When you guys first met, it was just like a Nicholas Sparks novel. (He brought you roses and truffles! He held the door for you! He watched trashy reality TV shows with you, even the really embarrassing ones!) But now that you’ve been together for a while, you can’t tell if your relationship hiccups are totally normal or if the fights you’re having are unhealthy. Because when it comes to the roller coaster of relationships, it can be hard to spot the signs of toxicity.
It’s not uncommon for people in unhealthy unions to make excuses for their (or their partner’s) behavior or to be in denial about the way things are. But if you’re constantly dealing with feelings of jealousy, insecurity or anxiety, then you’re likely veering into destructive territory. Here’s another way to tell if you’re dealing with toxic love: Healthy relationships make you feel content and energized, whereas toxic relationships leave you feeling depressed and drained. And that could be a dangerous thing. In a long-term study that followed more than 10,000 subjects, researchers discovered that participants who were in negative relationships were at a greater risk for developing heart problems (including a fatal cardiac event) than those whose close relationships were not negative. Yikes. While no relationship can be happy and conflict-free all the time, how do you know if yours is unhealthy? Here, seven ways to tell if you’re in a toxic situation.
1. You’re giving way more than you’re taking.
We don’t mean material stuff and grand gestures, like those roses and truffles. It’s more about the thoughtful little things, like rubbing your back without being asked, taking the time to ask about your day or picking up your favorite ice cream at the grocery store—just because. If you’re the only one going out of your way to do special things for your partner and he never reciprocates or returns the gesture (especially if you’ve already communicated that this is something you’d like), it might be time to give the relationship a closer look.
2. You feel anxious when you aren’t together.
When you’ve spent a few hours away from your partner, you find yourself checking your phone, having trouble making decisions on your own and worrying that something’s going to go wrong. While you might have initially thought that this is a reason you should be together (everything’s so much better when it’s just the two of you, cuddling on the couch), this isn’t the case, says Jill P. Weber, Ph.D. If you’re constantly second-guessing yourself, it could be a sign that your partner has a hold on your life—and the decisions you make—in a toxic way.
3. You argue about the same thing every week.
He never takes out the trash. You’re always too tired to go out on Fridays. No matter what the actual topic of the argument is, most couples have a few cyclical fights that come up over and over. But if you’re just arguing for the sake of arguing without actually communicating what the core issue is or taking steps to resolve things for next time, your relationship is heading into toxic territory.
4. You keep score.
“The ‘keeping score’ phenomenon is when someone you’re dating continues to blame you for past mistakes you made in the relationship,” explains Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Once you’ve resolved an issue, it’s an extremely toxic habit to unearth the same argument again and again, with the intention of one-upping (or worse, embarrassing) your spouse. So you went out with your friends last summer, had three too many Aperol spritzes and accidentally broke a lamp. If you’ve already talked it out and apologized, there’s no reason for your spouse to continually bring it up every time you and your friends have a drinks date.
5. You haven’t been feeling like yourself lately.
A healthy relationship should bring out the very best in you. When you and your partner go out dancing, you should feel like your confident, gorgeous and carefree self, not jealous, insecure or ignored. If you’ve been feeling worse off since you’ve been hanging out with your beau, there may be some toxic stuff going on.
6. You’re totally consumed by the relationship.
You’re completely obsessed with your new crush—you can’t stop thinking about him, and everything you do is to make him happy. While these feelings can easily be confused with love, Weber explains that this is a major toxic relationship clue. “You need to recognize that this relationship is taking over your entire identity,” she says. The biggest red flag? If you start keeping your partner away from your family and friends out of fear that they “won’t understand” and might tell you to break up with him. Take some time to yourself and remember what used to make you happy before the relationship, then decide if there’s room for both you and your partner to continue to grow and thrive together.
7. You feel like you’re on a roller coaster.
Toxic love often means oscillating between strong highs (excitement and passion) and intense lows (anxiety and depression). You revel in the highs but mostly experience the lows. “In a perverse way, it is the unpredictability of intense emotions that keeps a person stuck, like an unsuccessful gambler hoping that the next card will turn everything around,” says Weber. Recognize this pattern and step off the ride, she advises.
So if you’ve spotted the signs, how do you get out of a toxic relationship? The first step is to acknowledge that it’s the relationship—not you—that’s flawed. Next, seek help from a psychologist or counselor. Getting out of an unhealthy relationship is hard (take it from this writer who’s done it) and turning to a professional can help you figure out the best way to step away and how to rebuild your life as a strong, single person again. Surround yourself with positive people and put your own self-care first. Need some words of encouragement? Let these quotes about toxic relationships inspire you.