July 1st, 2020

What Is a Toxic Relationship, and How Can You Get Out of One?

Grayscale image of a woman holding her face in her hands.

A toxic relationship is one in which one partner’s bad behavior results in physical, mental, and emotional damage to the other partner. It can be difficult to realize that you’re in a toxic relationship. The person who is suffering because of a bad relationship is often confused or unsure of what’s happening.

People in healthy relationships feel heard, understood, and respected. They believe that their partners care about how they feel. Those involved in a toxic relationship feel the complete opposite. One or both partners may feel unheard. They may feel that the other person doesn’t have their best interests at heart.

Toxic relationships often involve physical, emotional, and mental abuse. However, not all toxic relationships are abusive. Nevertheless, a toxic relationship can cause long-term harm. It may lead to self-destructive behavior or addiction. If you believe that you’re in a toxic relationship, read on to learn the signs and what you can do.

Signs of a toxic relationship

A toxic relationship is often volatile. One or both partners overreact to their environment or to the other person’s actions. One or both partners may behave in toxic ways. According to Healthline, the following are signs of a toxic relationship:

  • Lack of support
  • Toxic communication
  • Jealousy
  • Controlling behaviors
  • Resentment
  • Dishonesty
  • Patterns of disrespect
  • Poor decisions about money
  • Constant stress from walking on eggshells
  • Threats or acts of physical harm/violence
  • Financial control

A toxic relationship is not necessarily abusive. Abusive relationships are most typically about control, as opposed to mere overreaction. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline “nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.” Furthermore, “1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by a partner in their lifetime.”

However, it can be hard for outsiders to recognize the signs of physical, and especially emotional abuse. Victims often develop a level of dependence on their abuser, and they may be cut off from other close personal relationships.

According to Mental Help, the following are common signs of abuse in a relationship:

  • Physical or verbal assaults and demeaning comments
  • Isolating a victim from his or her family and friends
  • Humiliation
  • Exerting extreme control in the relationship

Effects of toxic relationships

Toxic relationships can affect every aspect of someone’s life. They can have disastrous consequences for both partners. A hostile relationship or a toxic home environment can be detrimental to your health. And if you’re recovering from substance abuse disorder, you need loving support to heal. Living with a hostile or abusive partner can cause significant harm if there are children in the household, and can be dangerous to your recovery.

A couple of studies looked at the results of living in a toxic relationship. They found that toxic close relationships increase the risk of heart disease and accelerate age-related diseases. Other effects of a toxic relationship may include the following:

  • Mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression
  • Substance use disorder
  • Issues at work or school
  • Physical health issues
  • Problems at home with your kids

How to get out of a toxic relationship

Whether you want to stay in the relationship or get out, it’s important to take the right steps to make your wishes a reality. Handling the situation will require hard work and action. It may not be easy, but few things worth gaining ever are. Here’s what you can do:

Make sure that you are safe

Above all else, make sure that you are safe. If you realize that you are the one whose behavior is toxic, avoid any conditions that trigger the behavior that is harming your partner. If you are the victim of the toxic hostility, make sure that you are safe and not at risk of being harmed physically, emotionally, sexually, or financially. You may need to reach out for help from a loved one or a professional.

Is the relationship worth saving?

If the relationship isn’t harming you physically, mentally, or emotionally, you may need to do some soul searching to decide if the relationship is worth saving. What is the root cause of the toxicity? Have you had a series of toxic relationships? Do they follow some sort of pattern?

Some relationships should not be saved. Some cannot be saved. Some can be saved, but only if one or both partners do a lot of growth work. One or both partners may realize they need time to focus on themselves and their problems. Or they may refuse to recognize their issues. This refusal makes it impossible for the relationship to heal.

Get professional help

Talking with a therapist or getting professional help with addictive behavior could provide you with the guidance you need to understand the nature of your toxic relationship. A professional can help you address the causes of, issues in, and consequences of the relationship.

Heal independently

Whether you’re the victim or the cause of the toxicity, the journey to healing is an individual one. It would be best if you took the time to focus on your own recovery process. Whether you stay in or leave the relationship, you must address your role in the toxic relationship and work on your growth, independent from your partner.

If you both choose to continue in the relationship after you’ve done your personal work, you could come together as a couple to continue the healing process with guidance from a counselor or professional.

Put your own health first

If you decide to leave, stick with your decision. It’s normal to miss someone who is no longer in your life, but it’s important to put your health and wellness first. Remember why you chose to end the relationship. You took your time to make a careful decision. You probably suffered longer than you needed to. Forgive yourself for any regrets. Forgive the other person, but don’t forget. As you heal set boundaries for yourself, and more importantly, stick to them. Don’t create a boundary you aren’t willing to uphold, and finally, move on knowing that you’re wiser — and with the hope that there are better things to come.

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