Should you stay or should you go? Watch out for red flags in your relationship…
All of us, in one form or another, come from imperfect families. By the time we reach adulthood, we’re likely the result of thousands of unconscious behaviour patterns. Throw in another person who comes from a completely different background or culture, and it’s a lot to navigate through a relationship. When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s bad, it’s really bad! What makes relationships toxic and what can you do about those red flags? Here’s my advice.
What to do when you spot red flags in your relationship
1. Humiliation, negation and criticism
Does your partner use tactics that undermine your self-esteem? These include yelling, sarcasm, insults, name-calling, derogatory “pet names”, character assassination, belittling your accomplishments, and putting down your interests. They may speak in a patronising manner, dismiss what you have to say, and later on claim they’re just joking.
What to do: Call them out and explain how all that makes you feel. Set concrete boundaries. If their behaviour persists, keep a journal to record these occurrences for your own self-awareness and reflection. You can use it to discuss hurtful behaviours with your partner; make sure you’re constructive about things moving forward. If all else fails, I suggest going to a marriage or couples therapist.
2. Control and shame
They try to make you feel ashamed of your inadequacies, perhaps using a combination of threats, lectures, outbursts, orders, and financial control. Sometimes, they may also feign helplessness and walk out when they can’t win an argument. Does that sound familiar?
What to do: Verbal abuse is still abuse. You need to think about whether you feel physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe. Are you constantly walking on eggshells? Even if your partner refuses to go for couples counselling, take the first step to go by yourself and find a safe space to talk things out and assess your situation.
3. Accusation, blame and denial
This stems from their insecurities. They want to create an order where they’re at the top and you’re on the bottom, so they display jealousy, use guilt, trivialise and gaslight (deny what is true). Meanwhile, they’re constantly turning the tables, denying their abuse, and blaming you for their problems.
What to do: These behaviours will erode anyone’s self-esteem and confidence, especially since we often don’t expect this from our beloved. Know that while people do change, they can also show their true colours over time. Never blame yourself or feel you have to take responsibility for everything. Get emotional support and clarity from a neutral third party like a trusted friend or a counsellor instead of trying to figure everything out yourself.
4. Emotional neglect and isolation
Besides placing their needs above yours, they’ll also try to come between you and the people who are supportive of you. The end goal is to make you more dependent on them. This includes withholding affection, tuning you out, interrupting you, disputing your feelings, and shutting down communication when you don’t fall in line.
What to do: Emotional unavailability and neglect is a form of abuse. Learn to find yourself within this relationship. Find ways to fill up your own tank: a job, hobby, or other interests. Make yourself the priority and accept emotional support from your friends and family to gain clarity, strength and resilience.
There’s no shame in seeking counselling or therapy. There are many qualified, experienced, and non-judgmental helping professionals out there. In each of the above scenarios, when all else fails, there may come a time to leave the relationship – but only when you’re ready. Ultimately, it’s your decision whether you want to stay and work things out or walk away. Love yourself even when the future seems bleak. There is always, always hope.