You’ve probably heard the saying “love is blind.” And it can be true — sometimes romance makes it hard to see the signs that you’re in a bad relationship. Of course, no couple is perfect, but understanding which behaviors are major red flags of something unhealthy can help you find a fulfilling partnership, whether or not that’s with your current SO.
Deal-breaking behaviors can range from not being prioritized by your partner and feeling unlike yourself around them to physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual abuse. And when it comes to abusive and toxic relationships, it’s important to seek help from those you are close to, says sexologist Jess O’Reilly, Ph.D. “If there’s anyone you can reach out to, let them know you want support,” she tells Bustle. “You are not a burden.” If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.
That said, it’s not necessarily just abuse that can constitute an unhealthy relationship dynamic — there are a variety of concerning patterns to watch out for, some of which might be subtle and at times difficult to recognize. It can sometimes be hard to know when things are getting to a place that calls for major attention, beyond just everyday issues you can work to resolve as a couple. But no matter your situation, there are plenty of relationship problems that you shouldn’t tolerate no matter what. Below, experts explain 20 things you shouldn’t put up with in your partnership.
1. Your Partner Exhibits Controlling Behavior
Perhaps your partner tries to control what you do and when you do it. Or maybe they expect you to fall in line with their values, no questions asked. There are many ways your partner can be controlling, and these behaviors are not OK, says O’Reilly. “They want you to feel what they feel when they are experiencing something — they expect you to experience the same reaction,” she tells Bustle. “That person could be harmful or toxic to your lifestyle or safety.”
Of course, you and your partner’s lives, plans, and needs will intertwine to some extent. For example, if you and your SO share a child and they ask you to check in regularly for co-parenting purposes, that’s reasonable, says O’Reilly. But if they always need to know where you are and who you’re with for no apparent reason, that’s a red flag.
2. Your Partner Gaslights You
Gaslight is a 1944 mystery movie starring Ingrid Bergman as a newlywed. In the film, Bergman's husband is looking for hidden treasure in their house with the help of the attic’s gaslights, which causes every other light in the house to dim. When Bergman’s character addresses the issue, her husband insists she’s imagining things. From this film, the term “gaslighter” was born to describe a partner who tries to convince you that you are wrong or irrational.
Gaslighting is a common trait in controlling partners, says licensed counselor Nawal Alomari, LCPC. Your partner may try to convince you that your concerns are “ridiculous” or unfounded, or they might respond to your hurt feelings with, “it was just a joke,” or “lighten up.”
“When you feel something, they try and make you feel as though something’s wrong with you for feeling it,” O’Reilly says. “You’ve told them that [something] doesn’t feel good for you, and they’ve dismissed your remarks.” Although the self-doubt that gaslighting sows can be difficult to overcome, this behavior is toxic and reason enough to leave your relationship.
3. Your Partner Abuses You Emotionally Or Verbally
Controlling behavior can sometimes transition into an abusive relationship, which O’Reilly says can take the form of emotional or verbal abuse. Your partner may disparage you, make fun of you around other people, or gaslight you when you try to express how they make you feel. All of these behaviors are unacceptable, says O’Reilly. If your partner is treating you this way, she recommends speaking with a therapist or counselor to help you cope with the abuse and safely exit the relationship.
4. Your Partner Abuses You Physically
Another form of intimate partner violence is physical abuse, which O’Reilly says is absolutely grounds to leave your relationship. If your partner resorts to violence or hurts you in any way, she says to connect with a trusted loved one or professional to help you safely remove yourself from the situation.
5. Your Partner Makes You Feel Bad When You Don’t Want To Have Sex
Marital rape, or the raping of one’s spouse, wasn’t illegal in every US state until 1993. The majority of state criminal codes contained a “marital rape exemption,” essentially declaring rape between spouses to be impossible. As RAINN explains, these laws represented the ideology “that only stranger rape constituted ‘real rape’ or that forced sex is a ‘wifely duty.’” Although the crime is now recognized by law like other forms of sexual assault, it still occurs, is often not reported, and rapists are often not convicted. Our culture already makes it difficult for survivors to recognize and report rape, so it becomes even more difficult to understand your romantic partner as a rapist.
That’s why it’s important to recognize that partner or marital rape can happen in otherwise non-violent relationships, and to remember that consenting to a sexual act once does not mean consenting to that act for all time. If your partner pressures you to engage in unwanted sexual activities because it is your “duty” or because you “owe” them, the relationship is abusive, unhealthy, and unsafe. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit hotline.rainn.org.
6. You Don’t Feel Good About Yourself Around Your Partner
Your partner should bring out the best in you, says O’Reilly, so if you feel like the worst version of yourself around them, that’s a sign something’s not right. If your partner says or does things that make you feel like you shouldn’t be proud of yourself or confident in who you are, then they aren’t treating you with the respect you deserve.
A good litmus test: If your friends and family express concern over your partner’s behavior, then this likely isn’t the relationship for you, says O’Reilly.
7. Your Partner Isolates You
If your partner tries to control who you spend time with, that’s a red flag, says O’Reilly. Independence is a crucial part of any healthy relationship, so attempting to isolate you from your loved ones and hobbies is a sign that your partner is trying to assert their dominance at the expense of your happiness, personal relationships, and self-care, adds Alomari.
There are many explanations for why they behave this way, and all of them are bad. Your partner may know that your friends dislike the relationship for good reasons, and thus attempt to keep you away from people who will point out serious flaws and concerns. Or they may be insecure or jealous of your interactions with other people. But your personal relationships and lifestyle matter, so any partner who tries to take that away is not the one for you, says Alomari.
8. Your Partner Insists That You Change
Isolating you from friends isn’t the only red flag when it comes to controlling behavior, says Alomari. If your partner forces you to abandon your hobbies, certain personality traits, or other important aspects of your life, that’s also unacceptable. “If they make you feel like you have to give up the things that make you you, that’s a no,” she tells Bustle. “Someone who loves you for real will support your relationships and hobbies, and they will push you to feed that part of yourself because they want to see you happy.”
9. You Have Physical Reactions To Your Partner’s Behavior
Ever notice that you tense up when your partner is around? That’s another sign that the way they treat you puts you on edge, which O’Reilly says is no basis for a relationship. “The body responds to distress very instinctively,” she tells Bustle. “Check in with your body to see if it’s conscious of when they walk into the room.” If your body is indeed responding to your SO with stress, that’s a sign their behavior doesn’t make you feel at ease, which is grounds for a conversation or split.
10. Your Partner Invalidates Your Experiences
Like gaslighting, you should not tolerate a partner that tries to convince you that important parts of your history or lived experiences are insignificant or untrue. One example: If a woman expresses anger about the catcalling she frequently faces on the way to work, and her male partner brushes it off as “not a big deal,” telling her to “consider it a compliment,” that’s not OK. Similarly, O’Reilly says a partner who berates you for being too uptight or not open enough is not treating you appropriately.
It’s possible to educate your partner about issues that their race or gender may allow them to avoid, and it’s possible for them to learn to understand your experiences. However, if there’s no communication, you can rightfully become frustrated and irritated when they minimize your experiences.
11. Your Partner Judges You
Feeling judged by your partner is another sure sign that they’re not giving you the respect and kindness required in a relationship, says O’Reilly. While a loving partner can gently and respectfully help you be the best version of yourself and vice versa, a partner who is constantly telling you what’s wrong with you is a no-go. They may regularly berate aspects of your personality or body shame you — both of which are cruel, immature, and manipulative ways to exert control in a relationship.
12. Your Partner Ignores Your Sexual Needs & Limits
If your partner ignores your sexual needs or pressures you to partake in sexual activity without your willing and renewed consent, that’s not OK, says O’Reilly. While having different turn-ons and libido from your partner is normal, overstepping your sexual boundaries or ignoring your needs is not. “Sexual compatibility is not a matter of sameness, but a matter of effort,” she previously told Bustle. “If one or both of you seems unwilling to try to cultivate compatibility, it may be time to reconsider your commitment to the relationship.”
13. Your Partner Doesn’t Respect Your Boundaries
Does your partner joke about traumatic things that aren’t funny? Do they talk about their exes in a way that makes you uneasy? Or share your private information with others despite your protest? These are just a few ways that someone can overstep your boundaries, and a sign that your partner isn’t respecting your criteria for emotional wellbeing, says O’Reilly. Especially if you’ve set boundaries with your partner before and they still don’t respect them, that’s toxic behavior you definitely should not tolerate.
14. Your Partner Doesn’t Publicly Acknowledge Your Relationship
If you and your partner have mutually decided to enter a committed relationship, then it shouldn't be a secret (unless, of course, there are reasons you two have consensually chosen to keep it under wraps). If you’re spending time on this relationship, then you deserve recognition. Does your partner consider you a placeholder and doesn’t want to appear tied down in case someone else comes along? Are they lying about monogamy to multiple partners and have to keep it secret? Are they embarrassed by the relationship?
No matter the reason, you should be with someone who respects you and is proud of you. Clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., says to talk with your partner to get to the bottom of this dynamic. “The real test here is how well the two of you communicate about these issues,” he previously told Bustle. “It may be a great chance to understand more how they feel about you and address some miscommunications. You may not like the answer, but you will know where you stand.”
15. Your Partner Always Accuses You Of Cheating
If your partner constantly accuses you of cheating — despite the fact that you haven’t and there is no cause for suspicion — then something is wrong. If certain aspects of your relationships with the people around you make your partner uncomfortable, then you should absolutely listen to their concerns and evaluate how your behavior may be hurtful. But if your partner is acting on insecurity alone and attempting to shame you or isolate you from others as a result, that’s a deal-breaker.
This paranoia can happen for all sorts of reasons, from trust issues to having cheated themselves, and it’s important to get to the bottom of it in order to move forward. “Projection is a very low-level coping skill,” Dr. Paul DePompo, Psy.D., ABPP, a clinical psychologist and author of The Other Woman's Affair, previously told Bustle. “People that do things themselves like cheat, think about cheating, or have cheated in the past, project these thoughts of desire onto their partners. Their mind ends up creating a reality that their partner is cheating as well.”
16. Your Partner Talks Over You And Interrupts
Communication is a cornerstone of any healthy relationship. If your partner frequently talks over you, interrupts you, or corrects you — even if it’s not malicious — you need to point it out to them to nip it in the bud. “We’ve all heard when someone says something wrong, but constantly correcting your partner can become annoying and belittling,” matchmaking and dating expert Stef Safran previously told Bustle.
17. Your Partner Slut-Shames You
Does your current partner get angry about your sexual history or number of past sexual partners? Do they call you a “slut” or “whore” if your outfit shows “too much skin”? Slut-shaming is your partner’s way of asserting control over your body, and it can be damaging, according to Dr. Nikki Goldstein, Ph.D., sexologist and author of Single But Dating.
“It impacts women because they might be acting on their own sexual desires or exploring their sense of self and are told by using that word that they are bad for doing so," she previously told Bustle. "They are experiencing something possibly positive and beautiful and then made to feel guilty for it. It can be very damaging to women and also very conflicting.”
18. Your Partner Belittles Your Career Aspirations
It’s impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who doesn’t want to see you succeed. It’s one thing for your partner to provide constructive criticism or to express frustration if your career is causing you to ignore the relationship, says Alomari. But if they insult your work ethic, mock your achievements, or even convince you to turn down opportunities, then you need to either confront the issue or walk away from the relationship.
19. Your Partner Never Takes Responsibility
Another example of destructive behavior you shouldn’t have to deal with in a healthy relationship is when your partner refuses to take responsibility or own up to their mistakes. "A relationship is toxic when an individual is unable to accept responsibility at any time, compared to a rough patch, where they accept responsibility sometimes,” clinical psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Danielle Forshee previously told Bustle. If you see no improvement in their ability to express regret or be apologetic, you likely never will — and you should never have to put up with that.
20. Your Partner Knows They’re Hurting You And Does Nothing
Even in healthy relationships, there are times when one person is going to hurt the other — be it on accident, on purpose, in the heat of an argument, or with a snide remark. However, a good partner will know when they hurt you (either they figure it out or you tell them), apologize, and change their behavior for the better. Anything less shouldn’t be tolerated. "The truest and biggest sign of a toxic relationship is showing no remorse for hurting your partner,” licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert Dr. Dori Gatter, Psy.D., LCPC, previously told Bustle. “The second biggest sign is showing remorse but not changing the behavior or working to change the behavior that is damaging.”
Overall, red flags can be either glaring or subtle. And while every relationship takes work and compromise — on both sides — some problems that are so toxic that you simply shouldn’t tolerate them. Recognizing which issues veer into the toxic side of things can be hard, but knowing about what to look out for ahead of time, as well as checking in with people you trust, can be helpful in the long run.
Nawal Alomari, LCPC, a licensed clinical professional counselor and life coach based in Chicago
Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., and clinical psychologist
Stef Safran, matchmaking and dating expert
Dr. Danielle Forshee, clinical psychologist and relationship expert
Dr. Dori Gatter, Psy.D., LCPC, licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert
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