EmilyKnow the difference between a rough patch and a toxic rut.

Several years ago, I was in the most toxic relationship I’ve ever been in. After a year of ups and downs (mostly downs), it was one relatively minor incident that pushed me to have the courage to leave for good. Toxic and I were having some landscaping done in the yard and she was overseeing the contractors, as she had a background in managing landscapers. One morning, she asked me to call the team lead with a complaint.

I confessed that I wasn’t comfortable because she was the contact person and I didn’t have all the information. She left for work and called me a few hours later to “make sure (I) took care of it”. I reiterated that I didn’t have enough information to make an informed complaint. Like the flip of a switch, she was suddenly angry and condescending, hissing at me “In the time we have been talking about this you could have just called them!” That was it.

Being spoken to like a child, or worse, like a worthless human being was the final straw for me. I ended it that night. Looking back, it seems like a minor incident, after all the other bullshit that happened. But when I examine it further, I realized that within that one situation were 3 warning signs I was in a toxic relationship.

1. Disrespect is pervasive.

Respect is a key pillar of healthy relationships. Renowned relationship expert Dr John Gottmancites contempt as one of the key predictors that a relationship will end. Contempt is using words, tone of voice, body language, or actions that convey the message that the other person is worthless and unimportant to you. The way Toxic spoke to me, along with disregard for my feelings about it was blatant disrespect. Because it wasn’t the first time, or the twentieth time, I was unwilling to accept it any longer.

2. Chaos is a way of life.

It’s one thing for relationships to go through hard times, it’s another for day to day life to be chaos. Walking on eggshells became a way of life with Toxic. I spent a lot of time trying not to upset her so she wouldn’t fly off the handle. The littlest thing could quickly turn into an aggressive, emotionally violent confrontation, much like the phone call about the contractors. Healthy relationships bring balance, connection, trust, empathy, and passion. When chaos abounds, chances are your relationship has reached a toxic level and it’s time to leave.

3. Blame is her go-to.

Taking responsibility for our part in miscommunications and challenges in relationships is central to building a healthy relationship. Whether due to a personality disorder, untreated addiction or general immaturity, some people, at certain points in their lives lack the capacity for taking responsibility for themselves. You can spot this when she will not say I’m sorry, or when she does something shitty and then blames it on you. Toxic didn’t want to deal with the conflict that would arise by voicing a complaint so she blamed me for not “taking care of it”. Blame in relationships is not only useless but very damaging if it’s repeated over time.

When relationships go through challenges, it can be tempting to self-protect and run for the hills. But most relationships are healthy and worth investing in. However, disrespect, chaos and blame may be signs you’re in something deeper and the relationship isn’t the right one for you. The key is to pay attention to patterns over time.