Some of my past relationships have been so toxic that I feel like I need to strap on a gas mask before I can even begin reminiscing about my exes. I've dated people who hid me from their mothers, mansplainers, and psychological manipulators. When I was their girlfriend, I either didn't know the signs of a toxic relationship or I chose to ignore them. Even though 20/20 hindsight has made me a much wiser person, I haven't been in a serious relationship for over two years; I still get freaked out remembering how I became so desensitized to my partners' behavior because it was such an everyday thing.
And while "love is blind" might sound like a cliche, it's actually the reason for ignoring a partners' faults. "When we get emotionally attached to someone, we tend to excuse, overlook or minimize key signs of serious trouble," says Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, a licensed clinical psychotherapist. Dr. Wish adds that partners often ignore the signs of a toxic relationship because they don't want to believe that they made the wrong choices in partners or because they fear being alone.
Sound familiar? You don't have to be ashamed — I've been there, too. The good news is that after spending so much time with myself, I can definitively say that, if you can choose between staying with a toxic partner or being single, you'll be much better off being alone.
If any of these signs rings true to you, then it's time to give the single life some serious thought:
1. They Never Leave You Alone
In a toxic relationship, your partner will never give you any time to yourself. At first, having someone who wants to come home with you for Thanksgiving seems nice, but when they also want to accompany you when you hang out with your own friends or are otherwise trying to do your own thing, it'll start to feel suffocating.
It's important to have the freedom to do things alone in a relationship, says Kali Rogers, founder of Blush Online Coaching. "Being able to enjoy your own private moments with friends and family is essential to having your own identity and maintaining your independence while also in a relationship."
If your partner doesn't grant you the space to do that, it might be because they don't want you to have any independence at all.
2. They Tell You They Love You All Of The Time
“If someone tells you how much they love you, can’t live without you, or would die if you ever left and you’ve known him for five minutes, run," says Susan Ball, founder and CEO of Broken to Blissful. Saying "I love you" too quickly or making their feelings sound like a matter of life or death are signs that your partner is obsessed with you. And obsession isn't really about true love — it's more about control.
3. They Get Jealous
If you have a jealous partner, then it can feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells and having to change your behavior in order to accommodate their feelings. They might be suspicious of you spending time with family and friends, or dismissive of your successes. You might stop yourself from celebrating your accomplishments because you're worried about how your partner will react. "[Jealousy] limits autonomy, which should be sacred in any long-term relationship," Rogers explains.
Are you seeing a pattern yet? The main symptom of a toxic relationship is control over what you do, who you see, and how you feel.
4. Sex Is Mostly For Them
If you're in a toxic relationship, then sex might be a fraught territory for you. A toxic partner will attempt to use sex to control you and will prioritize their desires over yours. “Toxic partners will tell you that not having sex when they want it means you do not love them and you are hurting their feelings,” says Ball. “After all, they love you so much; why would you hurt them this way?”
In one of my toxic relationships, I had a boyfriend who never made me orgasm. Every time I brought up my pleasure, he would get angry or dismissive and made me feel like not getting off was my fault or that I was asking too much from him. If your partner isn't interested in your desire or always finds a way to make sex about them, then that is a major red flag to be aware of, too. A toxic partner might pretend to care about your feelings, but only insofar as how your feelings affect them.
5. It's Always Your Fault
If you have ever been hurt by your partners' actions and they find a way to make your feelings your fault, then you are dating a gaslighter. “Instead of apologizing, the partner might instead say, 'You're just sensitive' or 'You never understand what is going on in front of you,'” says Rogers.
Gaslighting invalidates your experience and makes you think that you are crazy and have to assume the blame. The practice of gaslighting is a serious and subtle tool of toxic manipulators and it, alone, should be enough cause to end a relationship.
If you are with a partner who repeatedly gaslights and manipulates you to restrict your independence, then there's only one thing to do — get out of the relationship immediately. You'll never be able to change your partners' behavior. But you can make the choice to leave.
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