This is a question I’ve found myself asking myself a number of times in my life, whether it be concerning a romantic or platonic relationship. Everyone will find his or herself in this position at least once in life, but I think I’ve been there so many times because I was very fake for a long time in my life. I think I played a character more than I stayed true to who I was. I think that led not only to my finding myself in inauthentic relationships but also to my being the toxic friend or girlfriend a time or two. All that being said, I’m writing this one mainly for myself to be able to refer back to if I’m in a situation where I might be seeing red flags. Here are a list of key tellers that it’s not just a rough patch; it’s a toxic relationship:
- Are you still celebrating each other’s victories? Do you find yourself hesitant to tell that person about an accomplishment or success of yours?
- If the answer is no to the first or yes to the second, then that sitch is toxic as it can be. I’ve found that, particularly in friendships between girls, there can arise a recurring theme with a particular friend when you know they aren’t going to like your new instagram post or congratulate you on your recent good grade. If you don’t feel celebrated or valued when good things come up in your life, then hit the road. You deserve better.
- In extreme cases, I’ve actually experienced people unleashing negative energy or emotions toward me after an achievement of mine, not after I’ve done something wrong. In those instances, it is particularly clear that that person is, whether consciously or unconsciously, seeking to tear you back down after you’ve been built up. That is not what a friend or someone who wants to be a friend does.
- Are you giving each other the benefit of the doubt whenever possible?
- This is a big one, at least in my experience. Someone once told me that the point of friendship is to celebrate each other despite each other’s flaws, and that has forever stuck with me. Friends should seek reconciliation and mutual understanding above all; they should not ignore opportunities to achieve those things if presented to them. For example, if one does something bad and apologizes for it, then that apology should be taken on board in the future. If someone continues to hold your feet to the fire for past wrongs after you’ve attempted to reconcile and atone for those wrongs, then that person doesn’t belong in your life. Plainly speaking, you should be willing to cut each other some slack whenever you can, and if you find yourself unwilling to do that or the other person is unwilling to do that, then the relationship has entered unhealthy territory.
- Are you agreeing on the same facts?
- Thinking back to my Speech and Debate years, I remember my teacher really pressing home that before debating either party must agree to certain definitions. If you have reached a point in the relationship where each of your versions of the truth are entirely different, then that likely points toward toxicity somewhere in the relationship. You will never be able to reach resolution if you don’t agree on the same basic facts of the matter you’re arguing.
- Is there still fairness in the relationship? Are you treating one another fairly?
- This is another doozy I have so often overlooked in past relationships. Being fair is granting each other the same willingness to listen, the same consideration, the same opportunity to speak. If one person is monopolizing that time or demanding that you listen without their being willing to listen to you in return, then there is little hope that that situation or relationship will end well. You don’t love someone you treat unfairly. You don’t love someone you hold to a different standard than you do yourself. Unfairness will topple the strongest of relationships in the blink of an eye.
- Are you still speaking to each other with respect?
- Even in arguments, there is a level of mutual respect that must lay at the heart of the interaction. If one person is conducting themselves totally differently than the other — using personal, offensive language when the other isn’t; repeatedly assailing the character of the other person when the other isn’t; etc. — then that could be an indication of an unequal playing field and an unequal relationship.
- What do those closest to you think of the situation?
- We’ve all got those people we know we can rely on wholeheartedly. What is their judgment of the relationship in question? I promise you that the people who know you best will be able to help you determine whether that person is providing a beneficial role in your life. My people have been right 10/10 times, honestly.
Again, I’m really writing this bit for myself. I’ve recently found myself in situations I literally could not wrap my head around, so writing this out (and consulting professionals — shoutout to my therapist) has helped me immensely. Unfortunately, an important part of growing up is learning to choose your circle and to choose it wisely. We should all demand to be treated with the respect and fairness we deserve. We should all not be afraid to confront our own wrongdoings and shortcomings involved. I try to take accountability when I can and to stand up for myself accordingly, and I can say with confidence that this year I have created an atmosphere around me that is more conducive to my personal growth and health than any I’ve nurtured in the past. Losing love is sad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also necessary sometimes. I hope in the future I find people who will build me up, listen to what I have to say, and love me unconditionally.