What is a toxic relationship?

It is a relationship that damages the self-esteem of the people involved in it, and features a lot of dysfunction. Simply put, a toxic relationship is not a safe place for one or both of the partners to feel safe, supported, and fully accepted. A toxic relationship is often characterized by insecurity, self-centeredness, dominance, and control. The toxic partner regularly acts controlling and manipulative.

Spotting toxicity in relationships can be difficult. We build powerful habits and attachments in long-term relationships, and our feelings can often mask issues. Toxic patterns are often misinterpreted as passion in relationships, or justified as frequent fighting that equals caring greatly about one another. True toxic relationships are harmful to one’s emotional health, and impact everyone around, including children that may be living with the toxic couple. Below are some specific types of relationship behaviors that suggest toxicity.

Characteristics of toxic relationships

Toxic relationships always feature some sort of imbalance, and unhealthy behaviors. These include:

  • Substance abuse – any substance abuse within a relationship will immediately render it toxic. If there are drugs or alcohol abuse present, ending the toxic relationship and seeking help is essential.
  • Physical or emotional abuse – as with the previous example, seeking immediate help and getting into a safe environment is of paramount importance in these cases.
  • Putting down and belittling behaviors – these are often delivered as “jokes”, but they are meant to control the partner by lowering their self-esteem over time.
  • Anger management issues – yelling, rage, and angry outbursts are all toxic within a relationship.
  • Inducing guilt – if your partner is constantly making you feel guilty about your actions and decisions, it is a controlling and toxic dynamic.

Deflection of issues / chronic defensiveness

Bringing up issues and negative feelings to your partner with the intention of resolving them is normal, but the toxic partner regularly deflects issues and blames his / her partner, regardless of the specifics of the situation.

  • Over dependence – when a partner expects to have all of your time to him / herself, refuses to make decisions and generally acts very passive, leaving all decision-making to his / her partner, it qualifies as a toxic pattern that creates imbalance.
  • Unreliable behavior – this is often disguised as “independence” within a relationship, but if a partner does not keep his / her promises and does not fully show up in a reliable way, the relationship could become toxic.
  • Using a partner – when one partner uses another for money, sex, housing, connections, or anything else, and that is the basis for the relationship for him / her, a toxic dynamic is quickly created.
  • Highly Possessive / Jealous Behavior – healthy relationships have independence and trust, toxic relationships have a partner that questions where his / her mate is at all times, checks on him / her and limits his / her independent time.

If you are regularly in conflict with your partner, find that you are walking around on eggshells, are chronically exhausted, anxious or depressed as a result of the conflicts with your significant other, you are likely in a toxic relationship.

Once you identify that your relationship is indeed toxic, there are a couple of paths you can take to get to a better place.

  • Tip 1 – End the Relationship and Seek Therapy

Experts recommend severing the relationship fully, particularly if there is physical, emotional, or substance abuse involved. If you choose to leave the relationship, it is important that you seek professional help – usually in the form of therapy – to support you as you navigate a very painful situation. Therapy can also help you rebuild the confidence and security that you lost in the relationships.

  • Tip 2 – Seek Professional Help as a Couple

In some cases, if both partners seek professional help and are committed to fixing the dysfunctions, the relationship can be salvaged. This requires an extended period of therapy, mutual commitment to honesty and transparency and the desire to explore how one ended up exercising toxic patterns. Toxic relationships, and their aftereffects are very challenging things – don’t go it alone. Utilize therapy, support groups, community relationships, trusted friends and family to get to a better, healthier place