Conversations around toxic behaviour in men are becoming increasingly common, and awareness in general is rising. It’s often talked about that men can have domineering tendencies towards women, allowing them to exert psychological control. While having these discussions is, of course, hugely important if we’re to continue raising awareness of abuse and toxicity in relationships, it does raise the question of whether men experience similar abusive relationship behaviours in equal measure.
It’s no secret that one of the biggest hurdles is getting men to come forward to discuss such issues, as they often feel ashamed, worrying that they will be perceived as “weak” or “unmasculine” if they admit to being the victim of abuse. But we need to get the conversation going and bring the discussion out in the open. So let’s dive into examples of toxic behaviour and discuss why it’s so important to come forward and seek help. Once you pinpoint the problem, you can begin to figure things out. It may be that your partner doesn’t even realise they’re behaving in a toxic way, in which case couples therapy might offer you a venue for open, safe conversation.
Below are the most common signs your relationship has turned toxic and how this toxicity might present itself in day-to-day life.
This term gets bandied around a lot, sometimes rather colloquially. It refers to when one individual makes another question their sense of reality. For example, if your partner says you agreed to do something when you know you didn’t, you might be experiencing gaslighting.
Gaslighting is one of the key signs of toxicity, and while often associated with male behaviour, it can go both ways. If you feel you are a victim of this, it might be time to start a conversation with your partner. Start by trying to understand their reasonings, but make sure to communicate how much their gaslighting is harming the relationship.
No matter what the dynamic of your relationship, as adults you should have the freedom to do things independently without needing consent from your partner. If your partner is telling you what you can and can’t do without giving a valid reason, you should consider this type of behaviour as a red flag.
This is not to say you shouldn’t communicate with your partner about your day-to-day life, but rather that they shouldn’t be in control of every decision you make.
Using sex and intimacy to manipulate you
If your partner is only displaying intimacy or sexual behaviour when they want something from you, this is a clear sign of manipulative behaviour. Likewise, if they withhold sex from you in order to get you to do something, you might want to reconsider your relationship. Of course, sex is a fundamental part of most relationships, but it should certainly not be used as a means of control.
You’re scared to open up to your partner
No matter how emotionally mature we are, we all have moments of vulnerability – and there’s no shame in that. A lot of the time, people are battling through difficult things that no one else can see.
To quote the world’s heavyweight boxing champion, Tyson Fury: “Mental health has got to be the biggest battle I’ve ever fought with, more than any opponent.”
It’s so important to keep your mental health in check, and when you’re committed to a partner, they should be available to listen and help you through difficult times. Our partners should be people we feel we can confide in, and we should be able to express exactly how we’re feeling whenever they are around. If this isn’t the case in your relationship, and you feel that lowering your emotional barriers in front of your partner will only leave you open to attack, you might want to start looking at the bigger picture – is this person right for you? After all, the most important thing is your mental health.
Belittling or shaming you
Every relationship has banter, and usually that’s a sign that you like each other enough to be able to joke around and poke fun at one another. In some cases however, it can go beyond a joke. You might realise your partner is going after you for anything you say or do, and belittling you at every opportunity. If this is the case, it’s definitely a warning sign that the relationship has turned toxic.
You might find that banter quickly turns into arguments. Disagreements in general are completely normal in any relationship, but it’s how you or your partner respond to these disputes that is the real measure of the relationship.
You should know that belittling and shaming can also feed into gaslighting. For example, if your partner constantly goes over the line and then insists they are only joking, or that you’re too sensitive, even though you know better – this is a sign that your partner is not only shaming you, but they’re also gaslighting.
If this sounds all too familiar, you might want to check out this resource about how to deal with belittling in a relationship.
Your family and friends don’t like your partner
Does the old cliche of the doting mother thinking that no one is ever going to be good enough for her son actually have some truth to it? Well, your family and close friends will probably know you just as well (or better) than you know yourself, so if you start to notice that they don’t like your partner, it could be a red flag. Contrary to the cliche that parents can feel jealous that their children are being taken from them, they might have genuine concerns that you’re being mistreated. Make sure you’re open to these discussions, especially if you’re noticing some of the signs yourself.
If you think you might be familiar with some of the experiences mentioned above, try to find an outlet that will allow you to express your feelings. This could be a friend, a support group or even a helpline. No one deserves to be mistreated, and it doesn’t make you any less of a “man” to speak up about toxicity in your relationship.
We all have the right to feel safe and comfortable in ourselves, especially around our loved ones. Speak out and make sure you are being treated with the respect you deserve.
Until next time.
About the Author: Amy Launder is an intersubjective psychotherapist with The Awareness Centre. Amy works with a variety of clients covering issues including low self-esteem, abuse, anxiety and depression.