Am I in a toxic relationship?

I am guessing here, but if you are reading this you might well be thinking you are in a toxic relationship. Perhaps friends or family have suggested you are better off without your partner. Maybe someone has been bold enough to say it outright to you and yet you still are not sure. Undoubtedly these people and their opinions are all well-intentioned and meant to be helpful but how helpful are they really?


Perhaps asking yourself a few questions might help to clarify if you are in a toxic relationship. Questions like these:

  • Are my needs given equal worth? By myself and my partner!
  • Does the relationship make me feel good? More often than not?
  • Do I "walk on eggshells" around my partner?
  • Am I free to speak to who I wish to? 
  • Is my phone history private or checked regularly by my partner?
  • Does my partner support and encourage me or are they critical and dismissive?
  • Do they compliment or criticise you?
  • How does your partner behave around money?
  • Is it theirs, yours or our money?
  • Do they tell you that you are lucky to have them and would never find anyone else?
  • Are you able to see friends and family whenever you want to?
  • Does your partner "put down" your friends?

The list of questions is not exhaustive by any means but it can help you focus on the quality of your relationship. The questions can help you to concentrate on the relationship, they can help clarify vague feelings and anxieties. 

When all is said and done, only you can decide if the relationship is toxic enough to leave it or stay in it.

There may be other considerations as well. Considerations such as children, money, accommodation. Perhaps you are feeling it is better to be in a bad relationship than no relationship. Maybe you feel you will be a failure when you are the only one in a group who cannot keep a relationship going. 

Please spare yourself any feelings of guilt or shame - they are destructive feelings and not positive. You are allowed to choose what relationship you are in, but this is sometimes easier said than done.

If you have grown up with caregivers/parents who are in an abusive or toxic relationship for example. This often gives people little to no idea what a good relationship is or how to realise such a relationship. Perhaps you have been so damaged by previous relationships that it affects your ability to choose.

Maybe you find your self-worth is such that you are only able to feel worthy when you give; give your love, your affection, care and compassion. Maybe you hope that you can change the other party and their behaviour. These feelings are not unusual and as a counsellor, I often see clients with similar feelings/thoughts.

So far, this article is quite heavy and deep but please do not be put off. When we are able to realise a situation/problem/relationship for what it is, for what it means to us, we are in a better place than when these things are unclear and unrecognised.

This realisation can be seen as a wonderful opportunity because when we see a set of circumstances for what they are, then we are in a place where we can choose. We can choose to carry on in the same way or we can look at how we can change it. This can be a place where we can begin to change and it is never too late to change.

As Carl Rogers said, "The person will do whatever they need to, in any situation, to survive" (paraphrased). This means that when we were in a relationship we have come to view as toxic, we were doing just what Rogers described. Please note that this viewpoint does not leave any room for shame or guilt. For me, this is what is so wonderful about the statement.

Following on from this, the statement allows us the freedom to change the situation. Change it in a way that works best for us. For me, that is a wonderful realisation, it is huge and can be scary when we first consider and accept it. When I first got my head around it, I found such a sense of relief as well as hope.

Now let us consider the how of this statement. I ask you what it says about achieving the change we want? It says nothing about this. In counselling, being able to realise the desire to change and actually change takes a lot of effort. Less effort than it takes to stay in a toxic relationship perhaps but ultimately more rewarding.

A good counsellor will hold the space for you to explore. They will provide you with the time to process and then consider. They will not judge but support you as you come to terms with the past and present. They will hold a place where you can consider any and all solutions. It will be a place that is not critical if your solutions do not work.

A positive to be taken from this is that it will be you who is working at finding a solution. This speaks to the power we all have - to our autonomy and our free will. Something that is so easily lost in a toxic relationship.

Indeed it is better to try and fail than to fail to try.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Chelmsford CM1
Written by Steve Fayers, Counsellor / Therapist | Certified Trauma Therapist
Chelmsford CM1

I am a person, a counsellor, a parent, a flawed human being who has struggled with life. Struggled with addiction.
I would rather struggle than give in and accept a life that does not meet my needs and wants.
I am trying to be the best person I can be.
"I will not go quietly into that goodnight " (paraphrased Dylan Thomas)

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