We’re told to avoid toxic people, but what if you realize you’re the toxic person in your relationship? It’s not the end of the world. The good news is that awareness is the first step to changing something. If you’re ready to be honest and make some serious changes, you can move away from toxicity and move toward more healthy partnerships. Here’s how to do it.
What are the signs you’re the toxic one in the relationship?
If you know something is up with the dynamic between yourself and your partner but you can’t quite put a finger on why, the answer could be as simple as looking in the mirror. If you recognize any of these behaviors, you’re the toxic one and need to follow the above steps to start to address these patterns before they destroy your relationship for good.
- You’re all take and no give. Your partner regularly goes out of their way for you to make sure you’re cared for and happy and you’re glad to receive their gestures of kindness, but you rarely if ever offer any back. From an outsider’s perspective, your relationship is completely uneven, with the effort coming mostly from their side rather than yours.
- You use the silent treatment rather than communicating how you’re feeling. Instead of speaking up when you’re upset or angry about something, you bottle it all up and give the silent treatment. You don’t even know what you’re doing it sometimes – to make your partner aware that you’re mad, to “punish” them for daring to upset you, who knows? Either way, this definitely makes you the toxic one in the relationship.
- You hold grudges. When your partner upsets you, they apologize genuinely and you know that they mean it. However, that doesn’t stop you from holding a grudge and bringing their wrongdoings up again in the future every time you have another argument. Whoa, toxic behavior! If you’re not going to truly forgive your partner when things go wrong, then you might as well end the relationship now.
- You lack trust despite your partner being completely trustworthy. If you often accuse your partner of being unfaithful or flirting with other people even though they’ve never been anything but loyal and trustworthy, you need to address this behavior immediately as it’s extremely toxic. Accusing someone of something they haven’t done is not only hurtful and infuriating, it’s also likely to push them to do that thing in the end since you already think they’re guilty of it.
- You always have something to criticize about your partner. You might see it as just playful nitpicking but after a while, it’s going to start to wear your partner down if you’re always criticizing them. Always having something to say about what they’re wearing, what they do, the way they talk, their friends, or anything else about their life is not only extremely disrespectful, it’s also really rude. Why are you with this person if you think so badly of them? It’s clear you’re the toxic one in the relationship here.
- You’re jealous to an extreme level. A little jealousy is sweet and even healthy because it means you know you’re lucky to be with your partner (and they should feel the same about you). However, there’s a limit to how much jealousy is appropriate, and it can quickly cross the line to become scary and toxic. If you’re so jealous that even your partner’s friends and family are becoming concerned, you know there’s a serious problem.
- You try to control every situation. A relationship is meant to be a partnership of equals. That means that compromise is essential to assuring both people’s needs are met and that both people are happy with how things are going. If you refuse to compromise and instead try to orchestrate and control every situation so that it goes you’re way, this is a toxic behavior that needs to be addressed. You are not the only one in the relationship, and if you’re not careful, there may not be a relationship for much longer anyway.
- You expect them to spend every waking second by your side. When you first get with someone new, it’s natural to want to spend 24/7 by their side, getting to know one another and basking in each other’s company. However, as your relationship progresses, it’s vital that you begin to detach a bit so that you can maintain your lives as individuals rather than just one half of a whole. If you find it impossible to spend any time away from your partner and you expect them to neglect everyone and everything else to be with you, that’s a major problem.
- You never take responsibility for the things you do wrong. Nobody’s perfect and we all mess up sometimes. That’s okay! As long as you recognize your mistakes, apologize genuinely for them, learn from them, and vow not to do the same thing in the future, you’re on the right track. However, if you force your partner to shoulder the blame for everything that goes wrong and you always believe you’re in the right, you’re the toxic one in the relationship. End of story.
What to do about correcting this behavior
- Stop assuming you’re better or worse than anyone else. One sign that you’re toxic is that you’re an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. You either think that you’re way better than your partner or way worse. Sometimes, you think both of these things on the same day and you act out in jealousy. Instead of having this mindset, try to work towards being equal. Know that your partner is a human just like you. They have their strengths and their weaknesses. They’re no better or worse than you.
- Take some time for yourself. One form of toxicity is codependency. You think you require a partner to be okay, so you pile an immense amount of unreasonable expectations onto your lover. This results in inevitable disappointment and fighting. Instead, try taking some alone time. Getting familiar with yourself can mean literally breaking up with your partner or it can mean intentionally spending some time apart. Taking this time is crucial in learning that another person is not the source of your well-being.
- Seek couples therapy or some sort of structured support. Chances are that if you’re acting out in toxic ways, you have trauma or emotional baggage you haven’t sorted through. Perhaps you had a troubled childhood and didn’t have any healthy relationships modeled for you. There’s no shame in getting support. Seeking professional help in the form of a therapist is one way to take action in the right direction. If the first step to healing your toxicity is awareness, then the next step is structured action.
- Practice meditation or breathing exercises to cool your emotions. I’m a big fan of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, also known as DBT. Its founder, Marsha Linehan, is a Zen Buddhist, so she draws many techniques from spiritual practice, which has been helping people for thousands of years! One struggle with being toxic is that emotions often get the best of you. Anger feels uncontrollable and sadness is devastating. Meditation or breathing exercises are great ways to ground yourself in the present moment and to literally slow down on a cellular level.
- Be honest with yourself. You’ve already done the hard work in admitting that you’re the toxic one. This takes a ton of self-awareness and guts to come to terms with. You need to keep being honest with yourself if you want to heal. The thing about toxicity is that there are many layers to be uncovered. Your toxic habits didn’t appear overnight and they won’t disappear overnight.
- Lean into the messiness. Realizing you’re acting toxic is just the beginning. There are going to be continuous months and years of human messiness ahead. No one ever has perfect relationships, but you’re going to have to work extra hard to function normally. You’re going to make mistakes along the way. You’re going to act out old habits and make a muck of things. That’s okay. As long as you’re trying, you can go ahead and lean into the messiness.
- Take responsibility for your actions. You’re going to make mistakes and you likely have already made a whole bunch of them. It’s okay. What’s important now is that you start to take responsibility for them. A simple “sorry” isn’t going to cut it anymore. Your apology needs to be followed up by a sincere intention to change the behavior and stop causing harm.
- Do the right thing, not the easy thing. Way easier said than done, right? Step seven in 12-step programs is about getting rid of defects of character. To start to loosen old patterns and eventually get rid of them, you have to practice doing the right thing instead of the easy thing. When your partner talks about a female coworker, instead of doing what you usually do (making a passive-aggressive remark), instead try being neutral. You don’t have to like being neutral. You can do the right thing begrudgingly, but give it a shot.
- Bite your tongue. Your mouth is likely what gets you in the most trouble. Maybe you lash out when you’re feeling insecure or you nitpick and call it “being honest.” Whatever it looks like, your tongue is quick and sharp. It causes a lot of pain. Practice biting it. You don’t even have to say anything nice! Just practice not saying anything at all.
- Know that you are not broken or unlovable, you just need to heal. Sometimes realizing that you are the toxic one feels utterly devastating. You start beating yourself up and layering on self-hatred. This reaction is not useful to you or anyone else. At the end of the day, you’re just another human doing the best you can. You’re not damaged goods and you are not unloveable. You just require some space and time to heal, that’s all.
Toxic behavior can destroy relationships and people, but it doesn’t have to be like that. If you notice that you’re guilty of problematic behavior, you can address and fix it. You may need some outside help — and there’s no shame in looking for a therapist or psychologist to delve into some of the motivations behind your actions — but you can get there.