9 Things That May Start To Feel Normal In A Toxic Relationship, But Are Definitely Not
One of the worst things about a toxic relationship is how easy it is to become dulled to, or even accepting of, an unhealthy situation. "Behaviors that you would normally recognize as toxic at the start become 'normal' over time because you’ve gotten so used to them occurring," Jonathan Bennett, relationship and dating expert at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "And, by the time you realize it, you could be deep in a very unhealthy relationship."
This is especially true if your partner is controlling, or making a great attempt at normalizing bad behavior. But that doesn't mean you can't spot the signs, or start to see the relationship for what it really is. "The best way to recognize toxicity is to step outside of your own experience and try to be a neutral observer," Bennett says. "If you were on the outside looking in, would you regard the behaviors of your partner as normal or toxic?" What would your friends say? How does your therapist feel?
Once you start to recognize these "normal" moments as toxic, you can either work with your partner to change them (if it seems worth it to do so) or find a way to move on from the relationship altogether. Here are some things that can start to feel normal in a toxic relationship, according to experts.
1. Daily Apologies
It's great to apologize when necessary. But in toxic relationships, you might find yourself apologizing all day long, and for every little thing. And that's not indicative of a healthy situation.
"If you are the only one apologizing, or doing it when you have no blame in a situation, it is a sign of toxicity," Bennett says. It might mean your relationship lacks trust, or even that one or both of you feels insecure.
Whatever the case may be, keep in mind that both partners needs to be able and willing to apologize in a relationship, Bennett says. If not, it's a sign things are toxic.
2. Controlling Behaviors
Checking in is fine, but it should never feel like you have to text your partner all day long — especially if you're only doing so as a way of preventing an argument. Because it's really not healthy for someone to need constant updates.
"While it’s good to keep your partner informed of your general whereabouts, if it seems like [they are] 'keeping tabs' on you at all times, it usually indicates a lack of trust or an attempt at control," Bennett says. And those are two major issues in most toxic relationships, and could be indicators of a potentially emotionally abusive situation.
It you've gotten into the habit of taking the blame when things go wrong, not only is it toxic, but also a sign "your partner is not taking responsibility for their [actions]," licensed psychotherapist Shirin Peykar, LMFT, tells Bustle.
This is something you can try to work on as a couple. But if your partner isn't willing to make a change, you may want to move on.
Healthy couples make each other a priority, and think about each other's needs. So if it feels like you're the only one making an effort, or worse — if your needs are never being met — take it as a sign.
"It is [better] to have a relationship in which both partners' needs are taken into consideration most of the time," Peykar says. "Each should be open and willing to listen and acknowledge what isn't working for each partner and commit to making a change."
If doesn't happen in your relationship, even if you've tried to keep things fair, there's a good chance it's toxic.
5. Name Calling
If your relationship is toxic, it might start to feel normal — and even acceptable — that your arguments spiral out of control. But these types of arguments are all sorts of toxic. "This includes name-calling [...] defensiveness, criticism, [and] contemptuous exchanges," Peykar says. "It is not normal to have escalated arguments where disrespect and abuse is occurring." If the arguments do turn abusive, it may be best to ask a loved one or professional for help to exit the relationship.
If your partner makes you feel bad for sharing your thoughts, or revealing something emotional, you may develop the habit of keeping it all to yourself. But try to see it for what it really is.
"A toxic relationship is often filled with fear," Samantha Morrison, a health and wellness expert at Glacier Wellness, tells Bustle. "It’s perfectly normal for it to take time to develop trust, but if you feel that your partner won’t accept you, or worse — [will] criticize and belittle you — it’s time to get out."
While jealousy can happen in even the healthiest of relationships, most couples who are secure with themselves tend to feel secure within their relationships, too.
That's why "if you or your partner is constantly jealous, [it's] a red flag that there is something toxic going on in your relationship that needs to be looked at," relationship coach Melissa M. Snow, tells Bustle.
It may be a sign you need to talk about boundaries, or work on your trust — anything to help you both feel more secure.
Healthy relationships have their ups and downs, but are overall peaceful and calm. So it may mean there's toxicity afoot if you've come to accept drama — including arguments, accusations, cold shoulders, etc. — as an everyday part of your life.
For folks in toxic relationships, it's common to "think that all relationships are like that," Snow says. "Or you start to equate that kind of behavior with love." But that's not how it has to be.
9. No Sense Of "Self"
"Something that can start to feel normal in a toxic relationship is a loss or lack of 'self,'" divorce coach Heather Debreceni, tells Bustle. You may have lost touch with your hobbies or friends, either because your relationship is taking a lot of work, or because your partner makes them sound like a bad idea.
"Victims of this phenomena are conditioned to feel as though their desire to pursue those activities is 'selfish,'" Debreceni says. But keep in mind it's not necessary to give these things up in order to be in a relationship.
These toxic situations can creep in, and go unnoticed for quite a while — until you know what to look for. If it seems like your partner is being unfair, you can definitely point it out to them and see if they'll change. But it not, the best course of action may be to make moves to get out, potentially with the help of loved ones or a professional, and find a healthier situation.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.