No relationship is a walk in the park 100% of the time. Humans are complicated creatures. As such, our relationships can get messy.
When a bond takes a turn for the worse, it can be hard to see the bigger picture. Our feelings cloud our judgments. This makes us blind to what is in front of us.
On the one hand, chronic stress can make us lose sight of the positive. On the other hand, our emotions can make us overlook abuse.
Toxic behaviors are a side effect of being human. But when left unchecked, these can develop into more significant problems.
Not all unhappy relationships are abusive. Nor do all abusive ones appear unhappy. Here’s how to tell whether you’re dealing with unhealthy toxicity or abuse.
1. Different Opinion Or Gaslighting?
A disagreement alone is not a sign of abuse. We navigate our lives through the limited scope of our own perception. So, it’s plausible that two people would have differing opinions.
In a healthy bond, both parties can express their thoughts safely. Even if the parties disagree, they can hear the other side without feeling attacked.
The relationship crosses into abuse when one partner gaslights the other. Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic in which one person tries to make the other question their reality.
For example, “that’s not how I felt about it” is healthy. However, gaslighting sounds like, “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
We all can gaslight whether or not we realize it. To avoid gaslighting on accident, use “I” statements that focus on you, not on them.
2. Negative Nancy Or A Bully?
All of us are prone to bouts of negativity. According to Evolution Counseling, some people use negativity as a defense mechanism.
“Negativity is the expression of stagnation and despair, which are the forerunners of the depression apocalypse. Projecting negativity is… a strategy to try to keep depression at bay,” counselor Michael Schreiner wrote.
Constant negativity is unpleasant to hear, yes. But it could be a sign that someone is struggling. It might be hard to be around them. Still, negativity alone does not make an abuser.
Red flags arise when that negativity is pointed at a partner. Belittling a partner is a form of mental abuse. Watch for totalistic negative statements like, “you never do anything right.”
Both vague and direct negativity is worth addressing. But be sure to separate the causes of the two. The former can indicate their poor mental health. The latter could cause your mental health to decline.
3. Insecure Or Accusatory?
Similarly, trust issues can wobble between unhealthy and abusive. The difference lies in how the insecure party reacts and moves on.
We learn from experience. If someone has had multiple partners cheat on them, then they might have trust issues. People with low self-esteem are also prone to jealousy. While jealousy is natural (and complicated) it also indicates a desire to stay committed. If you didn’t care, then you probably wouldn’t get jealous.
However, jealousy becomes unhealthy when it’s used to control. Harmful insecurity looks like one party trying to control another’s actions. It can also manifest as a lack of privacy and respect.
Your partner feeling a little insecure when you talked to that stunner at Starbucks yesterday is normal. Your partner forbidding you from returning to said Starbucks is not.
4. Tantrum Or A Threat?
When we think of abuse, we often think of physical signs. Bruises and cuts are visible clues to a larger problem. But what about when that aggression isn’t taken out on you, but around you?
Anger is a perfectly natural emotion. Childhood, genetics, and our environment influence how often and to what extent we experience anger. Aggression, however, is how we act on that anger. Assaulting someone else is the most obvious form of aggression, but it can also look like destroying property or the aggressor hurting themselves.
Aggressive expression is normal in children. Continuing this behavior into adulthood can be a sign of emotional immaturity. Even if it hasn’t happened yet, it can also be a sign of potential abuse.
If your partner is rough with objects or themselves when they’re angry, then they might need counseling. If your partner is aggressive towards you, seek help immediately.
People can fix bad habits over time with practice. But abusers and the abused require counseling to process and heal from their traumas. Learning to tell the difference could not only save a relationship worth keeping. It could mean ditching one that isn’t and saving your life.