A relationship expert has revealed the five different ways someone can be a toxic partner – while also explaining whether your beau’s behavior could actually be considered ‘toxic’.
Cathy Press, author of When Love Bites: A Young Person’s Guide to Escaping Harmful, Toxic, and Hurting Relationships, is a psychotherapist and clinical counselor.
She specializes in domestic violence and sexual abuse and often works with children.
Speaking to FEMAIL, Cathy explained the qualities that make a partner ‘toxic’ – and warned that the word can sometimes be misinterpreted.
But she also outlined what she has identified as the five types of toxic partners: The charmer, the bully, the mind mixer, the taker and the keeper; and explained how they work.
Here she gives her advice on how to tell if you are in a toxic relationship and how a toxic partner can present himself…
Author Cathy Press has revealed the five different ways your partner can be ‘toxic’ – and explained how to safely walk away if you’re in trouble (stock image)
What is ‘toxic behavior’ in a relationship?
According to Cathy, relationships rarely start with either party expecting things to go sour, and there’s a natural tension when you get to know another person.
But when a relationship turns toxic, the person on the receiving end of the unpleasant behavior can become confused.
An example of toxic behavior is when your partner changes behavior and mood from one day to the next, appearing to be nice one minute and nasty the next.
The five types of toxic partners and what they look like
Charmers are the first characters we meet in our relationships. They are a magnanimous, charismatic character who pretends to be the perfect partner and is genuinely happy for you.
They build you up and love bomb you and you until you start having real feelings for them.
But in this process of hooking you up, they will also do things that make you feel indebted and that you owe them in some way.
You may feel trapped and stuck in these moments, guilty of wanting to meet your own needs but responsible for meeting theirs.
The bully’s behavior does not always involve physical abuse, but simple passive aggressive behavior such as sulking or shutting you up.
You can spend a tremendous amount of time questioning what you did that was so wrong to deserve this kind of behavior.
This is tiring and can wear you down, but in the end you find yourself giving all your attention to them and neglecting your own needs. The bully makes you feel nervous or on edge, vulnerable, anxious, afraid and angry.
The fear can cause your body to develop an exaggerated stress response, which can ultimately affect your mental health.
The Mind Mixer
Your partner misunderstands you, plays mind games by turning you on, compares you to others, and is dismissive of how you and/or your body suggests you are inadequate in some way, which can affect the way you watch yourself.
You may also begin to find fault with the way you look and begin to dislike your appearance and change yourself to suit your partner so they will find you more attractive. This can lead to you feeling confused, less confident and oversensitive.
A coercive or controlling partner acts subtly, gets under your skin and changes how you see yourself – but you don’t realize it because they’re nice to you sometimes.
You don’t know what to think anymore; all you notice is your unhappy feelings of being low, crying, tired and hopeless much of the time.
The taker’s behavior is focused on forcing or coercing you to do things of a sexual nature that you did not want to or felt unable to prevent. This constant coercion and pressure to have sex can be subtle and make you think you have consented.
You may have consented to sex, but you may not have consented to doing things of a sexual nature that made you feel uncomfortable. The reality is, it’s never your fault.
It is quite normal for anyone who experiences sexual coercion and abuse to feel humiliated, degraded and too ashamed or disconnected to tell anyone what has happened to them.
The impact of Taker on their partner’s mental health is devastating and can lead to you losing interest in things that once brought you joy, a constant sadness, lack of energy, difficulty sleeping and difficulty concentrating and feeling completely broken, trapped and defeated of these feelings.
In the initial stages of a relationship, when it’s new and exciting, you may feel fully committed to being with your partner all the time, even if it means neglecting your friends and family.
The Keeper wants it to stay this way and their behavior is about isolating you from others and keeping you dependent on them. They will find ways to prevent you from seeing your loved ones and make you financially dependent.
As a result, you lose touch with the people you care about and begin to feel cut off, isolated and alone and may begin to believe that no one cares about you.
If you cut yourself off from others, you may begin to feel withdrawn, lonely, unnoticed, invisible, and believe that no one is there for you.
This loss of connection can make you feel like you’ve lost yourself a little – lost your own identity and you don’t know who you are anymore.
Cathy explained: ‘This type of behavior is typical of a toxic controlling and abusive relationship and should be considered a red flag.’
She added: ‘No matter what the starting point of your relationship, a controlling and abusive partner will find ways to literally shrink your world and your life as you know it.
‘They will push the other people in your life – your friends and family – and the things you love to do, such as your studies, hobbies, interests and activities.
‘They might take your money or possessions and give you rules about what you can and can’t do. When your world gets so much smaller like this, you can easily become more dependent on your partner.’
But the psychologist added that if you’re able to spot the red flags as they come, you’re less likely to fall into the trap of being stuck in a toxic relationship.
What does not count as toxic behavior?
Cathy says the word ‘toxic’ is ‘absolutely overused in various situations as a way to vent and insult a person’.
She explained: ‘It seems like an insult because the word defines the attitudinal qualities of someone who behaves in a toxic way, typically manipulative, obsessive, selfish and only concerned with their needs, will abuse their power, lacks sincerity and never really is apologetic.
“The consequence of this behavior can be unpleasant to experience.”
She gave examples of ‘being shouted at, being ignored, being criticized or compared to someone else’.
But before jumping to the conclusion that your partner is ‘toxic’, Cathy advised people to look at their relationship and determine if there is a pattern of similar behavior or if it’s just a ‘one-off’.
She said: ‘In a relationship with a loving partner, you would be sure to tell them you didn’t like something they might be doing; your loving partner would apologize, take responsibility for their behavior, and not do it again.
‘But when you start to experience some of these behavior patterns working together, it creates a different context in which we identify patterns of coercion and control.
“This can include a wide range of behaviors that make you feel insecure or uncomfortable with your partner and should be considered a red flag in your relationship.”
What happens when you are in a toxic relationship?
According to Cathy, many people in a toxic relationship become desensitized to their partner’s behavior, especially if the partner is not aggressive or violent—but they will always be affected by compulsive behavior in some way.
She said: ‘Being treated in this toxic way can make you believe that you are stupid or useless, that you are hard to love or are unlovable, that you are always to blame and/or that you are worthless.
‘As a consequence, you can start to feel less and less like yourself, and after a while you can forget what it’s like to be your normal self.
‘You might not talk to anyone about what’s happening because it’s so hard to define until the impact on you is significant and more apparent to you. Many will go to their GP when the symptoms of how they feel become too unbearable to manage or limit.
“You are likely to share how you feel, but may not want to discuss the context of coercive and controlling behaviors in your toxic relationship and the way your partner continually diminishes you.”
How can you safely get out of a relationship with a toxic partner?
Cathy warned anyone looking to leave their toxic relationship to make sure they have the support of another person in their life.
“It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to talk through ending an abusive relationship with a support person you trust,” she said.
‘You may not realize how far the controlling partner is prepared to go to stop you leaving them, so support is needed.
She advised anyone who wants to go away to talk to their friends and family, to make sure there is a place to stay if needed, or even just a listening ear.
Cathy added that if anyone has serious concerns about their safety they should speak to a professional and suggested contacting a charity such as Women’s Aid or Refuge.
“Work with your sources of support to create a proper plan to safely leave the relationship,” she said.
“Cover what you’ll do if things don’t go as planned and how to get the most out of your support network, especially when you’re in doubt about your decision to leave.”