Even if you don't know their full life story, if your
partner has a history of toxic relationships, chances are you'll be able to tell based on a few habits they've picked up over the years, as a result of dealing with crummy situations — and crummy people.
"The ultimate fear of someone who has been hurt in the past is that it will happen again,"
Dr. Jamie Long, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale, tells Bustle. So the most standout habits may be that your partner struggles with insecurities, doesn't want to open up, assumes you're cheating on them, etc.
These are all
side effects of a toxic relationship, and while they can be tough to cope with for both you and your partner, knowing what is at the root of these problem behaviors will help you get to a solution, Long says. In other words, becoming more aware of the cause is the first step in overcoming them together.
Taking the time to talk is always important, but a relationship therapist can also "be incredibly helpful in assisting
with communication strategies, improving trust, and managing conflict," Long says.
Read on below for several potential signs your
partner had a toxic past, as well as the changes you both can make to ensure their history doesn't keep affecting your relationship, going forward.
According to Long, "the brain and heart err on the side of protection after psychological harm," which might explain why your partner always seems distant.
It's a coping mechanism they developed, after being in a toxic relationship in the past. They've learned not to share too much, or get too close, because they've been hurt.
They may need to chat to with a therapist before they can fully
learn how to trust again, but you can help them along by being supportive and understanding.
It's also not uncommon for a person with a history of toxic relationships to seem like they're "on guard" all the time, or like they can't fully relax. Your partner might have an eye out for problems at all times, which can result in a relationship that never feels fully settled.
They Don't Talk About Themselves
Not everyone is super chatty, and that's OK. But if your partner refuses to talk about themselves — much less their past — there's probably a reason why.
It can make it feel you aren't
quite getting to know who they are as a person, or that the natural progression of intimacy and closeness is developing slowly, Long says.
Again, since a toxic past damages a person's ability to trust, all you can do is be as understanding as possible, until your partner gets more comfortable opening up.
They Get Frustrated Easily
A dating history rife with invalidation and judgement will do a number on a person's self-esteem and well-being, Long says, sometimes to the point they develop "low frustration tolerance."
That's why, instead of
handling conflict in a reasonable way, your partner might get super angry or overreact, leaving you wondering what the heck is going on. Going to couples therapy is often a good idea, in this case, so you can both learn more about where their frustration is coming from, plus helpful ways to manage it.
They Seem To Have "Anger Issues"
Similar to frustration, a history of toxicity, or even abuse, can leave a person feeling really angry and reactive. As a result, your partner might blow up easily, or seem incapable of coping with even the smallest amount of stress.
That said, while it's good to consider someone's past, a history of toxic relationships
does not mean it's OK for your partner to throw a fit or take their anger out on you.
In order for your relationship to last, they'll need to work on communicating and finding better
ways of resolving conflict.
They're Very "Go With The Flow"
While some people really are just laidback, it's not uncommon for someone who has been in a toxic relationship to develop a "go with the flow" attitude as a coping mechanism.
Your partner might claim they don't have an opinion, but it's actually a leftover habit from the days when their ex called all the shots, or didn't value what they had to say.
They Feel Unsure After Arguments
If their ex withheld love as a form of punishment, particularly after arguments, your partner might need you to "prove" you still love them, whenever you two do disagree.
As Long says, "they may
ask for a lot of reassurance or greatly rely on words of affirmation to soothe any doubts." Think along the lines of asking you to say "I love you" a million times throughout the day.
They Need To Be By Your Side
It's healthy to hold onto some individuality in your relationship, which means spending time apart, having your own friends, hobbies, etc. But that can be really difficult for a person who struggles with
attachment issues, Long says, as a result of a toxic relationship.
Your partner might not be OK with the idea of spending time apart, because they immediately assume it means you no longer care about them. And yet, by creating boundaries — like talking about when it's OK to text, versus when you
need some time to yourself — you'll not only be helping your partner feel more secure, you'll also be taking good care of yourself.
They Accuse You Of Cheating
If you get home an hour late from work, does your partner immediately
assume the worst? Do they accuse you of lying and cheating? 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, again, often stem from a history of toxic relationships.
If you get the sense that your partner doesn't trust you, or is always casting a wary eye in your direction, take it as yet another sign you two may need to talk about their past — as well as your relationship's future.
One way to handle insecurity and lack of trust is by letting your partner know how their actions have been negatively impacting you. For example, you can say, "When you get upset with me for wanting to spend an evening alone, it makes me feel hurt and like you don't trust me."
This level-headed approach allows you to talk about their actions without casting blame or making them feel bad, Trueblood says, which in turn fosters a productive conversation about
trust and boundaries.
On the flip side, if your partner doesn't tell
you where they are or share what they're thinking, one explanation is that they used to be in a controlling relationship, Trueblood says, and are now overcompensating by keeping their life as private as possible.
To you, it might seem like you never know what they're thinking, or as if they have a whole second life that's a complete mystery. And that can quickly lead to distrust, as well as a sense you aren't true partners.
Even if it happened years ago, a toxic relationship might cause your partner to develop a "protective mechanism," Trueblood says, where they prefer to push you away, instead of treating you as a partner who needs (and deserves) to be let in.
Again, it'll be up to your partner to come to terms with their past, possibly with the
help of a therapist. It's not your job to fix them, but you can offer support and show them that this new 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.
While there are several reasons why your partner might point fingers during an argument — including
being toxic themselves — if they seem to lash out and blame you when things go wrong, take it as a sign.
"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.
Another sign? If your partner is "bad" at arguing, meaning they take low blows or seem
unwilling to compromise. Instead, they keep fighting and appear to be willing to do whatever it takes to "win" an argument — including calling you names. Even though this habit may be one they picked up in their past, it still doesn't make it OK.
They Aren't Good At Listening
If toxic relationships teach a person anything, it's how to shut down and stop listening, which might be why your partner can't seem to hear what you're saying.
Since poor listening skills can quickly lead to resentment in a relationship, Eckersley says, take the time to address them one by one as a couple, so they don't keep affecting you going forward.
They Compare You To Their Ex
While it's not uncommon to compare new partners to old ones, or to talk about the past, if your partner is still affected by what happened to them, you might notice they start unfairly comparing you, or the things you do, to their toxic ex.
Gently bring it to their attention, and give them the opportunity to change. They might not even realize they're doing it, but it is a sure sign they've been through a lot.
They Keeping Putting Off Commitment
Not everyone moves at the same pace when it comes to dating. It's why it's important to be honest about what you're looking for, to make sure you're
on the same page. But if you both want a relationship, and your partner is still holding back, it could be a protective measure they learned in the past.
They might seem open to the idea of commitment, only to pull back the moment things get more serious, resulting in a frustrating dance that never seems to go anywhere. If you notice this pattern, all you can do is offer your partner a little extra reassurance.
Talk about what the
future of your relationship might look like, and come up with a few "rules" that'll help you both feel secure, Eckersley says. For example, you might agree that, as soon as stressful issues arise, you'll address them as a couple right away and reach a conclusion — instead of screaming at each other, or letting them fester.
If any of these habits ring a bell, find time to
talk about your partner's past, and/or give them the space the need to share what they've been through, once they're ready.
It may be a while before they're able to fully understand how it's still affecting them, and make a few changes. But if you're both willing to establish healthy boundaries, communication, and support, the past doesn't have to hold them back forever.
Experts: Dr. Jamie Long, licensed clinical psychologist Amber Trueblood, MFT, MBA, marriage and family therapist Fiona Eckersley, author, confidence coach, and divorce recovery expert