Contrary to popular belief, emotional abuse can be just as devastating to a victim as a physical assault. Controlling relationships are usually hidden from the public eye. A person who is the victim of abuse is usually unaware of the toll it is taking on them and the stigma surrounding unhealthy relationships leaves victims in the dark.
Throughout my 20s, I encountered people of all backgrounds with stories of being victim to controlling or otherwise unhealthy partners.
I’ve had my own experience where everything looked fine on the outside, but the Holy Spirit was leading me away from the relationship. I remember being frustrated with God’s inability to give that person as my mate, but years later, I realized the Lord was saving both of us from an unhealthy relationship—one that would not have been God’s best for either of us. There are others whose stories are different. They are either in the midst of a toxic relationship or on their long journey of restoration from brokenness in an unhealthy relationship. Our generation rarely takes the time to get to know a person before pursuing a committed relationship when listening to the Holy Spirit is critical.
If you find yourself in a relationship currently, here are some subtle but powerful signs of a toxic partnership that you can’t afford to ignore.
They isolate you from family and friends or are isolated themselves.
If they have replaced your support network, or try to replace it, this is a red flag. It can come off as a romantic gesture at the beginning of the relationship, but as soon as you “need to breathe” they may guilt you into spending more time together. They’re threatened by close platonic relationships and sabotage your plans with friends.
In a healthy relationship, trust is built and usually partners are encouraged to spend time with family or friends. If you share that you’ve made plans with other people and they disapprove or punish you with a bad attitude or by freezing you out, this is a huge warning. A person who wants to control you does not want others to expose them, so they manipulate and shut others out of your life. Be aware of this while courting. Isolation is a subtle tactic of an unhealthy person.
They dictate the way you feel about yourself.
This can look like one person in the relationship consistently putting the other person down in front of others. Or negative comments or “jokes” about you to make you feel embarrassed or inferior. In a healthy relationship, joking with your mate is fun and flirtatious. A controlling person uses jokes to create insecurity and is very strategic in relaying the message of how you should look and act with them.
The victim ends up feeling useless or undesirable when the partner says anything negative. In a toxic relationship, there are double standards. The victim is always accused of infidelity or inappropriate behavior. When dating someone, be mindful of how you feel about yourself when they are around. Do you feel like you can be yourself around them or do you feel like you have to become who they want you to be?
Nothing you say or do is ever good enough for them.
If someone makes you prove your worth or love with accomplishments, this is another red flag. Usually, when someone is controlling or toxic it’s because of something from their past. Your complaints, values or thoughts are never really heard. They always choose where to eat or what movie to attend. When your decision is bad, they make it a big deal.
Every relationship is give and take. If you are finding that with this person there is no compromise, take a step back and examine if there is a mutual respect in your relationship.
None of us are perfect. However, there are some relationships that are more destructive than others. If you’re single or married, be led in prayer and be open to Godly counsel. We have to do our part to listen to God for direction, especially in relationships. Whether you are the controller or have been a victim, let the Lord guide you in His love to a restored spiritual health.
[This article was originally posted in 2017.]