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8 Signs Your Romance Will Be Toxic

April 17, 2022

8 Signs Your Romance Will Be Toxic

Source: Photo by Sander Sammy on Unsplash

By Forrest Talley, Ph.D. and Dominique Inkrott, MSW
Nearly every toxic romance begins with passion and the promise of a bright future. But somewhere along the road to “happily ever after,” things go sideways.
Profound feelings of disappointment, betrayal, and confusion arise with alarming frequency. The once trusted and idealized lover becomes a manipulative anchor weighing you down.

Many men and women struggle with recognizing the early signs of a toxic relationship. In these cases, the early signs of trouble are there rather than raising red flags. These concerns are brushed aside as the usual “bumps in the road” that occur in every new relationship.
This confusion can be significantly reduced if you understand what to look for as a warning sign that a relationship is likely to turn toxic.

Listed below are eight qualities that frequently appear in toxic relationships. The more items that apply to your relationship or partner, the more likely your relationship is headed to heartache. 
You experience frequent conflict that feels personal and involves derogatory interactions (such as character attacks and intentionally hurtful comments).
Your partner demonstrates a lack of support for your core values or goals and minimizes the things that are important to you.
One or both people in the relationship frequently mock or make fun of the other.
You frequently daydream or fantasize about ending the relationship or being with someone else.
You begin to dread spending time with your partner.
In private, your partner interacts with you in ways that you find disturbing and would be embarrassed to reveal to your best friend.
Your partner frequently uses guilt to get his or her way.
Your partner insists on monopolizing all of your free time.

How to Screen Out Bad Romantic Partners
If you checked off a number of the items above, you might be wondering, “How in the world did I get myself into this mess?” Well, you’re not alone. Most everyone has been there.
Fortunately, there are some easy to identify red flags in your love interest’s personality and character that can help you avoid making a poor choice.

1.) Narcissism. When the other person has strong narcissistic tendencies, you need to proceed cautiously. Narcissism will come up most often in selfishness, self-aggrandizement, and easily hurt feelings.1
2.) Dishonesty. Meaningful and long-lasting relationships require trust. The foundation for trust is built on honesty. In the beginning phase of a romantic relationship, some men and women tend to disregard initial displays of dishonesty. They rationalize them away as only minor infractions, or the dishonesty was shown to someone else, not them. Such thinking is naive and leads to heartache.

3.) Chronic jealousy. If your love interest is frequently jealous, you can be certain that he or she struggles with profound insecurities. Such a person expects betrayal and will become more and more suspicious over time. Endless arguments, defensiveness, waning intimacy, and deep-seated resentment are bound to follow.2

4.) Extreme selfishness. Healthy relationships require give and take. The intensely selfish individual is all about taking and not so much about giving. Unless you enjoy being treated like an emotional ATM, avoid the selfish man or woman.3
What’s Preventing You From Seeing Red Flags Before It’s Too Late

Many people find themselves mired in a relationship with a toxic partner–or worse, a chronic pattern of toxic relationships–and wonder how they got there. How could they have missed the early and obvious signs that the person they were attracted to was so toxic?
It is an easy mistake to make when, in the initial stages of a romance, the blinding glow of attraction eclipses one’s better judgment. Warning signs are overlooked or dismissed.

This is because intense romantic attraction diminishes activity in the amygdala, the brain’s guard post, or the early warning detection system. This small region of your brain is tasked with identifying threats to your wellbeing.4
But with your amygdala gripped in the heightened emotions of an intense attraction and a new romance, your defenses are lowered. Information about your love interest that might otherwise set off alarm signals is not registered as problematic.

When the thrill of a new romance overcomes your senses (and your amygdala), and you no longer see the red flags in a relationship–let alone heed them-you are more likely to go adrift and find yourself in a toxic relationship.
There is another issue that contributes to missing these red flags. In the early phase of a romance, you do not really know your1 partner very well. That’s part of the excitement–it can feel like a treasure hunt as you discover more about the attractive individual who recently walked into your life.

Filled with romantic attraction and passion unleashed by the genuinely good qualities you’ve already seen, it is easy to unconsciously “fill in” the remaining unknown qualities of your love interest by assuming that all of his/her other qualities are equally virtuous and desirable. 
This is referred to as the halo effect..5 Halos can be so intense that they blind us to the giant red flags that would otherwise be noticed if we were not so smitten and could asses at the person/situation objectively.

What to Do
Go Slow
Yes, slow your roll. Don’t spend time with your love interest every day. Don’t get cozy under the sheets right away. Think of how you invite someone to be more deeply involved in your life, then press on the brakes. A solid relationship takes time to build. Don’t rush.
Embrace Your Frontal Cortex  

Let reason be your guide. If your new guy has had five marriages and four kiddos out of wedlock, do not assume he has just been unlucky. Don’t ignore what logic tells you is alarming. In the early stages of romance, your limbic system (emotional brain) fights with your frontal cortex (logical brain). Enjoy the thrill of a new relationship, but keep your logical brain in the driver’s seat.

Borrow a Brain  
Seek out the opinion of family and friends you trust. When your judgment is clouded by passion, it’s good to have a sober second or third opinion. If you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable confiding in your friends about a new relationship, that should send up a red flag.
Know Your Deal Breakers  

Everyone has a list of qualities that they know their romantic partner must possess to make for a happy relationship–shared foundational values, sense of humor, love of dogs, etc. There is an equally important collection of qualities to assess for a potential match. Those are the deal breakers–characteristics and behaviors that would make it impossible for you to trust someone or have a lasting intimate relationship with them.

Toxic relationships take a toll on your life. They are emotionally draining, take up time that you cannot win back, and often end up causing you to feel worse about yourself and pessimistic about the future.
If you are in such a relationship, it is important to extract yourself and move on with life. Better yet, however, is to simply avoid getting mired in toxic intimacy in the first place. 

Dominique Inkrott, LSW, is a graduate of Azusa Pacific University. Her clinical work focuses on teens and adults, emphasizing enhancing her client’s capacity to engage in meaningful, life-changing relationships. 


How to avoid a romantic train wreck.

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1)    Wetzel, E., Grijalva, E., Robins, R. W., & Roberts, B. W. (2020). You’re still so vain: Changes in narcissism from young adulthood to middle age. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119(2), 479–496

2)    Barelds, D. P. H., Barelds-Dijkstra, P. (2007) relations between different types of jealousy and self and partner perceptions of relationship quality. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 14(3), 176-188

3)    Crocker, J., Canevello, A., & Brown, A. A. (2007). Social motivation: Costs and benefits of selfishness and otherishness. Annual Review of Psychology, 68, 299-325

4)    Baxter, M. G., & Croxson, P. L. (2012). Facing the role of the amygdala in emotional information processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(52) 21180-21181

5)    Forgas, J.P. (2011). Fast track report: She just doesn’t look like a philosopher…? Affective influences on the halo effect in impression formation.European Journal of Social Psychology, 41, 812-817

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Many men and women overlook the early warning signs of a partner’s toxicity.
Some signs to look for early in a relationship include frequent conflict that feels personal and a lack of support for your core values.
Strategies to help steer you toward healthier relationships include taking a relationship slow and letting reason be your guide.

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