Toxic relationships involve both partnerships and marriages. A relationship in which one partner endures mistreatment and is unwilling or unable to break free from it can be described as toxic. Such a relationship undermines self-esteem and is destructive, and the suppressed partner often does not even realise it. A toxic relationship can be equated with a constant sense of guilt – we believe that our partner can change, that if we try harder, everything will be as it should be, and that all failures and problems are only our fault. We slowly lose our self-esteem and forgive the lies and humiliations, grasping at the few good moments. When the awareness of the harmfulness of such a relationship emerges, leaving is usually not easy. The victim remains dependent on the dominant partner and does not believe that he or she deserves better.
Toxic relationship and fear of living alone
Toxic relationships most often involve people whose emotional needs were not met in childhood – they grew up in incomplete families or did not receive enough support and affection. Lacking role models of proper relationships, they do not realise that they are entitled to a sense of security and acceptance from their partner. They choose aloof, lifeless people, believing that they are able to change reality and that the survival of the relationship depends on them. Some are unable to live outside the relationship, so the fear of loneliness is stronger than the objection to the behaviour of a toxic partner.
When is a relationship toxic?
Symptoms characteristic of a toxic relationship are:
-low self-esteem – this is the result of your partner blaming you for any failures, belittling your qualities and attractiveness,
-emotional blackmail – your partner enforces certain behaviours by appealing to your love or threatening you, e.g. by leaving,
-lack of emotional connection – your partner does not share things from his or her life with you (such as everyday issues, successes or failures),
-inducing feelings of guilt – your partner blames you for any failures,
-feelings of loneliness – your partner does not give you the support you expect, you solve problems and organise your life on your own,
-lies – your partner creates an image of themselves by deflecting all responsibility, often lies and makes up untruths about a situation,
-quarrels – your partner often provokes quarrels, can be aggressive and hurls insults,
-physical violence – your partner is physically abusive towards you and may become violent.
Where do you draw the line between a toxic relationship and a normal relationship?
In every relationship there are better and worse days. However, if the balance is disrupted and one partner is uncomfortable and insecure, the relationship may be toxic. How can you tell if you or your partner is toxic?
“You’re overreacting”, “You’re making things up again!”
If your partner disregards your reactions and considers them inappropriate to the situation, it makes you start to wonder if he or she is wrong. Over time, you gain the conviction that what you are feeling or doing is wrong, that you are always the one at fault. Such behaviour is known as emotional invalidation. Your partner belittles your achievements, criticises you, makes you lose your self-esteem. In this way, he or she makes you dependent and increases his or her advantage.
According to your partner, you are responsible for every conflict and problem in your relationship, he is able to point out even the smallest mistake or failure to you, while justifying his behaviour. You never hear the word “sorry”. This blame-shifting is characteristic of toxic relationships, where the partner does not take responsibility for his or her actions.
“No secrets”, “I want to go with you”.
The partner gradually makes you dependent and your life revolves around the relationship. Privacy is practically non-existent – the partner shares intimate information about you, reads your correspondence, does not respect your choices because he or she knows better what is good for you. In such a relationship, the dominant party takes control of the other person’s life, creating a strong co-dependency.
“You’re not going anywhere”, “You must be crazy”.
The toxic partner uses their advantage to isolate you from family and friends and control all aspects of your life. Everything you do, you do wrong, your behaviour is inappropriate and any stumbles are punished. Your partner controls your spending and interactions with other people. Dominance in a toxic relationship means inducing shame in order to gain control over the other person.
“We’ll talk some other time”, “I’ll come back when you’ve calmed down”.
Your partner uses rejection to punish you and your relationship often goes through ‘quiet days’. The loss of closeness and attention and the lack of empathy from your partner further undermine your wellbeing and diminish your self-worth, making you feel guilty again, even if the fault lies with the other person.
What should I do if my relationship is toxic?
Do you recognise these behaviours? Or are you toxic yourself? If you are experiencing the above symptoms in your relationship, it’s worth reviewing the relationship carefully and calmly. And also talk to someone you trust to determine if the relationship is in crisis or if you are stuck in a toxic relationship that is slowly destroying you.
Can a toxic relationship be repaired?
A toxic relationship is a codependency that needs to be treated. Destructive dependence on your partner is dangerous and can lead to devastation and self-destruction. The basis of dealing with the problem is to realise that the relationship is toxic and that our love is mainly a dependency on our partner. It is also important to understand that we cannot change the other person and instead of constantly sacrificing ourselves, we should focus on ourselves. Changing beliefs and attitudes is difficult and takes time, so it is often necessary to involve a third party. If the relationship is toxic, it can be helpful to talk to a close, trusted person and to see a specialist – a psychologist or psychotherapist – who can help put the relationship into perspective and point us in the direction we need to go, building the relationship virtually from scratch. Unfortunately, however, it is usually too late to save what two people had in common. Definitely do not fight for a partner who is physically or psychologically abusive.
When to end a toxic relationship?
A toxic relationship involves crossing physical and psychological boundaries, abusing and manipulating the other person. If a partner consciously and willfully disregards the needs of the other party and repeatedly uses violence of any kind, physical or emotional, he or she will not care about healing the relationship. A toxic partner is a person who gains self-confidence by taking it away from others. He or she takes control and dominates the mentally weaker partner because it makes him or her feel superior and more important. In toxic relationships, there is often morbid jealousy of the partner who wants to control every aspect of the other person’s life, isolating them from the outside world and making them as dependent as possible. This is what causes him or her to take control of spending, limit meetings with friends or influence the way they behave and dress.
Physical violence is very common in toxic relationships. Arguments, name-calling and hand-wringing are the order of the day, and the stifled partner is always blamed for this type of behaviour. Sometimes the addiction is so strong that we cannot imagine life without the other person. A toxic relationship should be ended as soon as possible when the partner is consciously manipulating us and is not going to change or fight to save the relationship.