“I think my relationship may be toxic. When we have fights, I always end up apologising, even if he’s the one who upset me (which he does a lot). How do I know for sure?”
Thanks for writing in, Anon. I’m so sorry to hear that you’re having issues in your relationship, but I’m relieved to see that you’re taking a step back to analyse.
Every relationship is different, and most will endure at least some difficulties. Human beings are not perfect, and no two people are 100% compatible – we’re simply too complex for every trait to align perfectly with no tension whatsoever.
However, when there are too many problems, too many fights, and too many red flags, it’s important to view things objectively and decide whether the bad times are worth the good. I’m by no means a relationship expert, but I can help you by listing some of the most common behaviours found in toxic relationships.
You’ve mentioned that you always end up apologising in fights. This is a huge indicator that something is wrong, and can be a trait of gaslighting. Gaslighting is when someone makes you doubt your own emotions and experiences by manipulating the situation to seem like it’s your fault. Relationships are about give and take, balance, and equality, you should be able to both apologise and ask for an apology. Having one person always taking the emotional labour of making things right – especially when they’re the one who was hurt in the first place – is very unfair and harmful.
The next time you need to bring a hurtful action to light with your partner, it might be helpful to write down exactly how you feel. What did they do to upset you? How did it cause you distress? How can they make it better, and how can they avoid doing the same in the future? If the conversation gets spun to make you feel at fault, try to stand your ground. They may try to make you feel crazy, or irrational, or stupid, but you are entitlted to your emotions, no matter how small or unimportant the issue might seem to anyone else.
Something else to look out for is jealousy. Of course, every person gets a little jealous sometimes. In healthy relationships, it is often a sign that your partner doesn’t want to lose you to anyone else. The issue comes when your partner’s jealousy becomes a consistent and harmful issue. If you’re being told not to be friends with someone, or to change the way you act around your friends, you should be aware of how your partner may be subtly trying to control your personal life and relationships.
Another common behaviour seen in toxic relationships is ‘love-bombing’. After a period of intense fighting, conflict, or tension, abusive partners will go to the other extreme to stop you from leaving. This can take the form of flattery, gifts, endless attention and sympathy, or grand gestures/statements. While they feel good at the time, these actions are just being used to distract you from the bad feelings of being manipulated, lied to, and gaslit. This push and pull of two extreme ends of emotion, for example pain and distress vs. comfort and love, is extremely harmful to your wellbeing and only leads to more instability and confusion down the road. Abusive partners will rely on you craving their love and affection, like you receive during a period of love-bombing, to make you docile when they go back to being hurtful.
Ultimately, no one can change your relationship but you, but relationships should make you feel accepted, supported, loved, and safe. If you’re frequently apologising, changing yourself to please your partner, and feeling stress, anxiety, or even fear, then you should really consider ending the relationship. You are the most important person in your life.
If you need help, The Mental Health Foundation has two helplines you can call (0808 2000 247 for women, 0808 801 0327 for men). There are also lots of resources on their website, www.mentalhealth.org.uk.