ve spent hours, days and months in tears, filled with sadness, guilt and anxiety only to be left confused by the constant ups and downs. Mostly I felt stuck in a relationship that was poisoning my emotional well being with no way out.

Perhaps you’ve been there too, or maybe you haven’t, but most of us can relate or have someone in our lives who’s been there before or is in this place right now.

So what exactly is a toxic relationship? By definition, a toxic relationship is a relationship characterized by behaviour’s on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally and, not infrequently, physically damaging to their partner…a toxic relationship damages self-esteem and drains energy... A toxic relationship is characterized by insecurity, self-centredness, dominance, control. We risk our very being by staying in such a relationship. – Tom Cory

So how do we end up in toxic relationships? I believe the answer is different for everybody. Toxic relationships don’t always start out toxic, or if they do, we don’t always take the time to see who were really jumping heart first with before it’s too late. Sometimes we hope and tell ourselves that the person can change, other times we feel caught up in the on and off again of the relationship – How can I leave when I love them so much and they love me? Sometimes we turn a blind eye to the remarks that cripple our self-esteem, the behaviour that crosses our boundary or the controlling actions of those who have entered into relationship with us with the promise to love us.

What I do know is that relationships are complex, challenging and take work at the best of times… AND I believe they should be uplifting, full of love, joy, loyalty, acceptance and fulfillment. These relationships DO exist and they are what every human being deserves to have.

This blog is me reaching out to talk about some of the signs of a toxic relationship.

If you are experiencing any of these signs you may want to seek support and guidance around your relationship.

These are 3 signs that you might be in a toxic relationship:

You feel like you’re losing your sense of self:  You’ve stopped listening to your inner voice. You have a sense that you might be compromising on who you are and what you stand for in the way of your beliefs, values or standards. Often this compromise means you’ve overstepped your own personal boundaries in some way. Sometimes losing yourself means you’ve also become totally absorbed with your partner. Every spare moment is spent in or on your relationship, to the detriment of friends, family or social activities. You put so much time and energy into your relationship that you begin to lose yourself to the relationship and in the process, you forgo your own needs and wants for that of the other person.

Controlling behaviours are present: You’ve started to notice the person you are in relationship with continually has a problem with you or with some aspect of your personality or behaviour. There is often an attempt to forcibly control or change your behaviour and make it wrong. Rather than approaching you in a way which is considered, respectful and open to hearing what you want to say you are made to feel wrong or the cause of the problem. The blame falls squarely on your shoulders for any issues that come up in the relationship (Despite how reasonable you think you are – you start to question your logic). Insults, mind games and constant negativity form part of the part of the daily routine.

You’re not feeling happy of fulfilled on a regular basis: If you are experiencing tears and sadness regularly,  If you’re not feeling happy, accepted and loved in your relationship it’s time to take a closer look. New relationships hold some of the most joyous and wonderful feelings we can experience. Those feeling shouldn’t be temporary. Whilst energy changes in relationship and new stages of relationship call for changes eg less lust to more intimacy, if you’re seeing some red flags appear early on in your relationship take notice. Continuous arguments, rude and disrespectful behaviour or a disregard for your emotional well being should not form the basis of your relationship. Stop and consider that a person’s present actions are often an indicator of their future behaviour.

If you’re not happy AT LEAST for the first few years (YES I SAID YEARS) of a relationship when the pressure of children, career changes, health issues or other stressors are absent, really look at how this relationship is going to hold up when you face those difficult times. If your relationship is not making you feel happy or fulfilled early on, if there’s no opportunity for growth together, your future may be even more challenging.

So if you’re resonating with everything I’ve written above I want you to know there is support. Help is available.


Reach out for support:  If you only do one thing make it this, choose a therapist or counsellor that you trust and that can support you in knowing where you are at right now and what choices you have available. It’s really important to have someone who can support you who is removed from your inner circle and can be objective. A therapist or counsellor is looking to ensure that you are safe and supported. Additionally you’ll still need the support of your family and friends too… read on below

Don’t isolate yourself: It can be easy to shy away from friends and family and withdraw from social interactions or contact with those closest to you. Being in a relationship that is toxic can be difficult to talk about. It can be hard to tell others what is happening (hence why point 1 is so important). You will need all your support networks, this includes your friends and family to help get your through. Find those closest to you who can hold you whilst you are in this situation and who will support you to make the best decision for you. Speaking to friends and family is a way to gain perspective on your situation and help you from feeling alone and stuck where you are.

Work towards putting yourself first: when you’re in a toxic relationship your perception can be skewed. Often you are so caught up in the relationship, hopeful for change or just too stuck to do anything differently. With enough support from a trained professional and those closest to you, you can start to discover what you need in a relationship whilst discovering your personal boundaries and how to assert those boundaries. Putting yourself first is a critical part of the work.

Ask that your partner to seek help: For me I decided to end a toxic relationship because my partner was unwilling to do the personal work for himself. This was a deciding factor for me in ending the relationship. I believe a major sign of someone’s willingness to actually change is that they acknowledge what they are bringing to a relationship and commit to do the work on themselves

If your partner is seriously committed to doing the work to heal your relationship and you are both committed to this process individual and couples therapy may be an option for you to explore. The road is not easy and a lot of courage and support is needed if this is something you wish to consider.  

Make the decision to leave:  I don’t say this as a simple – Just get up and leave.  I totally acknowledge and can relate to feeling stuck in a relationship that is no longer serving you and still loving the person who is causing damage to the relationship. It can feel impossible to make the final decision to leave. If you have decided to end the relationship where possible it is my personal belief that if at all possible to end a relationship with love, respect and some form of closure where possible. If this is not possible with your partner, you can still have some closure in your own work with a therapist or counsellor to help you withdraw your energy and emotion once you have left the relationship.

I'll finish with these words, You have to love yourself, because no amount of love from others is sufficient to fill the yearning that your soul requires from you - Dodinsky

The best relationship we can work on first and foremost is the one we have with ourselves. When we get clear on who we are, what we want and what we deserve from our relationships, we start to develop the kind of self love that guides us and teaches us not to settle for less than what we can give ourselves. We don't feel the need to seek out relationships or a sense of love that doesn't completely serve us. We know the love we seek never leaves us because it comes from within, so when we've done the hard of work of loving ourselves we can begin to work towards creating those relationships that fill us with joy happiness & fulfillment and love.... AND YES they are possible!

Natajsa Wagner is a Clinical Psychotherapist in Private Practice working with individuals, couples and groups. Natajsa is an advocate for authentic conversations that connect us. Natajsa believes that the relationship we have with ourselves and others is the essential ingredient to our emotional health, happiness and wellbeing.

Natajsa is passionate about speaking and teaching on the topic of moving from loneliness to belonging and the importance of human relationships. Her focus is on helping people develop self-awareness and understanding of our challenges, so we can create change that leads to more fulfilling and meaningful lives. Natajsa has been featured as an expert both locally and internationally and has contributed to a number of print and online media outlets including Women's Health and Fitness Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine & ABC Online.

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