Are They Toxic?

With a lot of evaluation, self-honesty, forgiveness, and listening to everything she has had to say, years later, I have thankfully changed.

I would like to take you on a short and very personal journey through my relationships and the person I have been, as well as those I have been with. Love is such an abstract and the thought /feeling of love in my brain would form to the romantic relationships that I had, and of course, fused with the ones I witnessed growing up. It was never really taught to me how to compartmentalize or properly compromise in a relationship, I mean who teaches you that stuff anyway? I think people expect kids to use television or the relationships in their families as models, but if those aren’t necessarily healthy either then what else are we supposed to learn? 

I got married at freshly 18 years-old to my high school sweetheart and eventually the mother of my two children. At this point, we’ve been separated for five years but we still care for each other and talk often, as well as co-parent our children together from across the country (for now). However, she has had to do a lot of forgiving and rebuilding trust with me because at one point I did become emotionally, mentally, and verbally abusive, which slowly worsened as it went on. I’ve had to do a lot of work to become someone completely different, which included coming out – twice. With a lot of evaluation, self-honesty, forgiveness, and listening to everything she has had to say, years later, I have thankfully changed. I’m grateful every day for the person she is and the patience she has had with me for our whole lives and becoming someone she can trust again. 

At 23 after moving to Portland emergently with my wife and children, amidst a very confusing and unnoticeably, mentally rough time in life I entered into what would turn out to be a two-year relationship with a queer person. Needless to say, we both should not have started dating in the first place. Speaking for myself that was mainly because I was in no place to give myself so fully to someone at that time. I was full-time in cosmetology school, graduating soon, pursuing an apprenticeship, while also working heavily part-time to pay child support. I know, hindsight is 20-20. It was hard for me because I wanted a partner in life and to be loved in that way. I allowed that feeling to subconsciously cloud my judgment until I couldn’t see what was happening right in front of me. I mean, I hadn’t had a serious queer relationship ever in my life yet, and I was eager to get it started with this person. They seemed too good to be true in the beginning and usually, that’s the case in the end.

Once I finally sought help and started therapy, working on my anxiety, and connecting with my friends again I was able to gain a lot of perspective on my relationship and on my recent ex-partner. I blamed myself just as equally for the first few months but as I looked back, I could see so many warning signs and red flags, even from very early on. 

As someone who has been toxic in a relationship for years, as well as having been with someone who was toxic towards me, I want to point out some early signs and some more intense red flags of people who might be toxic for you.

  1. Subtle Possessiveness
    The first and most subtle experience that I can piece together from the earliest parts of my relationships is possessiveness. Whether it feels like a fit of cute jealousy or an overprotective partner, keep in mind that at a certain point being too attached is unhealthy. As humans, we do need some space to breathe in order to maintain our autonomy and individuality. If your partner subtly but consistently asks you for all of your time, be leery. Be upfront and tell them from the beginning how much space you need and set boundaries for your time and other relationships. Over time this could look like them constantly being angry because they feel as though they never see you or even giving you ultimatums. If you have to choose this person over other people or activities you love, I suggest setting that boundary early on as well. Then of course if we take it further if your partner starts to demand or seemingly force you to be with them then please find a way to get out. 
  1. Mental & Emotional Health
    Something else to look for in the beginning is if there are any signs of unresolved mental or behavioral health. The American Psychiatric Association has a list of warning signs as well as resources and how to get help here. It could simply look like a loss in interest in anything else but you or your relationship, apathy, or depression when they’re not with you, sudden or frequent mood changes, and so many other things. It’s good if you can even have a conversation about mental health in the beginning and really talk out how far along you each are on your journey, or if you’ve ever felt the need to be on one at all. From there you can both be honest and open about tough situations that arise in the future and about what your individual love languages need to look like when you’re not doing well. 
  1. Boundary Response
    Pay attention to how they respond when you’re setting a boundary. You don’t need to explain every detail of your day to someone at every second and you do not owe that to them no matter how much they say you do. If you can’t have your own life too then it may just not be a match. Be aware of your needs and how you give and receive love in a relationship and know that it isn’t your fault for needing or wanting different things than someone you’re growing to love.
  1. Maturity Level
    Immaturity is a huge turn-off Queen, so just don’t deal with it. If they still need their parent(s) to hold their hand through every little thing then you may want to let them go. Childish behaviors are huge because it shows that their emotional intelligence hasn’t sped up to where yours is and children act erratically with their emotions. Whether they’re 18 or 45, people can be entirely unaware of their emotions and how they’re affecting their behavior towards you. This kind of behavior can slowly create an abusive situation in the relationship, so be wary. 
  1. Name-Calling
    Further down the line into the relationship (hopefully not in the beginning) watch out for name-calling. Not pet names but derogatory terms, especially when they’re not with you or you’re doing something they perceive as hurting them. If just being with your friends or caring for yourself is hurting them: run girl, run. 
  1. Close Relationships
    Along with that, how do they talk to and treat their parents and friends? Not only in front of these people but behind their backs as well. Of course, we all vent about people and need that catharsis at times. But if it’s a constant theme and they seem to behave completely differently when they’re around other people versus when you two are alone, then I suggest letting them go. Until we can find ourselves and know who we are as an individual human and treat everyone with equity, then we shouldn’t try to mesh our world with someone else’s. It’s not a race, so don’t feel rushed to figure it out just as fast as anyone else.
  1. Shame & Blame Game
    Don’t fall victim to the shame & blame game. If they use things that they know you feel ashamed about and create situations making you feel like you’ve done something wrong to them, then it’s time to re-evaluate. If they force you to do anything or shame you into doing something for or with them then you need to drop them faster than they can say, “No please don’t go, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, it won’t happen again” for the third time.
  1. Are They Physical?
    I wish it could go without saying but, to get even deeper, if they become physical with you at all, I just wouldn’t. Exit like the Queen you are and get gone. More than likely if it happens once it will happen again. However I’ve known exceptions to this but not without a lot of work, time, healing, forgiveness, patience, and a very specific situation. If you’re reading this and need help, you don’t even have to pick up a phone just visit the National Domestic Abuse Hotline where you can get help anonymously 24/7/365. If you need to call: 1-800-799-7233 or text: LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474.
  1. Swipe Left
    It’s 2020, if they love you for your social media or because of the person they expect you to be because of it then block ‘em. We’re imaginative Americans who grew up on Hollywood and fast food and now Postmates delivery and binge-watching. When someone can’t see past the small snippets of your life that you post online and accept who you are at all times, then it’s probably not a match. With that, let’s work to make social media more authentic and real and not just the cute parts of life. Life is a grey area: it’s never going to be positive at all times and it’s okay to post about the down moments.
  2. Notre Dame College: Characteristics of Healthy and Abusive Relationships
    Finally, I would just like to share Notre Dame College’s Characteristics of Healthy and Abusive Relationships. I hope that it helps to open the eyes of anyone whose eyes may be clouded by what they think is love and can’t see the truth of their situation. You can find it here.

It takes a lot of work to become someone who needs to put up walls but not so many that they don’t let anyone in. As far as removing the toxicity, that takes self-reflection and maturity. Once you can see how you react and respond to the people that you’re close with and then adjust those reactions, you can work to become more patient and kinder. It takes acknowledging the shame, calling it out for what it is, and learning how to grow from that person. If this is you, know you’re not alone and you will find love, and it will be someone who sees you and loves you the way that you need too. 

If you’re with a toxic person and need help,reach out, find an outlet, and don’t subject yourself to someone who treats you like less than you’re worth. If you’re healing from a toxic person still then let’s just do us and glow up Queen, because we’re moving on and moving up without that dead weight leeching us of our time and self-respect. 

In love and solidarity,

xo – Nic Ryan


More Resources:

Emotional Abuse Test

Day One Signs of Verbal Abuse

Psychology Today: How Mental Illness Affects Romantic Relationships     

50 Powerful Questions that can help you Identify the Signs of Emotional Abuse

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