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Toxic relationship: Why it happens and when to run away

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Relationships take hard work; we’ve all heard it before. But how do you know when a relationship is just going through a rough patch, or when it’s broken from the inside out? A toxic relationship can be one of the worst partnerships you may ever experience, and when you find yourself trapped in one, your entire life can go on hold.

In this article, we dissect the toxic relationship – understanding what it is, why it happens, the signs of a toxic relationship, when to know if you should leave it or fix it, and how to move on even while you are still in love.

What is a Toxic Relationship?

A toxic relationship is described in the name – a relationship that has gone sour.

When a relationship becomes toxic, every interaction in the relationship can feel wrong or out of place, brimming with negative energy that makes both partners uncomfortable, angry, and disappointed.

When a person is trapped in a toxic relationship, they can find it difficult if not impossible to pry themselves out without significant effort. There are a number of reasons for this, such as:

The relationship was once healthy and happy, and a part of you still sees it that way, even if most of it has become toxic

You do not want to believe that the person you loved has become a source of negative energy for you

 You do not want to believe that you have become trapped in a relationship, as you might feel that you are too emotionally mature to fall into something like that

But even the best relationships can fall into toxic tendencies until the relationship itself becomes a toxic breeding pool of negative energy.

Habits that might have been considered cute quirks in the past might now seem like the most annoying things in the world, and attempts to fix the relationship can be misinterpreted as passive aggressive energy.

Healthy Relationships Toxic Relationships
Compassion, respectfulness, freedom of thought, listening, security, caring, safety, mutual love, healthy disagreements, sharing Insecurity, jealousy, negativity, power abuse, distrust, demeaning attitudes, unnecessary comments, selfishness, demandingness, excessive criticism, self-centeredness

When you find yourself in a toxic relationship or suspect that you might possibly be in a toxic relationship, it is time to understand it – then fix it or leave.

Why Do Healthy Relationships Become Toxic?

Healthy relationships are filled with love. Whether it’s with a best friend, a parent, or a romantic partner, a healthy relationship is a source of positivity, happiness, and love; emotions that make us feel good and fulfilled and ready to conquer the world.

So it should make sense that everyone involved wants to do everything in their power to maintain the health of such relationships.

However, time after time, healthy relationships fall apart.

Couples who once seemed bound to spend the rest of their lives together making stupid inside jokes eventually end up bickering and sniping at each other, turning ordinary situations into sources of hate and bitterness.

How does this happen, and why does it happen so frequently? Why do so many relationships fail to protect the “goodness” of their bond, letting it break down and fall apart?

Here are a few reasons why even the most romantic people find themselves struggling with love:

1) Boredom

Common lines:

“We never do anything together.”

“You want to eat there again?”

“I’m so sick of you.”

The first reason is also the simplest – people get bored. Many people treat dating like a hobby.

They swipe on dating apps, send out virtual likes and hugs and kisses, and find themselves thrilled by the excitement of dressing up, looking nice, and going out to meet a new potential partner for the first time.

Dinner, laughter, and if everything goes well, maybe even sex.

Without realizing it, countless men and women in their 20s and 30s have turned dating into their primary hobby.

While other people spend their weekend nights reading books or playing video games, daters are out dating. And the problem is they don’t realize it.

So when they eventually find “the one” that makes them delete their dating apps and stop spending every weekend night out on the town on a date, they lose the primary time dump that had been keeping them occupied for years.

This is replaced by the novelty of love and commitment and building a life with a new person, but eventually, that novelty fades away.

The act of simply passively being together becomes less enticing, and maintaining excitement becomes an active requirement.

The novelty of being in love and just hanging out on the couch becomes boring, and partners are required to actively work to keep the relationship alive.

This means going out on surprise dates, planning new activities, and just simply trying to move forward.

But it requires the participation of both partners; if only one partner is actively planning activities to do and events to attend, they will feel annoyed that all the effort is coming from them.

After months or years of this, you end up with a relationship with partners who are technically still in love but exhausted and disappointed.

They want something more from their life, and they have convinced themselves that they found the person they want to do it with, but they no longer have the energy to even bother.

2) Missed Expectations

Common lines:

“Why don’t you ever want to do anything?”

“I’m just trying to make you better.”

  “I’m happy with the way I am!”

A serious relationship is so much more than just dating.

Whereas dating is spontaneous and mysterious and exciting, a serious relationship is supposed to evolve beyond that.

Not only are you committing your love to your partner, but you are committing your time, your resources, and your entire life.

And that means your life is no longer your life. It becomes partly your partner’s life as well, and their life becomes partly yours.

Their failures are your failures, and their successes are your successes. The more they put into life, the more they will get out of it, and the more you will, too.

So what does this mean? It means that both parties have to be on the same page when it comes to what they want out of life.

Some people are happy to simply be alive – pay their bills, spend their nights and weekends relaxing at home with the family and enjoy the occasional luxury.

But other people want more.

Maybe they want to eventually make more money, or move to another country or a bigger home, or achieve greater personal goals, such as starting a business or engaging in higher levels of education or earning awards in their field of interest.

It can be difficult to talk about this, especially in the earlier stages of a relationship.

What we expect of ourselves and what we want from our own life to reach our own perception of happiness is a very personal desire, and when this doesn’t align with our partner’s goals, it can cause deeply personal rifts in the relationship.

If two partners decide to stay together, one has to compromise for the other – either the more ambitious partner has to set their goals lower and start feeling like their partner held them back, or they keep achieving their goals, and eventually feel that they have outgrown their partner and have to move on.

 3) Long-Term Resentment

Common lines:

“I’ve asked you not to do that a thousand times.”

“When are you ever going to learn?”

“Do you think an apology makes it okay?

Resentment. No matter how emotionally mature you might be, it can be difficult to erase deep scars in your heart.

When someone hurts you at the level that only your closest partner can hurt you, those pains last a long time – if not forever.

Cheating, physical abuse, verbal abuse – all of these are grounds for huge sources of resentment.

Even if you and your partner eventually move on and try to stick together afterward, with the intention to treat each other better, the pain of being hurt stays with you.

It becomes a part of who you are, and every day you look at yourself in the mirror and see: I’m the person who was abused, or cheated on, or hurt by the person who is supposed to love me.

But it doesn’t require a huge act of betrayal to cause resentment.

We spend years and decades with our chosen partner, and overall that time, even the small things can cause resentment that no one else can understand.

Maybe your partner rolls their eyes at you whenever you try to suggest a new restaurant or meal; maybe your partner has a bad habit of interrupting you when you’re trying to talk to your friends.

Maybe you don’t like the way they don’t respond when you try to call them out in the house; maybe you are tired of how they forget to include the little thing you asked for from the grocery store.

This long-term resentment is a byproduct of not feeling loved.

We talk to our partner about the things that bother us, the things we wish they would do differently, but when we see that those habits continue to persist, we feel unloved.

After all, if your partner still loved you, wouldn’t they make an effort to remember your request?

It’s not enough to break up with them, which makes it so difficult. Just enough to start resenting them slowly, day by day.

10 Top Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Do you believe that you might be in a toxic relationship? Here are the 10 most common signs of toxicity in relationships:

1) Mutual Avoidance – You used to love spending time together, but now you think of any reason to avoid each other. You sigh in relief when your partner has to go out of town for a few days.

2) Continuous Self-Betrayal – You have opinions and likes and dislikes, but you find yourself constantly doing something other than what you feel is right, just to please your partner, because you do not want to make them unhappy.

3) Lack of Autonomy – You have lost your identity, and with that, you lost your self-worth. You don’t remember the last time you made a decision that was just up to you. Your entire life is now a “we”.

4) Little White Lies – Your relationship has become peppered with little white lies, simply because you don’t want to waste time explaining the truth, and also because you just don’t want to tell the truth.

5) Nothing You Do Is Right – There is criticism about everything. Every time you do something, they always have a comment about what you did wrong or how you could have done it better. They don’t know how to appreciate you anymore.

6) Unhappiness – You are just generally unhappy and negative. When they enter the room, your first thought is, “God, what now?”

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7) A Partner of Victimhood – Maybe you and your partner have gone through some rough times and you’re trying to move on, but you can’t, because they keep referring to the past, painting themselves as the victim. The effort to be better is just one-way.

8) Envy and Jealousy – Instead of celebrating you for your personal awards and achievements, they only take away envy and jealousy, wishing they could have it and making you feel bad for it.

9) Endless Drama – No matter how plain and simple your life might be, your partner always magically finds a way to stir up some new drama.

10) Persistent Disrespect – Your partner actively disrespects you in ways that are absolutely unnecessary, even when no fight is occurring.

If you still aren’t certain that you are trapped in a toxic relationship, just ask yourself the following questions:

1) Is your partner happy with who you are, or do you have to constantly be a different “you” to make them happy?

2) Is your “give and take” equal, or is one person putting or taking more?

3) Do you feel better or worse about who you are after you spend time with your partner?

4) Do you have more moments of anger and drama, or more moments of contentment and happiness?

5) Do you generally feel drained or energized when you are with your partner?

Your Toxic Relationship: Leave It Or Fix It

Ending relationships, especially one that you love being in, isn’t always straightforward. Keep in mind that there are subtle differences between toxic relationships and those that need a little bit more work.

Knowing the nuances between the two will guide you into taking the next best step for you and your relationship. Here’s how to distinguish between the two:

Scenario Toxic Relationship Needs Work
You and your partner are hurtful towards each other There is no sign of remorse or no visible effort to change the behavior and cut the pattern Apologies are always made immediately after the fight and both of you make an effort to fight better next time 
You are having the same fights over and over again  The fights get progressively worse and you would rather shut down than participate You are willing to find better ways of communicating with each other
You experience trust or boundary issues  Your partner gaslights you and refuses to validate your emotions, and makes you feel guilty and responsible for theirs You offer compromises regarding staying in touch, spending time alone, while helping each other build confidence
You’re not sure how to communicate with each other The fight spirals out of control because one of you resorts to manipulation or childish behavior Instead of letting the issue fester, you try to chip away at the issue when you can until it’s completely resolved
You don’t enjoy their company anymore Fights spring out of nowhere out of habit, apathy, or pure malice. There is no longer respect or care for each other There is still underlying fondness and affection, tainted only by recent fights and arguments

When To Leave For Good

In some cases, relationships just need a bit of help and intervention.

But if you still feel like you’re trapped in a toxic relationship after sitting down and pouring your heart out to your partner, saying goodbye for good may be the only remedy. 

Staying in a toxic relationship, hoping they will change is only wishful thinking.

Time may be able to heal all wounds, but unfortunately, it doesn’t fix bad behavior and recurrent relationship problems. The longer you stay in a bad relationship, the deeper your emotional scars will be. 

Consider saying goodbye to your toxic relationship under the following circumstances: 

  • Your relationship is lopsided: Whether it’s affection, time, money, or just kind gestures, everything that you do can’t seem to be reciprocated by your partner. You feel like you have the responsibility to be more understanding of them, while they have a free pass to do whatever they want, usually at your expense. 
  • Your self-confidence and sense of self-worth is non-existent: You have felt worse and worse about yourself throughout the relationship. You find that you no longer quite understand who you are, and that your confidence is dependent on whether or not your partner approves of what you do. 
  • You have become dependent on your partner: The idea of spending a weekend without seeing each other is unthinkable. You are incapable of doing everyday things like going to the gym or performing chores without needing your partner by your side.

There are two possibilities to this: you have been led to believe that you need you partner to function in everyday life; or that you are imposing to spend time together, and are holding your partner back.

Either way, extreme dependency is not good for relationships. 

How To Leave A Toxic Relationship

Leaving a toxic relationship is a mindful solitary process.

Being entrenched in a destructive relationship for so long can alter the way you perceive relationships and happiness.

It could impact the way you interact with old friends and ultimately change who you are as a person. 

As such, you’re going to need time to reclaim your sense of worth, rebuild your confidence, and recalibrate your perception of what a healthy relationship should be.

It’s not going to be as easy as cutting off all ties with the other person – you have to be proactive in mending your broken heart. 

While You’re Still In Love Accept That You Can’t Change Your Partner

The one thing that stops people from leaving toxic relationships is hoping their partner will change. Understand that there is a difference between a toxic relationship and a toxic person. 

If the toxicity stems from one person alone, then the change has to come from them. Unfortunately, toxic people rarely see their murk of anger and viciousness, which is why they end up taking down others with them. 

Reach Out To Family and Friends

Leaving toxic relationships is a more delicate scenario than leaving other kinds of relationships.

As such, it’s best to be surrounded with friends and family who could show you just what love and caring should look like. 

Find And Save Resources

If you’re financially dependent on the other person, give yourself some time to secure some resources before ending the relationship.

Toxic people will have no problem kicking you out of the apartment or limiting your financial access the second you show dissent. 

Plan ahead and contact friends and family for a place to crash. If you share a bank account with your partner, talk to your bank about the situation and ask to get a separate account instead. 

After The Break-Up:

Cut Off All Communication 

There is a period after the break up when people feel elated and excited about their newfound freedom.

Building off this is crucial in successfully moving on from a toxic relationship. Don’t let your ex ruin this experience.

Make yourself inaccessible so you don’t have to hear any spiels on guilt, betrayal, and not trying hard enough. 

Rebuild Your Confidence 

After removing the noise from your life, it’s time to journey inwards. People who leave toxic relationships often have a broken sense of self.

Because of chronic exposure to harsh criticism, they no longer find peace in who they are as individuals. 

Surround yourself with friends and family, yes, but don’t live off of that forever. It’s easy to block the anxious voices in your head when you’re busy with others.

The only way you can truly unlock your confidence is by letting these voices out and talking to them. 

As much as your break up journey is about redefining your view on relationships, it’s also about reinforcing your individual self and finding new ways to stand on your own two feet.  

Moving Forward

Don’t Let It Define You

Getting out of a toxic relationship is difficult in itself, but what’s even harder is having to deal with the aftermath.

You might find yourself to be more defensive, hostile, and impatient after the relationship. You might have unknowingly let your previous relationship set the standard of what relationships should be. 

Leave the bad behavior where it belongs and focus on your perception of a good relationship.

Let bygones be bygones and strive to create better, healthier standards for a relationship centered on love, compassion, and respect. 

Don’t Be A Victim Forever

As humans, we tend to put traumatic experiences on a pedestal, and sometimes wear them as a badge of honor.

While it’s good to be proud of how you have managed to move on from such a low point of your life, this one chapter of your existence shouldn’t define you forever. 

Don’t let it creep into the other aspects of your life. Sometimes people who leave toxic relationships morph into their old exes as a form of reparation.

Avoid this by treating the relationship as a random chapter and not your life story. 

Is Your Behavior The Toxic Behavior? Here are 4 Signs

The decision to get out of a toxic relationship is rational.

After all, you don’t want to be with a person who can suck your soul dry. 

But what if that person is you? 

Every one of us wants to believe that we bring the good to every relationship. No one wants to admit they’re the toxic ones in the mix.

However, it’s important to remember that it takes two to tango, and that you might be unknowingly contributing to the toxicity in your relationship. 

Does this mean you’re a bad person?

Of course not. If you recognize your shortcomings and work towards improving them with your partner, it’s a clear sign you just need a little nudge in the right direction. 

1) You threaten to break up 

Alongside “I want to break up with you”, you use other emotional threats to get your way. Whenever you feel like you aren’t being heard, you resort to empty threats to get your partner in line.

How To Fix It: Agree on a safe word. When you’re reaching the end of your rope, say the safe word to let your partner know you’re close to bursting, without having to threaten a break up.

2) You’re not loyal to your partner

As a couple, you’re supposed to have each other’s backs no matter what. If you find yourself badmouthing your partner to your friends and family, you’re violating the privacy and sanctity of your relationship. 

How To Fix It: Vent to them instead. Pretend your partner is actually a friend or family member and talk about them as if they’re not in the room. This way, you’re openly communicating to your partner without sacrificing your need for emotional support. 

3) You never apologize

Maybe you believe you’re never wrong, or just enjoy having your partner fuss over you after a fight. Either way, refusal to apologize is childish behavior and it’s affecting your partner’s confidence. 

How To Fix It: Just apologize. No buts, no ifs, no becauses. If you’re at fault, apologize and find ways to resolve the issue. 

4) You’re insecure about yourself and the relationship

Self-sabotaging a perfectly happy relationship is a common manifestation of insecurity in relationships. As a result, you start fights out of nowhere or habitually make your partner feel bad. Maybe you tend to be jealous and manipulative. 

However it manifests, know that insecurity is the root of all evil in relationships. Don’t ask more of your partner and focus on improving yourself instead. 

How To Fix It: Get a hobby. Find something you can be good at and that you enjoy. Learn to enjoy spending time with yourself and you’ll be less controlling about the relationship. 

Understanding Toxic Relationships, Creating A Better You 

Toxic relationships and toxic partners are not the same. Toxic relationships stem from misunderstanding, discontent, and unhappiness. But it doesn’t mean these relationship problems can’t be fixed. With love and effort, toxic relationships can be restored to their former glory. 

On the other hand, toxic individuals will need a bit of work. Whether it’s you or your partner, accept the fact that sometimes the solution to your relationship isn’t always to solve it together. Whether it’s time apart or more time alone, being able to internalize toxic tendencies is crucial to fixing a toxic relationship. 

But when all else fails, know that a bad relationship is just a blip in an otherwise good life. Find positivity in everyday things and understand that a bad relationship is not going to haunt you forever.

NEW EBOOK: Toxic relationships can damage our sense of self-worth. In my best-selling eBook, The Art of Resilience: A Practical Guide to Mental Toughness, I equip you with the vital knowledge and tools you need to stare down any challenge – including those arising from toxic relationships. If you want to become emotionally ‘bulletproof’ in times of crisis, check out my eBook here

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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