7 Signs Your Partner Has A History Of Toxic Relationships, According To Experts
It's not always possible to get a crystal clear picture of someone's past, especially when they aren't too keen on opening up. But you may be able to tell if your partner has a history of toxic relationships by the things they struggle with. And this is especially true in terms of how it all relates to you.
"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. "If they got burned in a previous relationship, or even in familial relationships, it could effect how they bond with [you]. The ultimate fear of someone who has been hurt in the past is that it will happen again, 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. Instead of just seeing a whole host of random issues, you can be more understanding, and even work on 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 has a toxic past, as well a what to do about it, according to experts.
1. They're Slow To Open Up
"The brain and heart err on the side of protection after psychological harm," Long says, which is why you might notice that your partner is struggling to open up, or that they seem a bit hesitant when it comes to enjoying your connection.
"This may mean that the natural progression of intimacy and closeness may grow at a snail’s pace," Long says, because your partner is still struggling with vulnerability, as well as wondering if the relationship is safe.
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 try to be supportive of their process. And by giving them that support, you'll be showing that you care.
2. They're Quick To Anger
"Toxic relationships often have high amounts of invalidation," Long says. "When a person is frequently invalidated it can lead to them feeling like they’re going crazy. It’s an incredibly frustrating experience which could understandably lead to poor emotion regulation."
So if your partner seems to have a short temper, this may help explain why. Instead of handling conflict in a reasonable way, they may 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."
This doesn't, however, mean it's OK for them to throw a fit. In order for your relationship to last, both of you will need to work on communicating, and finding ways to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
3. They Need Constant Validation
If your partner has been through the ringer, they may struggle to believe that you really care about them, even when you're showing zero signs of not caring.
"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. This might mean they're constantly looking for signs you care about them, seeking out "I love yous," or asking you to call to check in throughout the day.
Being understanding can go a long way, but again, that doesn't mean you need to accept bad behavior, Long says. By creating boundaries — such as 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 Don't Always Trust You
If you get home an hour late from work, or want to meet up alone with friends, does your partner immediately assume the worst?
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," and that might just be a sign they've felt unsafe in past relationships.
The best way to handle insecurity and lack of trust is by letting your partner know how it negatively impacts you. For example, you can say "when you (describe the behavior), it makes me feel (hurt, embarrassed, upset, worried, etc.," Trueblood says.
This will allow you to talk about their actions without casting blame, which in turn will allow you to have a productive conversation about trust and boundaries.
5. They're Secretive
On the flip side, your partner might not want to tell you where they are or share what they're thinking. And when that's the case, it very well may mean they've been in a controlling relationship or two, Trueblood says.
But even though that's now in the past, they're still "excessively protecting their individuality and space," she says, "due to a toxic-level of control in a previous relationship. It’s now become a protective mechanism."
One way to move on is by showing your partner what a healthy relationship looks like, by living it out yourself. "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 eventually 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. So if your partner is constantly pointing fingers or otherwise acting immature, consider why that might be.
"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, 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."
But since this can lead to resentment, Eckersley says, it's something you'll want to work on together, ASAP.
7. They Can't Commit
"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. So even if things are going well, your partner might not be able to be fully present.
"They will start to soften and then pull back as they get more serious in an effort to protect themselves," Eckersley says. And it can be quite frustrating for you, especially if you'd like the relationship to work.
A helpful way to move past an issue like this is by chatting about ways to create a solid relationship, in order to assure your partner things won't go south. Talk about "areas such as respect, time you want to spend together, and communication methods," Eckersley says, and agree that as soon as an issue comes up, you will address it.
Of course, you should also find a way to talk about the past, and give your partner time and space to share what they might have been through. If they have, in fact, experienced toxic relationships, it may be a while before they're able to feel comfortable. But if you're both willing to create boundaries, communicate, and be supportive, it is something you can both 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