If You Notice These 7 Small Problems, Your Relationship May Become Toxic
There's no such thing as a perfectly harmonious relationship, so don't fret if you've been bickering with your partner, or if you've just had an big argument. Having the occasional disagreement is actually healthy, since it means you're both sharing your thoughts and working through problems. But it is important to keep an eye out for certain types of arguments, as well as other problems that may mean your relationship is becoming toxic.
Big, blowup fights that consist of name-calling and other unhealthy attacks can be a sign things are going (or have already gone) downhill. But toxic red flags aren't always this obvious. Instead, you may notice that you've been slightly on edge lately, or that you've been walking on eggshells, or feeling the need to tell little white lies.
"These are all signs that something is bothering you about your relationship," Amy McManus, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "Maybe it’s true that this person isn’t the right match for you, but maybe you just have gotten used to an unhealthy relationship dynamic, and this is the way it’s showing up in your life." The good thing about small problems is it's often easy to turn them around — sometimes even before they turn fully toxic.
"When you start to have these kinds of feelings, getting some help from a therapist or relationship coach can help you figure out the best way to address your situation," McManus says. "Sometimes when it seems like your partner is the most annoying person on earth, a little therapy can help you learn to interact in much healthier ways and turn your feelings back to that loving connection you once had." Here are a few red flags that may be a sign toxicity is brewing to watch out for, according to experts.
1. You're Walking On Eggshells
If it's starting to feel like you can't say what's on your mind, because you're worried how your partner might react, take note. "This could be a sign that your partner has some anger management problems, or it could be a sign that the two of you simply need to get some help figuring out how to manage your differences in a healthy way," McManus says. "It is possible to disagree with your partner without this leading to a major argument, but if you find yourself always trying to avoid triggering your partner’s disapproval or anger, you will probably need some professional help to learn how to change this unhealthy dynamic."
2. You've Started Telling White Lies
"If you find yourself telling little white lies because you are afraid of how your partner might respond to the truth, that is a sign your relationship dynamic is becoming toxic," McManus says. And that's where therapy — or even couples therapy — can be a big help.
"If you are doing things that you yourself are really not comfortable with [...] you would benefit from examining why you feel it necessary to lie to your partner," McManus says. "If you are stretching the truth, eliminating important information, or telling little white lies in order to appease your partner, or to keep them from freaking out, then you both would benefit by getting some help learning how to deal with differences of opinion and belief within your relationship. The longer this dynamic is unaddressed, the more toxic it becomes." So the sooner you two can come together and address the issue, the better.
3. You're Both Getting Angry Over Little Things
If you seem to have a short fuse, where it feels like every little things annoys you, it may be a sign things are about to go south. "We all know this feeling," McManus says. "Suddenly everything your partner does [infuriates you]."
While it's OK to get upset and talk about big issues that affect your relationship, it's important to pay attention to why you might be getting super upset over little things — such as a dirty dish in the sink, or a light being left on — as it may mean deeper issues aren't being unaddressed.
4. Your Arguments Have Become Hurtful
"Once arguments take the turn from being constructive to being hurtful it’s time to assess if the relationship is toxic," therapist Jodi Erin Rabinowitz, LPC, tells Bustle. "This often happens when one or both members of a couple do not know how to calm themselves down during a fight and begin saying things they don’t mean, using hurtful language, or bringing the past up to punish their partner."
As soon as you notice this shift, bring it to your partner's attention, and see if you can make an effort to change together. One thing you can do is to, "establish fair fighting rules with [your] partner," Rabinowitz says. "This ensures that everyone is on the same page and that both partners have a good will and good intentions towards each other — even during arguments."
5. They're Suddenly Jealous
A small amount of jealousy is to be expected in a relationship, and is usually nothing to worry about. But since it can easily dip into unhealthy territory, don't ignore signs of your partner becoming jealous in a controlling or over-the-top way.
"Anything that is extreme is a red flag," Lisa Concepcion, dating and relationship expert and founder of LoveQuestCoaching, tells Bustle. "Arguments about whereabouts, looking through your phone, and just violation of boundaries (i.e., showing up at [your] workplace unannounced), these are all red flags."
To keep this jealousy from turning toxic, you can try to set up boundaries. You might notice, however, that a jealous partner won't respect them. And it may be time to consider leaving that relationship.
6. They Shut Down During Arguments
Heated, unfair arguments can be a sign of impending toxicity. But a total lack of arguments isn't great, either. Usually what happens is one partner will shut down, and the other will begin to pursue them, leading to an unhealthy power struggle.
"This causes the angry partner to pursue more, which pushes the withdrawing partner farther away," Valerie Greene, a relationship coach, tells Bustle. "This causes a viscous cycle that keeps repeating itself. The red flag is noticing whether you or your partner engage in criticism, defensiveness, or stonewalling during conflict. These behaviors erode the connection that you feel with each other."
While this can be a sign of bigger problems — and possibly ones that need to be addressed in therapy — you can try to sort it out on your own. "When you notice criticism, defensiveness, or stonewalling, turn your attention towards your feelings and your needs instead of these behaviors," Greene says. "Tune into the vulnerable emotions, such as sadness, shame, or fear, underneath the anger. And identify the deeper emotional needs that you and your partner have [...] With empathy and compassion, give each other comfort and reassurance that you matter to each other and want to meet each other’s emotional needs."
7. The Same Silly Problems Keep Cropping Up
The occasional small argument is no big deal. It's only when the same small issues keep occurring that it may add up and create a toxic relationship. "Relationship conflict over the small things such as: how you feel someone spoke to you, cooking food a certain way, not cleaning up, etc., over time creates resentment if not resolved," licensed psychologist Dr. Danielle Forshee, tells Bustle. "Additionally, over time, conflict over the small things is what we call a perpetual problem."
It's fairly common for relationship to have ongoing problems, "however, the relationships that survive [them] are those where [couples] address and manage the communication, conflict styles, and real issues about those small things," Dr. Forshee says. "A relationship will turn toxic if these perpetual problems persist."
In order to turn things around, and save your relationship, it can help to recognize that ongoing petty fights are rarely about the topic at hand. "Most of the time it is not about the thing itself (laundry, dishes, etc.), but more about what those things mean to you," Dr. Forshee says. "If you and your partner can have a conversation not directly about the thing itself, but about what it means to you when your partner does not do that thing, you will set yourself up for success." And the same is true when it comes to addressing other problems, that seem like they might be heading in a toxic direction. By talking about them, and coming up with a plan together, you and your partner can keep your relationship healthy.