Relationships are tricky. All of them.
Your best friend whom you talk to every day? That’s a relationship — a non-romantic one. The way you communicate with your parents? That’s a family relationship. The way you communicate with your colleagues? That’s also a relationship, even if superficial and strictly politeness-based.
All kinds of relationships can be healthy or toxic, but discussing the toxicity of all possible relationships can at times get too broad, so let me focus on the more intimate ones — the ones within your immediate family, with your best friends and, of course, romantic relationships.
Often, all of these can be toxic in very similar ways, even if neither you nor your partner realise it. But here are some questions to ask yourself.
“Can I express my opinion freely?”
If you’re fearful of expressing your opinion — regardless if you’re afraid of derision and laughter, of an attack or of complete dismissal — then it’s a red flag.
Self-awareness is key, of course. If you say something completely discriminatory and offensive seriously, then an attack is to be expected. But if it’s something simple, like what kind of characters you like and what music you listen to, then it’s unhealthy. Something is off-balance.
“Can I have my own free time?”
If a person in your life — regardless of what position they take up in it — makes you feel like you can’t have any time to yourself then it’s another bright-red flag.
Not wanting to spend too much time away from somebody specific is totally fine. You like them, you like their company, you like to have fun with them, so it’s to be expected.
But feeling reluctant to do something by yourself because of a potential reaction is bad. Like, real bad.
“Do they respect my boundaries?”
In a healthy relationship, there’s a certain level of mutual respect. If you can’t stomach gore then they shouldn’t force you to watch the Saw series; if they despise tomatoes, then you shouldn’t trick them into eating them. The list goes on. It goes from mild annoyances to, sometimes, totally life-threatening things (because some people, for whatever reason, ignore even allergies).
This question flows naturally out of the previous one. Having your own free time is also a boundary of your choice, and if you feel uncomfortable doing something you want to, then it’s a bad sign.
“Can I talk to other people?”
This one is quite simple, but very important — it’s one of the few points people are, usually, quite aware of in all kinds of relationship discourse.
If a person you’re close to tries to limit your communication with others, then they’re being hella unhealthy here.
“Can I disagree with them?”
Not really? Then it’s a real problem.
It’s not always outright obvious abuse that makes people reluctant to argue back; sometimes it’s more subtle manipulation, guilt-tripping, disrespect and whatnot.
Sometimes it’s even a person’s own insecurities, and not the opposing party — but that’s still incredibly unhealthy and should be dealt with.
“Do they listen to me?”
Do they check out the things you love, at least out of sheer curiosity? Do they take your opinions into account when making decisions — especially decisions that somehow concern you? Do you ever go out to eat at the places you prefer?
Do they apologise when they hurt your feelings? Do they respect your wishes and choices?
In any kind of relationship, this stuff is very telling. Do they treat you like an equal partner, or like their audience? Think about it.
“Why am I still in this relationship?”
Is it because you want to be? Good. If it comes from a pure place of love and longing; from the enjoyment of the time you spend together; from the feelings of development and growth; just from the chill atmosphere around you to — all of this is good.
Is it because of some factor that does not come from within yourself? Are you scared to leave? Is your worry for your own, or your partner’s safety the only thing that’s keeping you there? That’s toxic, buddy.
“Do I ask myself these same questions about them?”
Remember, a relationship is not a solitary act. It always involves at least two beings — sometimes even more.
You don’t have to be toxic on purpose to still be toxic. And the best way to check yourself is to sometimes sit down and think about it. I promise, it will help a lot — both you and your partner.
All of these points may seem idealistic, but all relationships involve growth and development, together. It doesn’t have to be perfect — it just has to involve acknowledgment of one’s mistakes, for starters.
And remember — conflict is normal. What’s not normal is being scared of any potential kinds of conflict.