How to Tell If a New Love Will Turn Out to Be Toxic

10 signs a new relationship may implode or lead to heartbreak.

Posted Sep 21, 2020

New relationships are exciting. Chemistry is intoxicating and addictive. The temptation to throw caution to the wind and dive in headfirst is powerful, but it may not be the best idea. Taking things slow and ensuring a new partner is true blue may save a person from a difficult or even traumatic relationship.

Often it is impossible to tell whether a person is narcissistic initially. Most people want to make a good impression at the beginning of a new relationship, so appearing caring and attentive is common. Yet as the months pass, several signs may illuminate if a partner could be toxic.

  1. Initially, a partner wants to know everything about a person, but now appears exceptionally disinterested and annoyed. This hot-and-cold style gives a toxic partner control. The emotional abandonment leaves a person clamoring to regain the partner’s love, which often requires the sacrifice of aspects of himself or herself.
  2. The partner makes comments that are hurtful and sting, but when confronted, he or she excuses the sentiment as a “joke,” and then blames the person for being “oversensitive.”
  3. He or she constantly critiques and gossips about others behind their backs, including his or her closest friends.
  4. Apologies are rare and absent of sincere remorse. The same behaviors continue after the apology.
  5. A partner attempts to rewrite history to position himself or herself as the victim in the scenario. As the victim, he or she deflects accountability and unfairly places blame on others. For example, say Taylor and Dakota have plans to go to the farmers market for lunch. Taylor texts Dakota but receives no reply. Finally, Dakota responds and says he missed lunch because he was at the opening of a new brewery. He says he did not invite Taylor because he knows she does not like beer. He also adds that he received bad news about a work issue, so he “really needed to be with his friends.” Taylor later realizes that some of her friends were also at the lunch. Taylor feels dismissed, left out, and confused. When she attempts to talk to Dakota about it, he snaps and tells her he is disappointed about work and if she cared for him, she would drop the issue.           
  6. At first, he or she seems open-minded and adventurous but later avoids activities that necessitate effort.
  7. The partner believes he or she is always right and knows everything. It is their way or the highway.
  8. He or she pouts, throws a fit, and holds a grudge when things don't go their way. It is important to distinguish pouting from taking a minute to calm down in order to re-address the issue calmly. Pouting is an abandonment of the interaction entirely, due to a partner not receiving what he or she wants.      
  9. The partner subtly seems to vie for control of a person’s finances, activities, hobbies, and relationships. If control is not surrendered, the partner criticizes and degrades a person’s participation in these activities.
  10. He or she has an overly inflated sense of importance and needs to have his or her ego stroked. For example, Lisa is moody. Her negative attitude seems to intensify when she is not provided attention. In order to avoid Lisa’s “wrath,” Tim walks on eggshells and caters to Lisa’s wishes.

It is critical to note that alone and isolated, these 10 tendencies are easily excused and swept under the rug. People who are understanding routinely give a partner the benefit of the doubt, saying for example, “He’s having a bad day.” Although this extension of grace and empathy is important and necessary, if the empathy is rarely reciprocated and a person’s feelings are continually ignored, that could be a red flag.

If a partner routinely exhibits 7 out of these 10 habits, it may be important to recognize that he or she operates in an egocentric manner. Often a partner with a fragile ego unconsciously employs overactive defense mechanisms to protect a fragile sense of self. This may be deceptive because a partner acts confidently. Yet he or she may be compensating with inflated and unconscious defense mechanisms, such as narcissism, deflection, projection, victim stance, denial, idealization/devaluation, and projective identification.

Defense mechanisms are normal and necessary, yet when a defensive structure works to keep out anything that threatens a partner’s self-esteem, like accountability, remorse, self-awareness, empathy, humility, selflessness, and insight, the system is overbearing. Like a force field, the defenses work in unison to ward off any emotion which threatens the core. Unfortunately, this overarching defensive structure may be rooted in a person’s character and not easily altered.

Ironically, an impaired partner may be able to display some of these capabilities in situations outside of the relationship. For example, at work, a partner is accountable. Yet within the context of interpersonal relationships, the partner is unable to take responsibility for himself or herself.

This may be confusing and tempt a person to blame himself or herself. Yet this type of partner may have learned the dire consequences of avoiding accountability at work. Thus, he or she is attempting to mitigate repercussions. He or she may not actually feel true remorse. Within the context of a relationship, however, the partner may unconsciously realize there are no “real” consequences because they can control and manipulate the person.

Observing these 10 relational tendencies may unveil the true nature of a new partner. Sadly, these characteristics may be entrenched and not easily remedied. Assessing a partner’s motivation is critical. A partner’s openness to counseling may be an important component of your decision.

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