How to Know You Are Dating a Toxic Person

Photo by Erica Nilsson on Unsplash

One of life’s greatest challenges is to be around people who are draining your energy, who are non-supportive and who are just plain difficult. As f life wasn’t complicated enough — to make ends meet, to find your purpose, to find joy — there are certain types of individuals who make it difficult to live your everyday. No matter if we are talking about, family, friends, colleagues or your partner — you deserve to have people in your life who you enjoy spending time with, you help you and support you and who don’t deplete your energy.

While it is extremely difficult to deal with toxic family members and work in a toxic work environment, one of the worst things that can happen is to have a toxic person as a partner.

There are all sorts of toxic people out there, from drama magnets to self-centred energy vampires — with a wide range of negative traits that can rob you of your joy.

It has become quite common to label a partner narcissistic. Not everyone is a narcissist but it’s an easy and comprehensive label for toxic people — as they usually encompass and showcase more than one toxic trait. The prevalence of narcissism is increasing, yet only 4% of the total population is a real narcissist. Alas, it doesn’t mean that if your partner is not a diagnosed narcissist then you are safe from toxicity in your life.

You deserve to be around people who respect you and make you feel good about yourself — this is beyond doubt. But with enough common decency and the fact that we are taught that selfishness is a bad thing, we might fail to notice toxic people until it’s too late.

What are the signs of a toxic individual in a relationship?

The conversation is never about you

In a relationship, everything should be about reciprocity. The feelings, the favours and the conversations as well. It is quite normal that when you are in a relationship, and you are still in the early phases, you want to get to know the other. You want to know about their lives, their hopes and fears.

With a toxic person, it usually goes to the extreme. As the weeks pass you get to know them and you are getting closer and closer with every piece of information. Yet somehow the feeling is not mutual. You know everything about them, from their first pet to their last workplace conflict — yet they fail to ask you enough questions to get to know you. If you find that the conversation is always about you and you feel that you are but a prop in their show, it’s a tell-tale sign that the person you are dating is toxic — or has toxic tendencies.

It feels too easy

It might sound counterintuitive because we are sold on easy love. Romcoms and literature paint us a picture where love is easy and everything goes according to a masterplan. The reason for this is because it goes according to a carefully written plot — it’s fiction. I don’t believe that fighting and arguments are a sign of a healthy relationship, but always agreeing about everything is simply unreal.

The beauty of people is their versatility, the different ways of thinking, the different attitudes, the different preferences. It is downright impossible to always like the same things, to always be in sync, to always agree on everything. It is great, but it is usually not true. It either means that the other is subduing themselves and letting go of their own preferences to please you, or it means that you are being manipulated into falling in love.

Love shouldn’t be immediately easy. It can’t really be, as people are different, and the journey to forming a functioning relationship is a dance where you don’t yet know the moves but you are both willing to learn. It’s not about being immediately a perfect match, it’s about keeping to choose each other no matter what.

If it feels too easy, it might not be true and you might be a victim of love-bombing and manipulation from a toxic person.

The world is out to get them

In the first phases of the relationship, it is only right to form a union where the two of you stand together — fighting the odds or the difficulties. But it doesn’t have to mean that the whole world is against you.

If your partner is overly worried about the negativity coming from the world, if they feel that everything and everyone is against them — it can be a sign of a toxic individual. Even if it sounds really romantic to stand against the world, in reality, the world doesn’t care. It is nothing but attention-seeking and responsibility shifting. If someone is overly concerned and blames the external circumstances all the time, it’s only a matter of time that they will start blaming you for what is happening to them.

A mature individual is a master of their life, fully understanding that consequences follow actions and that there are certain things that they can and should control. Letting go of the responsibility and shifting blame is a red flag.

The ex is crazy

There are crazy exes in the world — it’s true. But somehow a toxic individual’s exes are always crazy. Either for never understanding them, for leaving them, for acting out. Crazy can be real, but it never exists in a vacuum. A crazy ex is rarely a phenomenon of their own making.

If someone cannot talk about their exes in a decent way, you should take it as a sign. Think about it this way: what will stop them talking about you in the same way, in case the relationship goes south?

The people we are surrounding ourselves with, speak of us just as much as it speaks of them. It is possible to make bad decisions and choose someone with whom we turn out not to be a great fit. But we still chose them and there had to be something about them that made us stay.

If you don’t hear anything positive about any ex, because all of them were selfish, unreliable and crazy, you need to question also your partner. They may be just plain unlucky, or it is them creating the crazy.

They monopolise your time

It’s really nice to be with someone day in and day out — especially in the beginning when you really don’t care about anything else. But healthy relationships leave room for me-time and self-care too.

If you find that you can’t spend any time with your friends or family anymore; if you see that they abandon everything and everyone to be with you — it’s not the sign of love, it’s the sign of a forming co-dependency, that is extremely unhealthy and toxic.

Isolation is a common tactic of toxic people, as this way they can shape your reality without any external checkpoints. They make you rely on them more than you should rely on anyone, and that makes you vulnerable and exposed to their toxicity.

Monopolising someone’s time might sound romantic, but it’s not healthy — as your life cannot revolve around one single person.

You feel tired after meeting them

No matter how much you love someone, they can get tiring after a while. Getting away from a loved one, even for just hours, or a day can feel great and it can add to the feeling of missing them. It’s only natural to be on your own and then be happy about meeting again.

But when your partner makes you feel tired every time you meet them, it might be a sign that something is off. You deserve to be with people who energise you, not deplete you. The energy-draining can happen on multiple levels and none of them is too promising. It can be about the drama they create, it can be about the amount of attention they require without reciprocating it, it can be about an imbalance of silence and talking, it can even be about too much sex.

The initial period of getting to know each other is to set the boundaries and find out the compromise that works for both of you.

The exhaustion usually happens if the boundaries are constantly stretched — possibly on multiple levels. And if you spend too much time together without having an opportunity to breathe and recharge it can mean that they drain you.

If it happens regularly, it is a sign that they can’t respect your boundaries and that’s a sign of toxicity.

You get backhanded compliments

A backhanded compliment is any comment that blurs the line between an insult and a compliment. While taking a compliment makes you feel good and receiving an insult angers you or shames you, a backhanded compliment leaves you puzzled and confused. You catch yourself thinking about what they really meant, and you spend a surreal amount of time trying to figure out how you feel.

A great example of a backhanded compliment is: “You look good, for your age.” or “You look lovely, today.” Was that positive? Do I need to be happy about it? Or is it a put-down? Does it mean that I don’t even look good? It’s confusing and it’s difficult to react, as they can always say that they meant it as a compliment and it’s not up to them that you can’t take one.

A toxic person will master the backhanded compliments. They are not downright rude, and they leave a way out of their comment, always the excuse that they meant well. If you feel confused about the compliments you receive you have to start to watch out for other signs, because this kind of passive-aggression is rarely the only sign.

They act differently with you than with others

Do you know the saying that you should judge someone according to how he treats the waiter? You might have the perfect relationship when you are together, yet your partner acts slightly or totally different when you are not alone. It can be either way: they can be overly sweet and way too compliant when there are others present, or they can be rude and impatient — blaming it on the external conditions.

When you are with someone, of course they will act differently in the bedroom than in a restaurant. But if you see a shift in character that’s alarming, you shouldn’t sweep your intuition under the rug. Toxic people usually have some sort of mask, that will eventually slip, allowing you to see their real face.

If the difference is too big between what you see when you are alone and when you are not alone, don’t ignore the sign.

Toxic people are not always mean. They might not even know that they are toxic and draining. It can be because of traumas and emotional baggage that they are carrying with them. There can be excuses and explanations — yet as an adult, you don’t need to teach anyone about common courtesy and decency. You shouldn’t explain basic notions to them, such as attention, reciprocity or patience.

It is possible that it’s part of your journey together to adapt to each other, to learn about each other’s quirks and weirdness — and it’s a great thing. We can learn a lot from the versatility and personal differences. They can show us our boundaries, or they can teach us to be more outgoing, more experimental, more open.

But if you feel that something is off, even if you can’t put a finger on the reasons, there is a chance that something is really off and it’s not just in your mind. You should try to discuss it and call them out on their unpleasant behaviour (such as a backhanded compliment) and see how they react to criticism.

Their reaction to saying no or to being criticised is also a sign.

You deserve to be around people who respect you. Especially if you are in an intimate relationship. Don’t ignore your intuition. Don’t turn your head. Save yourself some trouble and recognise toxic behaviour.

Zita Fontaine is the author of A Box Full of Darkness, a guide to understand and move on from narcissistic abuse. Available for sale on Amazon.

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