All relationships can be difficult. But some relationships are toxic.
Often toxic relationships need to be left behind–especially if we feel we’re in danger.
Sometimes our relationships haven’t quite tipped the scales toward toxicity. They’re just hard. Those kind of relationships require a lot of prayer, grace, and difficult conversations. If you recognize signs of one or two of these issues, you may want to think about setting better boundaries and sticking to them without abandoning the relationship. If you recognize all of these signs in your relationship or see other disturbing trends and you’ve tried to reconcile or if you feel you’re in danger, it’s probably time to get out. Here are a few signs that often show up in a toxic relationship:
Manipulation is a main theme of the relationship. Manipulation takes many forms. Some people use guilt trips (ie: “You’re a terrible person for not making time to attend my cat’s birthday party. If you loved me, you would have made it work.”). Other times when people don’t get what they want out of our relationships, they employ the silent treatment until we buckle under the pressure. Often manipulation also shows up in the form of using “no way out questions,” which means the other person has already made the choice for you. (Like when someone says, “Are you coming over now or in ten minutes to help me write my paper?” when you haven’t said you’re available to help.) In every relationship, we should feel the freedom to make a choice. When we lose that freedom because we feel guilty or because we know the other person is going to get angry, we’ve lost our ability to love well. Manipulation makes love an obligation…and at that point it’s no longer love. It’s just something we feel like we have to do.
You have no voice. One time I made a decision and stated it clearly, but the other person still came back to me three times to ask if I’d made a decision yet! The choice I’d made wasn’t what the other person would have wanted, so she chose not to accept my answer. I felt unheard and powerless. Healthy relationships give equal voice to each person. That doesn’t mean we always get our way, but it does mean we’re able to express ourselves. It also means we feel heard at the end of the conversation. When we’re cut off in the middle of conversation, told what we should think, or our decisions are ignored it can be a sign of a deeply damaged relationship.
Teasing becomes bullying. Sometimes teasing is funny–when we’re already cloaked in love and the situation is truly hilarious. But often toxic relationships take “teasing” to a new level. If the person doing the teasing has to say, “You’re being too serious!” or “You need to lighten up!” there’s a problem. It’s never funny to make fun of someone for an aspect of his or her personality or appearance. If we feel stripped of our dignity because of someone else’s teasing, it’s crossed the line into bullying. It’s okay to walk away from a bully.
One person operates as a parasite. When we leave time spent with others, it’s awesome to feel encouraged. But sometimes we can end up walking away feeling drained and exhausted. If we’re being used instead of being loved, that’s often what happens. When others want to spend time with us only when they have a problem we can solve, it can start to feel as though we aren’t valued for who we are. Instead, we feel like we’re only important as long as we contribute toward the desires of the other person. Healthy, encouraging relationships are often better balanced. Sometimes there are seasons where one person needs more from the other, but for the most part there’s an equal amount of participation and encouragement going on. If you’re always helping your friend do yard work, listening to her problems, and buying her things when she’s broke but she doesn’t have time to listen when you’re hurting, it’s time to have a serious conversation.
Growth is a threat. In healthy relationships, growth is cause for celebration. It always means change though, and that can mean changes for the relationship. If we’re in a toxic relationship, changes are often seen as threats. Of course the controlling person in a toxic relationship doesn’t want things to change because that means she loses control over the situation and no longer has a free pass to get what she wants. When our friends sabotage our efforts to grow and become healthier individuals, we need to start looking for new friends.
Can you think of any other signs you may be involved in a toxic relationship? What are some ways you can work on relationships that may be hard but not toxic?