Toxic relationships

Watch out for harmful relationships

On the whole, relationships are good for us and, for most of us, are central to living a good life, but that’s not true of all relationships. Sometimes relationships in our lives can be harmful – for example, when they are characterised by bullying or abuse. It’s important to remember that harmful relationships are not just limited to our romantic partnerships; a person can have a damaging relationship with a friend, co-worker or even a family member.

Although domestic violence is more common among women, men can also experience it and can be exposed to the same range of potentially negative relationships. These toxic relationships are defined by an unhealthy dynamic that two people are participating in.

Here are some signs to look out for when assessing whether you are in a toxic or harmful relationship:

  • You don’t feel good enough. You feel like nothing you do is quite right and are constantly trying to prove your worth. You constantly seek the other person’s validation.
  • You can’t be yourself. You feel you have to walk on eggshells and monitor everything you say and do. You feel you need to think twice before you speak as certain topics are off limits, and you feel you have to act or behave a certain way. You’re afraid to bring things up because you’re not sure how the other person will react.
  • The other person puts you down.
  • You feel like the problem. The other person doesn’t take responsibility for their actions and instead blames you. They attribute any problems or difficulties in the relationship as all your fault.
  • You start to withdraw from participating in activities or seeing people in your life.

If you are worried about a harmful relationship, domestic violence or intimate partner violence, you can contact:

  • The Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (women only) on 0808 2000 247.
  • Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327, or you can email them or chat online with an advisor.

Some negative relationships can be repaired, but both people in the relationship need to be committed to working on it. If you are in a toxic relationship and you both agree to work to change this dynamic, there are a number of self-help resources available.

However, it may also be useful to seek additional support from a professional to help work through a dysfunctional, harmful relationship pattern. Seeing a therapist, either as a couple or individually, who specialises in working with interpersonal issues can help you both find ways of working through any difficulties.

For more information on relationship counselling, please see Relate’s website.