The term “toxic relationship”, coined from Voices, The Journal of the American Academy of Psychotherapists in 1972 states, that the relationship manifests itself from loneliness and the desire to be with someone, regardless of whether they are good for them or not. People involved in toxic relationships and I quote:
“are likely to have deep resentments towards each other, which they dare not reveal for fear of being abandoned. For them a toxic relationship is better than none”.
Understanding what a toxic relationship is and the associated signs associated, it is important to ensure you do not become entangled in one.
How do they begin?
Part of our psychology is that we prefer to be physically and emotionally close to each other. Yet, relationships come with a host of challenges and difficulties we must overcome in order to truly appreciate the benefits, nothing good ever came easy, right?
Essentially, there are three simple types of relationships; the ones that take a little work, one’s that present challenges but are worth it and finally, the one’s best avoided. Let’s start with the good.
Relationships take work, even the good ones, and there’s no escaping that. Take family or friends as an example, at some point in our lives, we have argued or become angered with them. Whether it’s due to stress, not seeing them enough, differences in political and social opinions or simply eating too loudly, we work through these minor grievances and build better relationships from them.
Being accommodating and understanding plays a huge role in every aspect of relationship development, whether it’s friends, family or your relationship.
Then there’s the relationships that are more difficult to manage but are worth the extra work because they have potential. Long distance relationships are a good example of a difficult but worthwhile investment, because you share the same endgame: to make the relationship work. If the trust is there and you’re seeing each other as often as possible, the hard work will all be worth it.
Then there are toxic relationships. There are varying degrees of these kinds of relationships (explored later) and failing to manage them correctly can be harmful and emotionally taxing. Toxic relationships are best avoided but that’s easier said than done.
What initially looks to be a relationship with potential, can quickly spiral into something which leaves you resenting each other, and knowing how to manage these relationships is the key to “fixing” them or removing yourself from the equation altogether.
Signs of a toxic relationship
If your partner:
- Constantly damages your self esteem;
- Is not supportive;
- Has you doubting yourself;
- Makes you feel insecure;
- Shrugs off your feelings both publicly and privately.
They may harbour some positive characteristics that seemingly outweigh their destructive traits, but it’s important to ask yourself if you feel your partner is displaying any of the above. Identifying these traits is important to work towards a resolution and improve upon or end your relationship.
The different types of toxic relationships
Ralph Ryback states that while there are several different types of toxic relationships, there are five core signs to look out for:
The constant critic – people in a toxic relationship often struggle to differentiate advice from criticism. The criticism makes you feel belittled and no matter how hard you try, you can never do anything right. They will criticise the person instead of the behaviour, for example, they may say “you are late again, you are a bad boyfriend/girlfriend” as opposed to “is there a reason you’re late? Are you okay? Is there anything I can do to help?”
It may seem obvious, but when you’re in a toxic relationship, it’s easy to miss these signs or wrongly assume that you are in the wrong.
The passive aggressive – leaving a post-it note on the kitchen fridge that says “why did you use all the milk? I’m getting so fed up of this” is a typical example of someone being passive aggressive. You may find that when they are approached, their response is usually blunt and defeatist. This leaves you backtracking through texts trying to understand what you did wrong, if anything. Responding sarcastically or cyclically when you’re trying to solve the root of an issue is the sign of a passive aggressor.
The narcissist – although considered a personality disorder, narcissists can make relationships very one-sided and therefore extremely difficult. They constantly belittle and look down on you, no matter how educated and experienced you are. Their unwillingness to compromise or see even minor flaws in themselves can make enjoying their company seem impossible. They will also constantly attempt to remain in the spotlight, regardless of the scenario (your birthday, for example). If they ever feel hurt or rejected, their lack of empathy can see them carelessly ruin everything and everyone around them.
The evader – these types of people refuse to properly communicate and evade important issues. This can make you feel ignored and unvalued, and make talking about serious topics in the relationship very difficult. The longer these issues are neglected, the worse they become because they are not being properly communicated and communication is the key to a successful relationship.
The deprecator – your partner will not allow you to voice your opinions or concerns; you feel as though you have to pretend to be someone you’re not in order to be accepted by that person. They may publicly or privately shame you in an attempt to ‘control’ your behaviour and even your happiness. This control will slowly damage your self-esteem and your integrity.
However, if you are experiencing physical abuse in a relationship, you must separate from them immediately. No matter how apologetic they may appear, you must hold a zero-tolerance stance regarding domestic abuse. If you want to get out of a toxic relationship or if you are concerned about someone who is, you can call a team member at SafeLives on 0808 2000 247 (lines are open 24/7).
Can you fix a toxic relationship?
Fixing a toxic relationship really depends on the definition of “fixing”. You will never be able to change your partner but you can change yourself and the way you approach and address elements of the relationship. Confronting the toxic behaviour is the first step to fixing it, this can be done by addressing the concerns and talking through them with your partner.
Confidence plays a key role in confronting toxic behaviour and you have to believe in yourself and that you deserve to be treated with respect and integrity. If their reaction is hostile and they refuse to change their ways, you may want to consider taking a break from the relationship. This will give both of you time to assess the relationship and identify what you want from it and if your desires are realistic. In short, if you are willing and prepared to leave the toxic relationship, there’s a higher chance you will be able to fix it.
Codependency is a term often associated and ascribed to toxic relationships. This codependency may derive from low self-esteem and the fear of being alone, or isolated. This often leads people to remain in toxic relationships, unbeknownst that it’s negatively affecting their lives. If you are suffering with self-esteem issues, I suggest reading Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend or Melody Beattie’s best seller, Codependent No More.
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