Romantic relationships are meant to be all about joy and sex and love and excitement, especially at the beginning. But it’s also desperately important they are good for our mental health and wellbeing. So our partners shouldn’t just be fulfilling our need for fun, affection and attraction, but actively making us feel better about ourselves, each other and the world.
So often we allow ourselves to stay in relationships that are damaging to our mental health, our confidence, our freedom and our sense of self – often, without even fully realizing what we’re doing. To save you from this situation, we’ve compiled a list of signs that your relationship is bad for your mental health.
If you recognize any or all of these, it could be time to seriously evaluate whether you belong in this relationship, and consider getting out safely before you deplete your self-worth or sanity any further.
You Don’t Want To Talk
You feel like you’re walking on eggshells in their company, scared to trigger a negative reaction. “If you’re anxious about your partner’s reaction to anything you say or do it’s a clear sign that things have turned sour,” says Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare.
“You may fall into a pattern whereby you avoid sharing your opinions with them, asking them a question or even messaging them because you’re uncertain of their mood. Don’t let your happiness depend on theirs.”
You Feel Neglected
If you’re feeling sad, troubled or insecure, you need your partner more than ever. You’re not necessarily even asking for much; just to be held, to be understood, to be cared for tenderly.
If you’re not getting what you need when you’re at your most fragile, then this is a serious red flag. Your partner should be a source of joy and love, obviously, but they also need to be there for you when you’re at your most vulnerable.
They’re Gaslighting You
Dr Neo says to watch out for their tampering with your idea of what’s real, leading you to doubt your sanity.
They’ll tell you that you’re nuts, so as to destabilize you, and eventually they’re the only person you trust.
“They screw with your reality, for example they try to convince you that things are different from reality,” she says.
“You could be out for an hour, and they’ll convince you it was two. Even if you have time stamps. Then they’ll tell you that you’re nuts, so as to destabilize you, and eventually they’re the only person you trust.”
This is a deliberate play for control in the relationship and over time, can be extremely damaging.
They Bring Out The Worst In You
We-Vibe’s Relationship Expert, Dr Becky Spelman, says you should do an inventory of how they behave when you’re trying to change your life for the better.
Ask yourself: If you are trying to kick a bad habit, do they support you or undermine you?
It is no good, she says, “realizing that they are enabling your most destructive habits — for instance, not supporting you when you try to give up cigarettes, lose weight, or get more exercise.
“Ask yourself: If you are trying to kick a bad habit, do they support you or undermine you?”
Constant undermining, particularly when you’re trying to do something good for your mental and physical wellbeing, can be bad news.
Your Partner Affects Friendships
We are at our healthiest when we have a diverse range of people to depend on and see socially, so you should never really be in a situation where your partner is the only person you can depend on or talk to.
Do they have a good relationship with their own friends and family, and if not, why not?
Dr Spelman says to look out for “getting isolated from old friends and family members because your partner doesn’t like them or seems to disapprove of them.
“Ask yourself: Do they have a good relationship with their own friends and family, and if not, why not? It’s important to set aside time for your relationship — and time for each of you to nourish your other friendships and important relationships.”
You Don’t Like Yourself Around Them
“You don’t like the person you are around them,” says Dr Neo.
“Perhaps it’s because you start doing things that push your ethics or values. Perhaps it’s because you have doubts about them and you start to feel bad for having these thoughts. Or perhaps it’s because you feel annoyed by their behaviors and then you feel like a bad person for being annoyed.”
These feelings can sneak up on you over time, almost without you noticing they’re there, so it’s important to acknowledge how you’re feeling, speak to a friend or therapist and seriously wonder whether you belong in this relationship anymore.
Feeling That You Have To Change
“Feeling that you have to change your hobbies or start doing different things to keep them interested. Worrying that they don’t like you as you are and that there is something wrong with you,” says Dr Spelman.
Relationships are about compromise, but not so much that you should feel like changing who you fundamentally are or want to be, just to please someone else.
The best relationships celebrate us for who we are and allow us to be our most candid, authentic selves. You shouldn’t have to drastically change to hold someone’s attention or fight for someone to love you.
You’re Finding Yourself Feeling Guilty
This could be your partner’s attempt to control you.
“Tactics can involve ‘guilt-tripping’ – when someone knows you well, they’ll know your weak points and, therefore, which buttons to press to get their own way.
“Controlling behavior can be difficult to recognize for what it is, but if you find you have an increasing dependence on the person involved, or you lose sight of what you really want and where you want to be, it’s time to evaluate your relationship,” says Dr Winwood.
You’re Fighting A Lot
Conflict can be healthy in a relationship, but not if it’s constant, vicious or damaging to your confidence.
If you’re suddenly arguing a lot or you feel threatened by the other person’s approaches to your arguments, something could be wrong.
“Every situation is different but potentially delicate,” says Dr Winwood. “Counselling might be a worthwhile option for you both. Listen to your head as well as your heart. Be realistic but also visualize where you want to be.”
You Feel Drained
“You feel drained,” says Dr Neo. “Like all your life force has been sucked out of you after the interaction.”
Being with your partner should, most of the time, be invigorating and positive. If you’re feeling like they’re actively sucking your energy, like it’s hard work to be around them and like you’re working overtime just to be in their company, then that’s going to exhaust you and bring you down.
It’s impossible to maintain that kind of energy output.
They’re Being Controlling Or Coercive
If they’re following you, monitoring your movements, tracking you by tech or controlling you and your actions, then that’s extremely serious.
“Report it to the police,” says psychologist Dr Perpetua Neo, who specializes in helping people out of toxic relationships. While coercive control in an intimate or familial relationship is illegal in the UK under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, elsewhere in the world has ye to pass legislation that could make coercive control a crime.
According to the UK government, however, “coercive behavior is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim”.
Coercive control will make you feel like you’re losing your identity, your liberty and your sense of self. It’s a crime and you should seek legal advice in dealing with it safely and promptly.
If you’re in a toxic relationship, that person will try and amp up the drama and seduce you back, possibly just to break up with you
So, what can you do if you’re nodding along to any of these red flags? “If someone is very bad for your mental health, it may well be that the best thing you can do is leave the relationship,” says Dr Spelman.
“However, if their damaging behavior is new, or if they are aware of it and accept the need to change, the relationship might benefit from a makeover. If possible, kickstart the process by visiting a couples’ therapist, who can provide you both with a safe space where you can discuss your issues, and useful feedback about the dynamics in your relationship. Above all, in order for a toxic relationship to be repaired, the desire for change has to be there.”
“If you do not have shared property, children or pets, leave as quietly as you can,” says Dr Neo. “If you’re in a toxic relationship, that person will try and amp up the drama and seduce you back, possibly just to break up with you. If you have a mental health difficulty – trauma, anxiety, depression can all be caused/exacerbated by your toxic partner. Find a way to treat it so you have the strength to leave for good. Visualise your awesome, incandescent future.”
“Relationships require work,” says Dr Winwood. “If something’s troubling you, take a mental ‘time out’ and ask yourself whether it’s better to raise your concerns in the spirit of openness (rather than spiralling into an internal dialogue and/or cycle of mind games) or let it be. See how things progress – it could just be a ‘blip’ after all. Breaking bad relationships will free you to nurture those bonds with people who value you and enrich your life – and forge new relationships with those you’ve yet to meet.”