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3 Hidden Signs of a Toxic Relationship

1. You're the only one who compromises.

Zach Vessels / Unsplash
Source: Zach Vessels / Unsplash

It’s common for therapists to hear clients say: “But my relationship was so great in the beginning, what if it goes back to that?” “What if they’re an amazing partner to someone else? What if it’s just me and I make them act this way?”

Here are three signs that should cause you to stop and re-evaluate your romantic partnership. I know it’s something that isn’t always easy to do, but if you’re going to take your mental health seriously, you can’t shy away from having difficult conversations with yourself and with others. One thing every psychologist will tell you is that the road to psychological well-being is never easy.

Sign 1: Compromise is not a two-way street

One sign that should prompt you to re-evaluate your relationship is if you’re the only one compromising.

Yes, compromise is inevitable in most relationships. And, yes, it is honorable — but to a degree. Compromise needs to be a two-way street. If you’re the one who is constantly changing your plans to accommodate your partner and making concessions to accommodate them, that’s a huge “Houston, we have a problem” red flag.

Not only is it a problem when your significant other isn’t making compromises of his or her own, but it’s also problematic when they reject your occasional need to stand your ground.

Here is an example.

One day you decide to take some much-needed me-time — perhaps you opt not to attend a family event that his or her side of the family is hosting.

First, that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It’s called having healthy boundaries. But if your partner expresses displeasure with you because of this decision, that’s a sign that they are not only asking you to do the lion’s share of the compromising, but they’re also reluctant to accept your boundaries, even — or perhaps especially — when you rarely exercise them.

Of course, we aren’t always the most objective judges when it comes to sizing up who is making more compromises in our relationships. One classic study asked married couples to estimate the percentage of household chores they completed. The percentages, when added together, almost always exceeded 100 percent. There were a few instances where both the husband and wife claimed to be doing 80 percent or more of the household chores.

Try to be honest and objective in your assessment of responsibility-taking and compromising. And, if you feel like there is an imbalance, bring this to your partner’s attention. Sometimes, working with a couples’ therapist can help restore things to their proper balance.

Sign 2: Your morals and ethics take you in different directions

A second sign that you should re-evaluate your relationship is when you find yourself repeatedly excusing your partner’s problematic behavior.

Sometimes our loved ones may behave in a manner that is unethical and or potentially harmful. These situations require us to be completely honest with our partners and ourselves, but it is possible that we fail to do so because we love them.

While part of this is our desire to accept our partners for who they are, blemishes and all, another part of this leads us down a much less psychologically healthy path. Research has found, for example, that when we excuse our partners’ transgressions and unethical actions, we actually take on some of their guilt, embarrassment, and shame. In fact, we might experience more guilt around their actions than even they do.

Sign 3: Your relationship feels transactional, to an unhealthy extent

A third sign that you need to re-evaluate your relationship is when one partner starts thinking about the other partner in terms of how useful they are to them.

In a perfect world, we choose to be in a long-term relationship with someone because we love them, plain and simple. Perfection does not exist. We choose to enter relationships with partners based on a variety of factors, such as the status of the family they belong to, how they can help us achieve our goals, and other perceived financial, material, and sexual perks.

While considering someone as a resource isn’t wholly wrong, it can be a problem when it is the foundation of one’s relationship. Because, in essence, what is happening is that one partner is objectifying the other and only staying with them as long as they’re helpful to them.

And the truth is, no one will be useful forever. We’re setting ourselves up for a lot of disappointment when we go down this path, regardless of whether we’re on the giving or receiving end.

If you feel like this is something you are currently experiencing, it’s important to know that it’s not your fault, and you shouldn’t let it affect your self-esteem. This is because goals drive people, and goal achievement can cause people to view relationships of any kind, including intimate relationships, as transactional, quid pro quo agreements between two people.

The trick is to balance these feelings against other considerations that lead to healthy relationships.


It is important to routinely reflect on the state of your relationship. It’s one of the best ways to spot potential issues before they turn into long-term problems. If, when doing this, you notice:

  1. an imbalance in compromises and responsibilities.
  2. a nagging ethical or moral divide between you and your partner.
  3. a relationship that feels transactional more than supportive.

It’s a good sign to dig into these issues with your partner and or a couples’ therapist. It may be uncomfortable, but it will benefit your mental health in the long run.

Facebook image: Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock


Letting People Off the Hook: When Do Good Deeds Excuse Transgressions? Daniel A. Effron, Benoît Monin

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