You’ve probably known someone—whether it was a roommate, a sorority sister, or even your best friend—who just wouldn’t leave that jerk of a boyfriend. He kept treating her like crap, controlled her every move, and made her feel horrible about herself. Or maybe you were that someone. Either way, it’s clear that although we all grow up dreaming of that picture-perfect relationship with a guy who loves and supports us unconditionally, that’s not always the kind of relationship that we end up in. Here are a few signs that can help you determine whether the relationship that you’re in right now is downright toxic.
1. You’re obsessed with each other
It’s natural to wonder what your boyfriend is doing when he’s away from you. It’s unnatural to text him, Facebook message him, call him, and leave him four voicemails asking him exactly what he is doing at this very moment. While the two of you should have a part of your life dedicated to each other, you should also have (much larger) parts of your lives dedicated to yourselves.
It’s not always girls who are the obsessive ones, either—sometimes guys are the ones freaking out about where you are and whom you’re with.
“I had a friend on my abroad program this past fall that was in an unhealthy long-distance relationship, and I could tell because it was interfering with her everyday life,” says Jessica*, a junior from Skidmore College. “She always declined exploring the city or going out at night because she felt guilty if she didn't go home and Skype her boyfriend. Once, after she decided to stay out for dinner with us, her boyfriend even messaged another girl on the trip (whom he'd never met) and asked for her number so he could call her if he ever needed to know where his girlfriend was! After all of that controlling and guilt-tripping, he ended up cheating on her. It really took over (and took away from) her time abroad.”
Even though in the moment this kind of behavior acts as a desperate attempt to pull the two of you closer together in the moment, it will only end up driving you further apart as you pass up opportunities to appease each other.
“While it makes sense that we are preoccupied with boyfriends/girlfriends when we are new to a relationship, it is really important to provide space for each other,” says Peggy Lorah, a licensed counselor and the Director of Penn State’s Center for Women Studies. “Obsessing usually comes from insecurity, and it is difficult to have a healthy relationship when we are insecure.”
You don’t want to resent your boyfriend for making you miss out on your study abroad, and you don’t want him to resent you for tearing him away from his friends too often, so make sure that you have a healthy amount of time apart from one another!
2. You try to change each other
It’s one thing if he’s encouraging you to get your homework done before you come to visit him so you won’t be as stressed out or if you tell him you wish he would listen to you a little more. There’s always room for improvement and compromise when it comes to your relationship. However, you shouldn’t be trying to completely change anything about your significant other, or vice versa.
“I had always been self-conscious about having a little belly. I was a dancer in high school and when I went to college and stopped, I lost the abs and gained a few pounds. My then-boyfriend would always point it out to me, and after a while it made me really insecure. Your boyfriend shouldn't make you feel that way. They should lift you up!” says Amy*, a sophomore at William Patterson University of New Jersey. “He would constantly send me workouts, tell me what to eat, and comment on how bad some things I ate were because he was a health nut and a weightlifter. At first, it was encouraging and he was supportive, then it just became problematic. I had completely changed my diet, and it really wasn't what I wanted. He shouldn't have made it a big deal, and I should have never allowed him to make me feel this way or change.”
“Healthy relationships are about accepting and respecting each other. In a healthy relationship, it's never about trying to change the other person,” Lorah says. “If we have an issue, the healthy thing is to address it openly and honestly, knowing that we have the right to share concerns, but that we don't have the right to expect someone else to change because we want them to.”
Asking your significant other to change their style, body, haircut, or personality is not okay. Healthy relationships mean that you both embrace each other’s individuality! He should love you for the awesome girl that you are, not the girl he wants to mold you to become.
3. You get jealous and possessive
It’s natural to feel a little twinge of jealousy when your boyfriend starts spending a lot of time outside of class working on a project with his gorgeous lab partner, but the important thing is that you trust him enough to know that he would never do anything that could potentially ruin your relationship. You shouldn’t become so worried about his possible infidelity that your possessiveness is what actually ends up ruining the relationship! The reverse is also true; he shouldn’t be so jealous of your guy friends that it ends up making you feel suffocated.
“I dated a guy for a few years in high school, and he literally cut off my connections with every single guy friend I had prior to dating him,” says Theresa*, a junior from Penn State. “He actually even went through my Facebook once and deleted all of the ones that he wasn’t friends with. I was only allowed to hang out with him, and with his guy friends when he was there. Somehow I was so head over heels for him that I didn’t even see how unhealthy it was for him to control me like that just because he was jealous and insecure.”
Lorah says that jealousy and possessiveness “are both disrespectful of the other person at their core. They come from our own issues, again, of insecurity. We don't own other people, and jealousy says so much more about us than it does about what the other person is doing or not doing.”
Behavior like this is unacceptable and goes back to the fact that you should both have your own lives outside of your relationship together. You should be okay with him having female friends, and he should be okay with you having male friends, so long as you trust each other!
4. You lie to each other
This is definitely where trust comes in. Whether your boyfriend tells a little white lie about what he did last night, or completely neglects to tell you that one of his super attractive female friends from high school happens to be staying in his dorm for the weekend, you’re within your rights to get upset. No matter what the magnitude of the lie may be, it pokes holes in the foundation of your relationship together, and it makes you question everything that he tells you from that point forward.
If you feel like you have to lie to him to make him happy, that’s also a bad sign. This includes lies about your personality, about your likes and dislikes, or about the things that you do. Whether you’re afraid that these things will simply make him dislike you, or you fear that they’ll make him angry at you, you still shouldn’t ever lie to him. You should feel comfortable voicing your thoughts and feelings in your relationship.
“In an honest relationship, there isn't any need for even the little fibs,” Lorah says. “[Anything] can be a topic of discussion without your feeling that you need to lie. Healthy relationships are built on honesty.”
5. He pressures or abuses you
It doesn’t matter what he’s trying to pressure you to do, if he’s trying to get you to do anything that you’re strongly opposed to or makes you uncomfortable, then he’s in the wrong. This is particularly true if he’s trying to pressure you into having sex. If you aren’t into it, then the two of you shouldn’t be doing it. Period. That’s your choice.
If he threatens to force you to do things you don’t want to, that’s going a step beyond pressuring, and is absolutely toxic. This includes emotional abuse like calling you names, criticizing you, or saying degrading comments. Nobody should ever feel hurt or threatened in a healthy relationship, so if you’re feeling that way, you should get out now.
No matter how much you upset him, no matter how intensely the two of you may be fighting about something, there is no reason for him to intentionally cause you physical harm. Physical abuse is never okay. This could be punching, shoving, slapping, restraining, or any other acts of physical force. If he lays a hand on you, it’s time to get out of this relationship.
Even more frightening is the concept of sexual abuse within a relationship. If you’re not interested in pursuing a sexual relationship with someone, that should be the end of it, but that’s certainly not always the case. Not only should you promptly leave someone if they abuse you this way, but you should report the crime to the police.
“I was sexually assaulted by my boyfriend and he convinced me to stay with him and I did for another 2 years,” says Laura*, a sophomore from James Madison University. “I realized after the fact that it was wrong, but I never reported it. My biggest advice for anyone in this situation is to report it. It's not worth anything they promise you, and it's never your fault.”
Eleanor*, a sophomore from James Madison University says that she didn’t see it coming. “I never thought it would happen to me, or by him! Although, looking back it makes sense,” she says. “He constantly tore me down and made me think my best wasn't good enough. He made me believe that I truly wasn't worth anything I had worked so hard for in anything. It was incredibly hard to look past these things when we broke up but I don't believe that holding onto the negative things is healthy for me and I've learned to let go and remember that I am living life in the best way I know how.”
“It's important to seek support when we find ourselves in unhealthy relationships,” said Lorah. “That way we can sort out what works for us and what we might need to do. If this is happening to a friend, it's important to offer our support and caring.”
If any of these warning signs resonate with the current relationship that you’re in, it’s time to sit down and have a conversation with your significant other about how to mend the situation. Or, if that idea sounds too terrifying, then it’s probably time to end the relationship. If you know a friend whose current relationship exhibits any of these indicators of a toxic relationship, try to talk to them so that they don’t end up more hurt than they need to be by the situation.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.