A relationship expert has revealed the five different ways in which someone can be a toxic partner – while explaining whether or not your beau’s behaviour can actually be considered ‘toxic’.
Cathy Press, author of When Love Bites: A young person’s guide to escaping harmful, toxic and hurtful relationships, is a psychotherapist and clinical supervisor.
She specialises in domestic and sexual violence, and often works with children.
Speaking to FEMAIL, Cathy explained the attributes that make a partner ‘toxic’ – and warned the word can sometimes be misinterpreted.
However, she also outlined what she has identified as the five types of toxic partner: The charmer, the bully, the mindmixer, the taker and the keeper; and explained how they operate.
Here, she lays out her advice for how to tell if you are in a toxic relationship, and the ways in which a toxic partner can present themselves…
Author Cathy Press has revealed the five different ways in which your partner can be ‘toxic’ – and explained how you can safely leave if you’re in trouble (stock image)
What is ‘toxic behaviour’ in a relationship?
According to Cathy, relationships rarely begin with either party expecting it to turn sour, and there is a natural excitement as you get to know another person.
However, when a relationship becomes toxic, the person on the receiving end of the unpleasant behaviour can be left confused.
An example of toxic behaviour is when your partner changes their behaviour and mood from one day to the next, appearing to be nice one minute and nasty the next.
The five types of toxic partner and what they look like
Charmers are the first characters we meet in our relationships. They are a magnanimous, charismatic character who pretends they are the perfect partner, and really into you.
They build you up and love bomb you and you until you begin to have genuine feelings for them.
However, in this process of hooking you in they will also do things that make you feel indebted and that you owe them in some way.
You can feel trapped and stuck in those moments, guilty for wanting to meet your own needs but responsible for meeting theirs.
The Bully’s behaviour doesn’t always involve physical abuse but simple passive aggressive behaviours like sulking or going silent on you.
You can spend a huge amount of time questioning what you did that was so wrong to deserve this kind of behaviour.
This is tiring and can wear you down, but ultimately you find yourself paying all your attention on them and neglecting your own needs. The Bully lesves you feeling nervous or on edge, vulnerable, anxious, fearful and angry.
The fear can cause your body to develop an exaggerated stress response, which can eventually impact your mental health.
Your partner picks fault with you, plays mind games by gaslighting you, compares you to others and is dismissive about how you and/or your body implying you are inadequate in some way, which may affect the way you see yourself.
You too might start finding fault in 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 may lead you to feel muddled, less confident and over-sensitive.
A coercive or controlling partner behaves subtly gets under your skin and changes how you see yourself – but you don’t realise because they are nice to you some of the time.
You don’t know what to think anymore; all you notice is your unhappy feelings of being low, tearful, tired and hopeless much of the time.
The Taker’s behaviours are focussed on forcing or coercing you to do things of a sexual nature that you didn’t want to or felt unable to prevent. This persistent coercion and pressure to have sex can be subtle and lead you to believe that you have consented.
You may have consented to sex but may not have consented to doing things of a sexual nature that made you feel uncomfortable. The reality is that it is never your fault.
It is quite normal for anyone who experiences sexual coercion and abuse to feel humiliated, degraded, and too shamed or disconnected to tell anyone what has happened to them.
The impact of the Taker on their partner’s mental health is devastating and can lead to you losing interest in things that once gave you joy, a constant sadness, lacking in energy, difficulty sleeping and concentrating and feeling utterly crushed, trapped and defeated by these feelings.
In the initial stages of a relationship, when it is new and exciting, you may feel fully committed to being with your partner all the time even if it means you neglect your friends and family.
The Keeper wants it to stay this way and their behaviours are all 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 can begin to believe that nobody cares about you.
If you cut yourself off from others, you can start to feel withdrawn, lonely, unnoticed, invisible and believe there is nobody there for you.
This loss of connection can lead you to feel like you have lost yourself a bit – lost your own identity and you don’t know who you are anymore.
Cathy explained: ‘This type of behaviour is typical of a toxic controlling and abusive relationship and should be considered a red flag.’
She added: ‘No matter what the starting point is in your relationship, a controlling and abusive partner will find ways to literally shrink your world and your life as you know it.
‘They will squeeze out 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 becomes so much smaller in this way, you can easily become more dependent on your partner.’
However, the psychologist added that, if you’re able to spot the red flags as they come, you are less likely to fall into the trap of being stuck in a toxic relationship.
What does not count as toxic behaviour?
Cathy says the word ‘toxic’ is ‘absolutely overused in different situations as a way of venting and insulting a person’.
She explained: ‘It works as an insult because the word defines the attitudinal qualities of a person who behaves in a toxic way, typically manipulative, coercive, selfish and only concerned with their needs, will abuse their power, lacks sincerity and are never truly apologetic.
‘The impact of this behaviour can be unpleasant to experience.’
She gave examples of ‘being shouted at, being ignored, being criticised or being compared to someone else’.
However, before jumping to the conclusion your partner is ‘toxic’, Cathy advised people to look at their relationships and determine if there is a pattern of similar behaviour, or if it is just a ‘one-off’.
She said: ‘In a relationship with a loving partner, you would be safe to tell them that you didn’t like something they may be doing; your loving partner would apologise, take responsibility for their behaviour and wouldn’t do it again.
‘However, when you start to experience a few of these behaviours working together it creates a different context where we identify patterns of coercion and control.
‘This can include a broad range of behaviours that lead you to feel unsafe 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 desensitised to their partner’s behaviour, especially if the partner is not aggressive or violent – but they will always be affected by coercive behaviour in some way.
She said: ‘Being treated in this toxic way may leave you believing that you are stupid or useless, that you are hard to love or are un-loveable, that you are always to blame and/or that you are worthless.
‘As a consequence, you can begin to feel less and less like yourself, and after a while you may forget what it is like to be your normal self.
‘You may not talk to anyone about what is happening because it is so hard to define it until the effect on you is significant and more obvious to you. Many will go to their GP when the symptoms of how they feel become so unbearable to manage or contain.
‘You will likely share how you are feeling but may not discuss the context of coercive and controlling behaviours in your toxic relationship and the way in which your partner is persistently reducing you.’
How can you get out of a relationship with a toxic partner safely?
Cathy warned anyone who wants to leave their toxic relationship to make sure they have some support from another person in their life.
‘It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to talk through ending an abusive relationship with someone supportive you trust,’ she said.
‘You may not be aware of how far the controlling partner is prepared to go to prevent you from leaving them, so support is so needed.
She advised anyone who wants to walk away to talk to their friends and family, ensuring there is a place to stay if needed, or even just a listening ear.
Cathy added if someone has serious concerns for their safety, they should speak to a professional, and suggested contacting a charity like Women’s Aid or Refuge.
‘Work with your sources of support to create a proper plan for safely leaving the relationship,’ she said.
‘Cover what you will do if things don’t go as planned and how to get the best out of your support network particularly when you are having a wobble or doubt about your decision to leave.’