Are you going through a rough patch with your partner? Or is this new fight, hostile communication, or controlling-behaviours is just another sign that you are engaged in a toxic relationship?
Loving someone who makes you feel drained all the time is hard. Especially when that person knows how to come back to you after hurting your mental, emotional, or physical well-being. Toxic relationships are real! While sometimes it is easy for us to recognize faults and burdens in others’ relationships, we may turn a blind eye to what’s happening on our own.
That is why in this post, we will talk about all things related to toxic relationships. First, we will start by exploring what a toxic relationship is and describing its most common signs. Then, after you recognize whether your relationship may fit into the category of “toxicity,” we will provide some tools to help you leave that kind of relationship.
Before we move on, we want to let you know that all the information in this post is not a replacement for therapy or seeking professional help. If you are reading this post because you are experiencing any other type of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, please get in touch with your local emergency phone number! You don’t deserve to be mistreated by anyone!
What Is a Toxic Relationship?
Katie Hood, CEO of One Love Foundation and TED speaker, speaks about an issue that affects most of us yet is often overlooked. In her TED talk, The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Love, she says: “There might not be a word in the dictionary that more of us are connected to than love. Yet, given its central importance in our lives, isn’t it interesting that we’re never explicitly taught how to love?”
Following Katie Hood’s line of thought, we want you to take a moment and answer this question: “What is love for you?”
If you look in the dictionary or ask people to give you a definition of “love,” most of them would agree that love is related to concepts like caring for, nurturing, protecting. Love is most of the time understood as deeply connecting positively with another human being.
Yes, there are going to be hard days along the way. Yes, there are going to be moments of sadness. However, when we love someone, these challenging instances would not overpower the meaningful connection with them.
We are talking about love because toxic relationships sometimes look like love, but they are not. But, what is the difference? Have you ever seen those Discovery Channel documentaries about poisonous plants or animals? Often, they are absolutely beautiful. But once we get in contact with them, they may release substances in our bodies that may cause us a lot of illnesses or even death.
Well, toxic relationships operate similarly. On the surface, it may look like love. The other person may have attractive qualities that would make us fall for that person. But, in reality, we may be dating or engaged with someone who makes us feel continuously drained, stressed, overwhelmed, or even afraid.
What Are The Signs Of A Toxic Relationship?
Depending on our cultural or family background or self-esteem level, it is sometimes hard to recognize if we are engaged in a toxic relationship. For example, perhaps we grew up in a house with dysfunctional family dynamics, where yelling or lack of appreciation were part of our daily lives. Maybe we come from a culture with a restrictive gender stereotype that dictates how men and women behave in a relationship. Or perhaps we have been too dependent on other people to define our value as a person.
There may be a wide range of reasons that may lead us to engage in a toxic relationship. What matters is that you learn to identify if you are currently involved in one.
Here is a list of red flags that you may want to look for:
A continuous sense of dishonesty characterizes toxic relationships. We are not talking about those white lies that all of us tell from time to time when we want to avoid something, like doing house chores or skipping a boring party. Instead, dishonesty in a relationship may take the form of feeling that your partner is frequently lying or cheating on you. Or that you may feel compelled to lie to avoid violent reprisals from your partner.
Does your partner want to know your whereabouts or with whom you are all the time? Does your partner feel irrationally upset if you hang out with your friends, coworkers, or family members? Have you realized that your partner is checking your calls or texts messages?
Controlling behaviours may take many shapes and forms. While some people may find it romantic when their partners feel a little jealous if someone tries to flirt with them at a bar, controlling behaviour is way more than that. Unhealthy relationships are characterized by a need to control the other person’s social relationships and overall life.
You may realize that your partner feels jealous if a stranger flirts with you and if you go out to have coffee with your friends or attend a work lunch. But, remember, jealousy is not a sign of love but a sign of possession.
Did you know there are 4 types of communication styles? Passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. Depending on our mood, the topic of the conversation, or with whom we are talking to, most of us may use one of these styles more strongly than the others. By this, we mean that none of us speaks assertively or aggressively 100% of the time.
However, in a toxic relationship unhealthy style of communication often predominates. Most of the time, one partner is aggressive, while the other is passive. In some cases, a partner may engage in passive-aggressive communication to manipulate the relationship to her advantage. Hostile communication is not only harmful but is also used as a way to avoid accountability and exercise power over the other person. Some people may use these unhealthy communication styles to emotionally abuse their partners, so the victim may feel drawn to feed the aggressor’s ego.
Here are some red-flags examples:
- “Are you stupid? I’m the only one who always does things right!”
- “Your family doesn’t care for you. I’m the only one who loves you.”
- “You are so useless! You should feel ashamed of yourself.”
- “Do you prefer to go out with your friend rather than stay with me???”
- “It was your fault that I cheated. You gave me no other choice.”
- “You HAVE to forgive me. No one else loves you as I do.”
- Different kinds of name-calling.
Feeling Drained Or Stressed All The Time
There’s nothing wrong with feeling upset with your partner from time to time. After all, none of us is perfect, and sometimes we can irritate others with our words or behaviours. However, there is a line between feeling upset with someone for a specific situation and feeling stressed out or drained every time you are around that person.
When your relationship begins to affect your mental health, that is a sign that something is going wrong. There are many reasons why this may occur. Perhaps you are feeling that the relationships gravitate only towards satisfying the needs of your partner. Maybe you are just exhausted from trying to “fix” your partner’s attitudes or behaviours. Or perhaps your relationship became too demanding or too time-consuming.
Whatever the reason may be, there’s a time when we may start to think if that type of relationship is what we were looking for or not.
So, How Do You Leave A Toxic Relationship When You Love Someone?
First of all, leaving someone you love is hard. We are not going to lie to you about that. However, there’s a point where you may have to ask yourself what is keeping you from leaving someone who is making you feel miserable and worthless. In other words, why are you prolonging suffering that you can avoid?
This section will offer you some guidelines about steps you can take to start detaching yourself from a toxic relationship.
Step 1: Avoid Denial
Please, stop making excuses for your partner’s behaviour! When you constantly have to justify your partner’s attitudes, actions, or words before your family and friends, that is a sign that something is not working. Toxic relationships often endure because none of the people involved take accountability for their actions. When you justify your partner’s behaviours, the only message you are sending is that it is okay to continue doing whatever they are doing because you will continue to tolerate it.
Step 2: Stop Waiting for Your Partner to Change
Sometimes we engage in relationships with the spirit of a saviour. But, unfortunately, you cannot help a person who does not want to change. Unfortunately, some people have had a relationship with their unhealthy habits for longer than they have spent with us. But it is not your role to try to “fix” those issues. The only person who can genuinely help your partner to change is your partner. And it is up to your partner to be accountable for their changing process.
As mental health therapists, we know that sometimes our clients are not ready to change, despite all the efforts we may put into helping them. The same thing happens in a romantic relationship. You may approach your partner time after time with all your good spirit and energy trying to elicit change. Still, if your partner is not open to receiving help, you may just be talking to a wall.
Understandably, you may feel frustrated or heartbroken, especially if you have invested lots of energy in trying to help that person. But if you are with that person only because you want to “change” them, that may not be real love but co-dependency.
So, at this point, we want to ask you, what is the basis of your relationship? If your partner continues to engage in the same behaviours for another year, would you still be with that person?
Step 3: Accept That You're Only in Control of Your Actions
YES! YOU DO HAVE A CHOICE! You have the choice of staying in a relationship that is making you suffer or moving on to a new chapter in your life. Breaking up is difficult, but at the end of the day, remember that you have value as a human being, and you have a choice. If you feel that you no longer want to be in a relationship, it is okay! You can choose with whom you want to spend your next months, years, or even the rest of your life.
Step 4: Establish And Maintain Very Clear Boundaries
Suppose you and your partner are not on the same page about ending the relationship. In that case, you must establish clear boundaries. Toxic relationships often lack boundaries. One person feels that she may impose her will or control the life of the other. During the breakup process, those behaviours can become worse, which is why you must stay faithful to your boundaries.
Suppose you do not know how to detach yourself from your partner. In that case, you may want to start thinking about limiting contact with that person and having a digital detox. Also, you may want to start looking for activities that may allow you to rebuild your life and regain your sense of self after going through a toxic relationship.
In the beginning, maintaining your boundaries may feel awkward or complicated, but remember, they will be your best allies in helping to let go of that relationship.
Step 5: Lean on Friends and Family
Healthy relationships can heal unhealthy relationships. We are not talking about leaving your partner and jumping into the dating arena to find another one. No, we are talking about taking the time to surround yourself with people you love and make you feel loved. That may be your best friend, your mom, your grandfather, or your sister. During and after a breakup you may want to be with people who support you during challenging times, appreciate you, and give you space to regain your sense of self without pressure.
Violence and Abuse are NOT A FORM OF LOVE
In this post, we have explored the topic of a toxic relationship. Unfortunately, for some people, unhealthy relationships can include different forms of violence and abuse. If you don’t know how to leave your abusive partner out of fear that the person may harm you, please, try to seek help as soon as possible. If you live in Canada and are in an emergency, call 911. You may also find additional family violence resources on this government website: https://www.canada.ca/
How To Get Help
Are you reading this post because you realized that you are in a toxic relationship? You are not alone! We know that ending a romantic relationship is not easy, especially if you have spent a significant part of your life with that person.
We want to tell you that you don’t have to face that process all by yourself. There are caring therapists here who may help you to walk that process. So please, let us know how we may better serve you at this challenging point in your life.
You may request a free 15-mins consultation with us to give us an idea of the issue you may want to discuss. Afterward, we will make an individualized plan to meet your needs and provide you with services that fit your particular situation.
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