On our podcast ‘Tales That Tethr’, tethr Founder & CEO Matt Zerker interviews entrepreneurs, experts, thought leaders, and regular people about what is means to be a man, the challenges that modern men face, and how to overcome challenges and live life in a more connected and authentic way.
As men it is important that we recognise the signs of an unhealthy, or even toxic, relationship.
There is a lot out there in the world that can help women become aware of these things, because in general men are seen as being the toxic partner. But as a man who has been in toxic relationships, I know we need to be aware of the signs, what to do if we are in them, and how they can impact on our emotional, mental, and physical health.
In the past I may have been seen as the one with the problem (and I did have them). But it was the behaviour of my partner that was leading me to react in unreasonable and overly emotional ways. Although I need to own that as it’s my behaviour, it’s also vital that I understand what triggers me so that I can remain in a healthy space and not react to the relationship I am in.
A healthy relationship won't feel draining, like hard work or like you are on an emotional tightrope. If you find that your energy has dipped since you met the person you are with, you’re having constant issues, or you feel wound up or on edge, this list will help you reflect and know what to be aware of now and in the future.
1. Being Around Them is Hard Work
When you’re in a healthy relationship, you should be enjoying each other’s company. It should feel pleasant to be around them and frankly an easy place to be. If this is not the case then it’s a sign that you’re with someone draining.
Here are 3 things to look for:
a) You Treasure Your Alone Time
Does being alone for the weekend put a smile on your face? Do you feel excited looking forward to a day you’ll get away from your partner? This is a huge red flag. Your brain is rejoicing from a break from the person who is emotionally exhausting you.
b) You Need to Recover After Being Together
If spending time with your partner makes you feel very tired and in need of a recharge, it’s a sign that the relationship is draining your energy. If you usually have no problem living daily life but suddenly need a long breather after seeing your partner, something isn’t right for you.
c) Conversations Can be Exhausting
Talking to your partner should generally be a positive experience. Although you will occasionally disagree, if your conversations are frustrating, exhausting, argumentative and generally negative, then this is draining you.
2. You are Constantly in a Negative Mood
Think about your moods in general. Have you noticed that you feel a bit ‘blah’? Is it hard to be positive? Do you feel a lack of joy and enthusiasm in your life?
Take a moment and reflect on your mental and emotional state. Are you truly as fine as you pretend to be? And if you are ‘fine’ what does that really mean? Using the word ‘fine’ can mean that you’re not okay!
Relationships that are draining your energy do not necessarily mean you’re always sad, angry, or in an awful mood. What they do typically cause is an absence of happiness or joy, leaving you feeling flat. You may even say things like ‘I feel a bit depressed’ or ‘I don’t have any energy’.
3. Everything is About Them
This is a really big one. Relationships are about equality. If your partner dominates every aspect of your shared lives, you are in a toxic relationship.
Here are some examples:
You may feel like your partner is always dominating conversations and every single situation you find yourself in. They might speak loudly or cause a scene to draw attention in public, or they may simply talk over you or cut you off.
This can happen whether you’re talking in a group or it’s just the two of you. They seem to think their voice is more important than yours.
b) Constant Problems Come Up and None of Them are Yours
When you bring up something that is troubling you, they might cut you off and insist that what they are dealing with is worse. For them, everything in their lives is more important than what you are going through, as it’s happening to them (notice the phrase ‘to them’ – this is part of the victim mentality). They may also seem to be perpetually going through a rough time or feeling anxious. They are unable to step out of their own stuff.
c) They Are Always on Your Mind
If you spend too much time fretting about your partner, they are draining your energy. You may continuously hear their voice chastising you or be unable to stop worrying over what they think about you or what you’re doing.
4. You Walk Around on Eggshells
In a healthy relationship, you should feel relaxed, free, and as though you can share anything with your partner. If it’s reached the point where you have to constantly watch every move you make, you are in a toxic relationship.
For example, you may:
• Feel nervous about talking about something because your partner might get angry
• Constantly watch everything you do to avoid upsetting them
• Worry that asking for something will cause them great distress
• Avoid certain subjects as your partner will react badly
• Fear that even the slightest misstep will get you into ‘trouble’
5. You Feel Controlled
In a healthy relationship, each person has their own agency and freedom. In an emotionally abusive one, you feel controlled all of the time. Your life may feel like it is under a microscope and subject to constant criticism. You can’t be at ease with yourself and are always thinking about who you need to be ‘for them’.
They may question you all of the time and control things, such as:
• Where you are meeting friends
• How you spend money
• Why are you going out
• Ask why you need to text or call friends, ask you who it is, demand to see you phone
• Become jealous or seemingly over protective for no reason
6. Your Self Esteem Is Not Very High
If you’ve noticed a decline in your self-esteem/self-worth/self-confidence since you began your relationship, you need to recognise this and understand why it might be from your partner.
Unhealthy partners can criticise you frequently, or take advantage of your insecurities (that they have likely shown you it is okay to share with them in the first place) and successes, give you backhanded compliments or just be generally negative about things in your life.These people are highly insecure and do these things to lift themselves up. If your partner is upset when you decide to devote time to your improvement, this is a bad sign. They want to keep you in a certain space that suits them.
7. Your Needs are Ignored
As a follow on the above, partners are there for each other, to listen to each other, raise each other up, support and complement each other, and meet each other’s needs when possible.
If your partner seems to ignore what you want/need, say they will do something and never do, or generally ignore or dismiss what you say or what you want then this is a bad place for you to be. Your relationship is being built around what they want and you will never feel fulfilled.
8. Arguments Are the Norm – and even worse, you take the blame or responsibility!
Disagreements are a normal part of any relationship, but not on a regular basis. And if they have escalated to fights and arguments then something is definitely not right.
Does your partner tend to instigate these and ignore your attempts to de-escalate the situation? Or do you find you just can’t be heard or get your point of view across? If you always seem to be at fault, your partner may be trying to shift blame as they can’t allow themselves to be in the wrong. They manipulate you to back down, accusing you of being aggressive or angry.
9. You Just Don’t Know What to Do
Everything you do in the relationship leaves you feeling as though you can’t do anymore. No matter how much you give, it is never enough or never right. The 99 great things you do are always overshadowed by the 100th, which is wrong and the only thing they focus on. They completely forget the rest! This leaves you at a loss of how things are ever going to be okay.
10. Love is a Rollercoaster
Do you find that you can’t predict their behaviour?Are they full of love for you one minute and then ignore you or horrible the next? This on/off attraction may be keeping you interested based on what you expect from relationships or what you subconsciously think you deserve.
It keeps you guessing and on the hook. You may find it exciting, but will eventually drain you. You can be okay with peace and calm, with the occasional issue, but it may not be what you are used to or allow for yourself. It can lead to trauma bonding or be a sign of codependency – both extremely damaging.
If your relationship includes even a few of the 10 things, it may be a sign your relationship is unhealthy. If you address these with your partner and they are not interested in changing them, it’s time to let go and move on. You deserve better!
John Kenny is The Relationship Guy and coaches’ successful people who struggle to find a successful relationship. He is the founder of Interpersonal Relationship Coaching (IRC), author of The P.E.O.P.L.E. Programme and documentary maker. He has worked in personal development for over 15 years and has helped thousands of people to understand why they think, feel, and act as they do and live the life they choose.