Are you trapped in a toxic relationship? Here are the signs and how to leave

It’s easy to hear stories of abusive relationships and believe that will never happen to me.

But the thing about toxic relationships is that sometimes you don’t realise what’s going on until it’s too late.

And once you understand what is going on, leaving isn’t as simple as people assume. So how can you spot toxic relationship behaviour?

Signs of a toxic relationship

Viewed from the outside, many people assume it must be easy to leave an abusive relationship.

For most people, being caught in an abusive relationship is outside of their experience so they can be forgiven for not understanding the complexities of the situation and that it is not simply a case of walking away.

There is a long list of reasons, any of which could be experienced simultaneously, making the thought of leaving too overwhelming to consider.

This is how you become trapped.

Just some of the reasons you might struggle to leave an abusive relationship include:

  • You fear the consequences
  • You don’t want to be blamed
  • Your partner has made threats
  • You are afraid of being harmed
  • You are afraid of others being harmed
  • You are afraid of being killed
  • You physically can’t leave
  • Your partner is blackmailing you (i.e. saying they will share private information and images)
  • You believe you deserve to be treated badly
  • You have lost your confidence
  • You are embarrassed
  • You feel like a failure
  • You feel like damaged goods
  • You believe you are in love
  • You feel sorry for your partner
  • You have no family or friends to turn to for support
  • You are worried your partner will hurt themselves
  • You are in debt
  • You don’t want to upset your partner
  • You have become dependent on drugs supplied by your partner
  • You are being love bombed
  • You go to the same school/workplace as your partner
  • Your partner is a family friend
  • The make up sex feels worth it
  • Your partner is in the same friendship group
  • You think what’s happening to you is normal
  • You don’t see what is happening as abuse
  • Your family likes your partner
  • You fear being alone
  • You are too emotionally invested
  • Your partner has given you an STI/STD
  • You think your partner is a good parent
  • You are pregnant
  • You believe your partner doesn’t mean it
  • You don’t want to face your parents
  • Your friends like your partner
  • You believe no one else will want you
  • It’s against your cultural values to leave
  • Your partner promises they will change
  • You don’t want to be told ‘I told you so’
  • You believe you can change the way your partner behaves

Leaving an abusive relationship is never easy but it can be done.

If you resonate with the reasons for not leaving a relationship above, this is a red flag that your relationship has become toxic and you feel trapped in it.

How to get out of a toxic relationship

Be prepared for difficulty ending the relationship

If you want to end your toxic relationship they might try to prevent you from leaving. In their eyes, you are not allowed to end the relationship; it can only end when they decide and not before.

They’ll make every attempt to change your mind.

They might try pursuing you constantly as a sign of how much they ‘love’ you, but that is only about enabling them to regain control.

Signs of Coercive Control - The Charmer

Don’t trust promises to change

Remember, a sudden switch with loads of affection and promises to be better isn’t genuine change.

An abusive partner will say anything to keep you in their grip.

They will almost certainly turn on the charm offensive, perhaps because you fell for it at the start of the relationship.

This can feel very confusing because it instills hope at the very point you want to leave the painful reality of your relationship.

They might apologise and make promises to behave differently.

They might tell you more often that they love you or propose to you.

They might suggest you have a baby together so you can be a family.

They might shower you with gifts and compliments to show you how special you are to them.

Ultimately, you might start to believe that the person you first fell for at the beginning of the relationship is still there and that they really do care about you and want your relationship to continue.

Brace yourself for sympathy-seeking

If these loving gestures don’t convince you to stay in the relationship, your partner might step up their powers of persuasion with tactics like crying or telling you a sob story to demonstrate their vulnerability.

They might threaten to hurt themselves or even kill themselves if you want to leave.

If you have been coerced into feeling responsible for their wellbeing during your relationship or guilty for abandoning them, you might be tempted to give in at this point.

They would make you believe it would be your fault if they hurt themselves and living with the feeling of guilt would be too much to bear.

Watch out for the five toxic characters

When you try to leave, an abusive partner will likely transform into one (or multiple) of the five toxic types:

the Charmer,

the Bully,

the Mindmixer,

the Taker,

or the Keeper.

Get to know each one and be prepared for their tactics.

How to get out of a toxic relationship

Leaving a toxic relationship – Seek support

If you have decided to leave a toxic abusive relationship it is not a decision to carry out alone.

It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to talk through ending an abusive relationship with someone supportive you trust.

It is the safest way forward because you are not best placed to always know exactly what level of danger you may face.

This is not to suggest you wouldn’t be able to recognise danger when faced with it, but you may not be aware of how far the controlling partner is prepared to go to prevent you from leaving them.

Talk to friends and family to let them know you’re planning to leave, and ensure they’re ready to offer support where needed- whether that’s giving you a place to stay, a listening ear, or just knowing that if your ex tries to get in touch, they shouldn’t engage.

It’s also worth talking to a professional to help you safely leave the relationship.

Try talking with Refuge or Women’s Aid for guidance and support.

Work with your sources of support to create a proper plan for safely leaving the relationship.

Cover what you will do if things don’t go as planned.

Where will you live?

Are there any contracts in both you and your partner’s name?

What do you need from your support network to make sure you don’t return?

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