It's not always easy to get a crystal clear picture of someone's past, especially when they aren't too keen on opening up. But did you know this habit, among many others, could actually be a sign your partner has a history of toxic relationships? While it can be tough to talk about, it's worth it to find out more about each other's pasts, all in the name of improving your dynamic.
After all, "a partner with baggage will likely struggle with what therapists call attachment issues," Dr. Jamie Long, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale, tells Bustle, and that can effect how they interact and bond with you. "The ultimate fear of someone who has been hurt in the past is that it will happen again," Long says, "so they may struggle with insecurities, jealousy, or being overly guarded."
These issues can be tough to cope with for both you and your partner, but "knowing what is at the root of problem behaviors will help you get to a solution," Long says. Becoming more aware of what they've been through, and why it might result in certain habits, can come as a huge relief. And it can be a first step in overcoming them together.
"A relationship therapist can be incredibly helpful in assisting with communication strategies, improving trust, and managing conflict," Long says. "Even if you don’t go together as a couple, relationship counseling [...] can still be very helpful." Read on below for a few possible signs your partner had a toxic past, as well a what to do about it, according to experts.
1. They're Slow To Open Up
Being slow to open up, and seeming wary about the positive side of relationships, are both signs someone has a history of toxicity in their past. And that's because, as Long says, "the brain and heart err on the side of protection after psychological harm."
When bad things happen, it's only natural to brace yourself so you're on guard in case they ever happen again. "This may mean that the natural progression of intimacy and closeness may grow at a snail’s pace," Long says, because your partner is wondering if the relationship is safe, or if it'll just be another situation where they get hurt.
Depending on what happened, your partner may have a lot of personal work to do in order to begin overcoming problems from the past. But you can help them along by being supportive of their process.
2. They're Quick To Anger
Toxic relationships are emotionally exhausting, and often include high amounts of invalidation, which can do a number on someone's well-being.
"When a person is frequently invalidated it can lead to them feeling like they’re going crazy, "Long says. "It’s an incredibly frustrating experience, which could understandably lead to poor emotion regulation."
A short temper, a bad attitude, and an inability to cope with stress are all telltale signs. Instead of handling conflict in a reasonable way, they get angry, shut down, or overreact. Basically, as Long says, "if your partner has a low frustration tolerance, a prior history of chronic invalidation might be the culprit."
It doesn't, however, mean it's OK for them to throw a fit or take it out on you. In order for your relationship to last, your partner will need to work on communicating, and finding ways to resolve conflict and stress in a healthier way.
Going to couples therapy might even be a good idea, so you can both learn more about where their anger is coming from, and ways to better manage it.
3. They Need Constant Validation
If your partner has been through the ringer, they may struggle to believe you actually care about them, even when all is well in your relationship. "They may ask for a lot of reassurance or greatly rely on words of affirmation to soothe any doubts with which they’re wrestling," Long says.
It might mean constantly asking if things are OK, seeking out "I love yous," and asking you to call to check in throughout the day when you're away. While these requests are fine and reasonable in many regards, needing 24/7 validation isn't sustainable long-term.
Being understanding can go a long way, but again, that doesn't mean you need to accept unhelpful habits like these, Long says. By creating boundaries — including talking about when it's OK to call, versus when you need some time to yourself — you'll not only be helping your partner feel more secure, you'll also be looking after yourself.
4. They Have A Hard Time Trusting You
If you get home an hour late from work, or want to meet up with friends without your partner, do they immediately assume the worst? Are they always accusing you of lying and cheating? Or acting like it isn't OK to spend some time apart?
If so, "this behavior can indicate difficulty with boundaries and control," Amber Trueblood, MFT, MBA, a marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "Both control and boundary problems result from insecurity and fear," which is why it, once again, often stems from a history of toxic relationships.
One way to handle insecurity and lack of trust is by letting your partner know how their actions are negatively impacting you. For example, you can say "when you (describe the behavior), it makes me feel (hurt, embarrassed, upset, worried, etc.," Trueblood says.
It will allow you to talk about their actions without casting blame or making them feel bad, which in turn will foster a productive conversation about trust and boundaries. Over time, they'll be able to feel more relaxed.
5. They're Secretive
On the flip side, maybe your partner isn't tell you where they are or sharing what they're thinking, and it's equally stressful in its own way. While there are many possible explanations, one is that they used to be in a controlling relationship, Trueblood says, and are now overcompensating.
Even though the past is in the past, toxic experiences can cause someone to be excessively protective of their individuality and space, she says, due to unhealthy levels of control in previous relationships. "It’s now become a protective mechanism," Trueblood says, where they prefer to push you away, instead of treating the relationship like the partnership it is.
It's important to keep in mind that, with many of these issues, it'll be up to your partner to come to terms with their past, possibly with the help of a therapist. You alone can't fix a partner's problems, but you can offer support, and show them that the relationship is a good one by continuing to treat them the way you'd like to be treated.
"This provides a model for your partner and sets a healthier tone for your entire relationship," Trueblood says. Be open, honest, and communicative, and your partner will hopefully feel more comfortable doing the same.
6. They Don't Own Their Mistakes
While it might not sound connected at all, it can be quite telling if your partner never owns their mistakes, or admits when they're wrong. So if they're constantly pointing fingers and acting immature, it'll be worth it to consider possible reasons why.
"A partner who is on the defensive all the time has probably been in a relationship where they were controlled and blamed for everything," Fiona Eckersley, an author, confidence coach, and divorce recovery expert, tells Bustle. "They will have a much harder time communicating, and may even be overly aggressive with their opinion in an effort to correct the way they had been treated in the past."
Instead of having productive arguments, they double down and keep blaming you, forever refusing to listen. This habit is one that can quickly lead to resentment in a relationship, Eckersley says, which is why u
You won't know sure sure until you dive deeper and have more conversations as a couple. But since this habit will lead to resentment, Eckersley says, it's something you'll want to work on together, ASAP.
7. They're Taking Forever To Commit
Not everyone moves at the same pace when it comes to kicking off a new relationship. It's why it's important to be honest about what you want, so you can make sure you're both on the same page. But if things have been going well, and your partner is still acting weird, it very well may point to a toxic past.
"Someone who is very wary of committing [...] is probably fearful that they will get themselves right back into the same situation that they had in the past relationship," Eckersley says. As a result, your partner might not be able to be fully present, or it might seem like they're constantly coming up with excuses to avoid taking things to the next level.
"They will start to soften," Eckersley says, "and then pull back as they get more serious in an effort to protect themselves," resulting in a frustration that never seems to resolve itself. You can, however, attempt to remedy the situation by providing your partner with little extra assurance.
Talk about what the future of your relationship might look like, including go-to communication methods, Eckersley says. For example, you might agree that, as soon as worrying issues arise, you'll promise address them as a couple right away, so no one has to feel anxious or stressed.
Of course, if any of these signs ring a bell, you should also find time to talk about their past, and give your partner space to share what they've been through. If they have, in fact, experienced a toxic relationship or two, it may be a while before they're able to fully relax. But if you're both willing to create boundaries, communicate, and be supportive, it's certainly something you can help them overcome.
Dr. Jamie Long, licensed clinical psychologist at The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale
Amber Trueblood, MFT, MBA, marriage and family therapist
Fiona Eckersley, author, confidence coach, and divorce recovery expert
This article was originally published on