Relationships are hard. Even under the best of circumstances, relationships are hard. For starters, we all have different backgrounds, different baggage, different psychological coping mechanisms, different expectations for ourselves, and different expectations for our potential partners.
It’s hard enough being a human on your own in these troubled times, much less being with another messed up, confused and frightened person.
But if it starts feeling like the person you’re trying to be with is taking out their own issues on you, you might have a toxic girlfriend or boyfriend.
What is a toxic relationship?
Tales about relationship trouble are some of the oldest human stories we have on record.
Some jokesters have suggested that not only are men from Mars and women from Venus, but that it’s a miracle we ever get together in the first place and created the human species.
But even so, some of us still have to reckon with the realization that we’re in a relationship with a toxic girlfriend.
Before we dig into some of the widely accepted signs that you have a toxic girlfriend, we should probably note that our ideas of what constitutes a healthy relationship versus a toxic relationship are often wildly skewed by society and culture.
Toxic relationships: I learned it from watching you
I’ll go ahead and say it: 1990s rom-coms ruined a generation of relationships. Those movies fucked up an entire generation of both men and women with regard to their expectations for what entails a healthy, normal relationship.
Go back and watch some of the biggest hits of the era. Behavior that was considered cute and heartwarming back then would today be viewed as a perfectly acceptable reason to get a restraining order.
There are plenty of protagonists in these films – both men and women – who would be put on 72-hour psych holds if they were to pursue their romantic interests that way in real life. Some are downright sociopathic.
Yet we’ve been taught that this kind of love – romantic, head over heels, butterflies in the stomach, crazy love – is the only kind worth pursuing.
We’re taught that we must chase the dragon of love, that that high is the only worthwhile one and we’re incomplete without it.
And like junkies, any action is justified to get our fix, even if it means controlling and manipulating someone into being with us.
What are the signs of a toxic relationship?
It’s a little counterintuitive but love shouldn’t be the only reason to be in a relationship. Prioritizing love over everything else is a bad sign, especially when you consider how being in love clouds our judgement.
You can start to see why this makes sense if you dig past the shallowest Hollywood definitions of what love even is.
A relationship should be a literal partnership: a compact or an agreement to mutual emotional support, and that requires three things: trust, respect, and affection.
Sure, we all want passion in our lives.
But if love means being walked all over and disrespected, not being able to trust the other person’s words or actions, and a lack of affection (or worse, the kind of affection where you constantly fight like badgers then fuck like rabbits) then we’re talking about a pretty bleak relationship even if it is supposedly about ‘love.’
Here are some of the signals that it’s gone to the level of a toxic relationship.
5 signs of a toxic girlfriend
Toxic girlfriend sign #1: Passive-aggressiveness or ‘hints’
A relationship of mutual trust and respect implies open lines of communication.
If you’re with someone who constantly drops not-so-subtle hints about how you might better conduct your life, or who takes every opportunity to irritate and annoy you in petty ways as they try to get you change, you’re dealing with someone who is uncomfortable communicating openly.
There’s a lack of trust there that’s poisonous to a healthy relationship, as well as a species of passive-aggressiveness that hides buried anger, and is a strong indicator of a toxic girlfriend.
Toxic girlfriend sign #2: Keeping score
If you’re in a toxic relationship with this person, the past is always present. There’s nothing from the past, no mistake too small, no pecadillo too petty that it can’t be dredged up in the present.
And it’s toxic girlfriend behavior at its worst.
This kind of relationship scorekeeping is an especially odious tactic of toxic female behavior, because it not only makes you feel bad over and over for something you’ve already apologized for, it also diverts attention from whatever the actual, current issue is.
Just because you got wasted at her best friend’s wedding four years ago and fell down on the dance floor, that’s no reason it should be brought up today when you’re talking about her sending flirty texts to a co-worker.
Somehow, there’s nothing she can do in the present, no act so heinous that it can’t be canceled out with ‘Yeah, but what about the time you…’
The ensuing and continual back and forth battle over who did the worst thing is manipulative and controlling, as it’s meant to make the other person feel guilty and also protect the perpetrator from having to own up to making her own mistakes in the present.
Toxic girlfriend sign #3: The hostage-taker
This is the toxic female who holds the entire relationship hostage over every little conflict you have. And it’s very easy to spot when you know what to look for.
For instance, in a healthy relationship, someone might say, ‘Hey I feel like we don’t see each other enough. I’d like it if we could spend more time together.’
The toxic girlfriend version of this might sound like, ‘I don’t think I can be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t spend enough time with me.’
It’s a kind of guilt-tripping, emotional blackmail that’s poison for a relationship. And, of course, it’s prefabricated drama that can be deployed at any time.
When every little bump in the road constitutes a crisis, it’s a way to force the other person to pay more attention in an unhealthy way.
Also, it’s a means for manipulating the other person into keeping quiet in the future about other things they might be unhappy about in the relationship, thus denying open, honest communication.
Toxic girlfriend sign #4: Taking it out on you
We all have bad days. But finding a reason to get mad at your partner that evening at home when the real reason you’re angry is because your boss was shitting on you all day is a huge red flag of a toxic relationship.
The assumption that your partner is responsible for how you feel and your mood from moment to moment is actually kind of nuts when you think about it. But this state of affairs often goes unexplored until the relationship has passed fully into codependency mode.
It’s not only an indication of an emotionally immature, manipulative person, it also breeds resentment in their partner. Suddenly everything becomes a negotiation around her feelings at any given moment, and your own desires fall by the wayside.
Toxic girlfriend sign #5: Cuckoo-bananas jealousy
Jealousy is a normal, if not at all fun emotion that people feel from time to time. But if you have a partner who flies into a rage when she sees you talking with another woman, you may have yourself a toxic girlfriend there, fella.
I went to a concert once with a long-ago girlfriend. We had a pleasant dinner beforehand, and amiable chatting right up until the headliner came on stage.
My girlfriend then proceeded to stare daggers at me through the entirety of the show and refused to let me touch her, much less put my arm around her or anything.
‘I saw you staring at her ass.’
Turns out the singer was the one with the ass so fine I couldn’t take my eyes off of it – from 40 rows back, mind you. (Needless to say, this relationship didn’t last much longer after that.)
The point is, this form of toxic girlfriend behavior is irrational and can even be dangerous if she takes to breaking into your email or searching your phone. (I was spared that, thankfully.)
Conclusions: How do I deal with a toxic girlfriend?
The first step is knowing what you’re looking for, of course. But secondly, the common thread that runs through all of these is a lack of communication and trust.
Find ways to sit down with your partner and talk about her fears and doubts about the relationship, and figure out some healthy ways you can make it work better for both of you.
If things have gone pretty far into toxic territory, don’t be afraid to avail yourself of some couples therapy.
It’s widely available via Zoom and other platforms and many online therapists offer a sliding scale.
The main takeaway is that everyone in a relationship deserves to be happy, not just one person.