Jenny met Kenneth through an online dating site. She was drawn to his rugged good looks and their shared love of the outdoors. When they met, he told her that he didn’t like women who wore makeup, so she stopped wearing any in order to try to please him. As time went by, however, he started becoming more controlling and eventually began to dictate what she should wear, where she could go, and whom she could see.
Fred initially loved the fact his girlfriend, Melinda, chose to spend all her spare time with him. After they had been dating for a few months and the honeymoon stage began to wear off, he wanted to start spending more time with some of his other friends again. He liked to play soccer and was interested in joining a team. Every time he would bring up the subject, however, Melinda would become extremely jealous, fly into a rage, and accuse him of wanting to cheat on her.
Both of the examples above depict dysfunctional relationships. From an outsider’s perspective, we may be quick to notice the toxic nature of each relationship, but for an individual caught up in one, it can sometimes be more challenging to do so as the warning signs may occur gradually over time and the behaviors at issue are often overlooked or rationalized in some way.
In order to avoid getting involved in a toxic relationship in the first place, the following are some of the red flags that may be helpful to keep in mind:
- Controlling behaviors: If your partner is overly controlling, this can be a warning sign the relationship is toxic and you may be better off getting out of the relationship before becoming too involved. Often, this type of behavior can start off gradually through one of the partners making comments that encourage the other to act or dress a certain way. This can then lead to more harmful behaviors, such as controlling whom their partner can see, when and where they can go, and even maintaining control over their finances, which can lead to them feeling like a prisoner in their own home. In some situations—for example, if the partner being controlled refuses to do what the other wants—the controlling partner may end up becoming physically and/or verbally abusive.
- Excessive jealousy: If your partner is prone to unwarranted displays of jealousy, this can be a red flag they are overly possessive and may struggle with feelings of low self-esteem. Trust is an important component of any healthy relationship. If you have always been trustworthy, but your partner doubts you every time you are out of sight and accuses you of cheating, this is a sign of a dysfunctional relationship. Your partner could probably benefit from individual therapy to work through their self-esteem and trust issues.
- Extreme displays of anger: If the person you are seeing is unable to adequately control their anger, this is a good indication additional problems may arise if you embark on a relationship. Anger management issues can easily escalate and become more violent when someone has difficulties calming themselves. Learning effective anger management techniques can be helpful for individuals who struggle with anger issues.
- Emotional blackmail: If your dating partner threatens to withhold affection and/or intimacy whenever you have a disagreement about something, this could be a red flag. Any type of emotional blackmail is a symptom of dysfunction in a relationship.
- Any type of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse: Abusive acts of any kind are serious warning signs you should not become involved with an individual. If you are in an abusive relationship already, meeting with a therapist can be beneficial in order to obtain help and healing.
- Substance abuse: If your partner struggles with drinking or drug use, be aware this can be detrimental to any relationship. If you notice early on this is a problem for your partner, establish some healthy boundaries for yourself by avoiding getting involved and encourage them to seek help.
Relationships can be challenging enough without mixing in any of the issues listed above. When you start dating someone new, be on the lookout for red flags that may indicate you could have problems later. If you are already involved in a toxic relationship, seeking out the guidance of a compassionate therapist can be beneficial in order to learn healthier ways of setting boundaries and connecting with others.
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