If your relationship is detracting from your happiness or self-esteem rather than adding to it, it could be a sign of toxicity.
If we stop and think about our relationships, whether that's with our partners, families, friends, or colleagues, we'd probably be able to identify a couple that aren't as healthy as they could be.
"Toxic" is more than just a psychological buzzword - here's how to tell when a relationship is headed in that direction.
Speaking to body+soul.com, clinical psychologist Elisabeth Shaw shares the signs you should be looking out for, and how to safely get out of a relationship that's turning toxic.
What is a toxic relationship?
Shaw says any relationship that's abusive, coercive or violent is toxic - but they can also leave us feeling bad about ourselves in much more subtle ways.
"As our society has become more interested in psychological thought, terms such as "toxic relationships", "gaslighting" and "narcissism" have entered common language. Books, magazine articles and online sources abound on these topics," Shaw says.
"These concepts have helped us to become aware of relationship patterns that leave us feeling hurt or suffering. It can be quite a revelation when we awaken to how a relationship is not working for us and, in fact, is having a negative impact on our mental health."
Whether it's a middle-aged woman realising she's been manipulated by her mother for her whole life, or a man beginning to see that his partner is constantly belittling him, there are countless ways you can find yourself heading into toxic territory.
How to identify a toxic relationship
• Persistent unhappiness – feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety and resignation.
• Lack of respect and constant conflict.
• Competitiveness and jealousy.
• Financial and social control.
• Raising concerns and having them minimised, or dismissed.
• One person having to sacrifice their needs to keep the other happy.
"When these are elements that are more deeply and pervasively eroding our feelings about ourselves and the relationship over time, they can't be put down to a "bad patch" or just a one-off bad fight," Shaw says.
A relationship that starts off as "healthy" can end up becoming toxic.
In some relationships, one partner can become more committed to pleasing the other and sacrifices their own needs. But instead of having this reciprocated, the other partner becomes controlling and critical, undermining their confidence. In these cases, the power balance of the relationship becomes uneven.
What to do if you're in a toxic relationship
Shaw says it can be a shock to realise you've been in an emotionally abusive relationship.
"Once you realise it is toxic and that it is more than just a 'bad patch', you may be confronted with many uncomfortable, distressing and even frightening considerations about whether to stay, or go."
She shares some steps you can take toward leaving safely.
2. Be honest with yourself. What will it really take for the situation to change? Acknowledge to yourself if you have done all you can realistically do to try and improve things.
3. Reflect on your levels of happiness and self-confidence now, as compared to an earlier version of yourself. Has your confidence grown, or diminished?
4. Start developing healthy boundaries that convey that to others that you expect to be treated well.
5. Don't be too hard on yourself. It is understandable to hold on to hope about how good things used to be, or to be afraid of being alone, or to fear no one else will love you. Take it one step at a time.
6. Focus on yourself. By continuing to blame your partner, you keep giving them all the power and rob yourself of the energy you need to move forward.
7. Take stock. To move forward, you must understand how you got into a position where you gave up your control. Then, take the time you need to strengthen yourself to ensure it doesn't happen again.
How to help others in a toxic relationship
If someone close to you is struggling with a toxic relationship, it's important to let them know you care about them, Shaw says.
"Reassure them they are not crazy, selfish, bad or any of the negatives things that they may have been told," she says - but take care that your own efforts to help don't take over or become critical.
"Give them your perspective on their partner's poor behaviour gently, and with as much neutrality as possible.
"Watch how much they can take in, and stop when it seems too much."
They'll need room and time to find their way - and ways to access external help if they choose it.
Getting out of a toxic relationship will take work
Getting professional help can be invaluable for moving forward - seeing a qualified couples' therapist could help you both change for the better, but only if you're invested in staying together.
Seeing a professional alone can help you find your own feet for the discussions ahead.
DO YOU NEED HELP?
If you're in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay
Where to go for help or more information:
• Shine, free national helpline 9am-11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz