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15 Signs of a Toxic Relationship

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15 Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Toxic relationships will cause monumental breakage to people, families and workplaces, but they aren’t necessarily the territory of the weak, downtrodden or insecure. Strong, healthy, independent people can find themselves in the white-knuckled grip of a toxic relationship. Similarly, relationships that seem to begin strong because ‘omg we’re soooo in love you guys,’ can dissolve into nothing but ash and legal fees that could have bought a castle on the river Seine, if they weren’t being used to divide half your assets more ‘half-ly’.

Relationships evolve. They change and they grow. Sometimes they crash and they burn. We never know how things will look when each other’s less adorable, kind of awful habits start to show themselves publicly, or under the influence of alcohol or in-laws.

Some relationships are all shades of wrong from the outset (‘Darlin’ you’re so pretty. You’re the image of my ex. See? Here’s her photo. You can keep that one. I have plenty – in my wallet, as my screen saver, on my bedside table, at my mum’s house, on my desk, on my fridge and yeah, all over the place. Sometimes I just, like, hold it in front of me and run backwards and pretend like she’s chasing me. Wanna get some tequila baby?’) Some start off with promise and with all the right ingredients, but somewhere along the way, the right ingredients get replaced with resentment, jealousy, history and hurt.

We love love. Of course we do. Love sends us to joyous, lofty heights that we never want to come down from, but the same heart that can send us into a loved-up euphoria can trip us up and have us falling into something more toxic. The hot pursuit of love can be blinding. Even worse, sometimes it’s not until you’re two kids and a mortgage into the relationship, that you realise something has been missing for a while, and that something is you.

What is a toxic relationship?

A toxic relationship contaminates your self-esteem, your happiness and the way you see yourself and the world. A toxic person will float through life with a trail of broken hearts, broken relationships and broken people behind them, but toxic relationships don’t necessarily end up that way because the person you fell for turned out to be a toxic one. Relationships can start healthy, but bad feelings, bad history, or long-term unmet needs can fester, polluting the relationship and changing the people in it. It can happen easily and quickly, and it can happen to the strongest people.

Can I fix it?

All relationships are worth the fight, until they’re not. In a toxic relationship there will always be fallout:

  • moodiness, anger, unhappiness become the norm;
  • you avoid each other more and more;
  • work and relationships outside the toxic relationship start to suffer.

If the relationship is toxic, it is highly likely that all the fight in the world won’t change anything because one or both people have emotionally moved on. Perhaps they were never really there in the first place, or not in the way you needed them to be anyway. Even worse, if your relationship is toxic, you will be more and more damaged by staying in it.

Fighting to hold on to something that is not fighting to hold on to you will ruin you. Sometimes the only thing left to do is to let go with grace and love and move on

What are the signs that I’m in a toxic relationship?

Being aware that the relationship is toxic is vital in protecting yourself from breakage. To stay in a toxic relationship is to keep your hand hovering over the self-destruct button. Not all toxic relationships are easy to leave, but being aware of the signs will make it easier to claim back your power and draw a bold heavy line around what’s allowed into your life and what gets closed out.

Toxic behaviour exists on a spectrum. All people and all relationships do some of these things some of the time – but that doesn’t make them toxic. A toxic relationship is defined by the consistency, the intensity and the damage. Here are some of the signs.

  1. It feels bad. All the time.

    You fall asleep hollow and you wake up just as bad. You look at other couples doing their happy couple thing and you feel the sting. Why couldn’t that sort of love happen for you? It can, but first you have to clear the path for it to find you. Leaving a relationship is never easy, but staying for too long in a toxic relationship will make sure any strength, courage and confidence in you is eroded down to nothing. Once that happens, you’re stuck.

  2. You’re constantly braced for the ‘gotcha’.

    Sometimes you can see it coming. Sometimes you wouldn’t see it if it was lit with stadium floodlights. Questions becomes traps. (‘Well would you rather go out with your friends or stay home with me?’) Statements becomes traps. (‘You seemed to enjoy talking to your boss tonight.’) The relationship is a jungle and somewhere along the way you’ve turned into a hunted thing in a skin suit. When the ‘gotcha’ comes, there’s no forgiveness, just the glory of catching you out. It’s impossible to move forward from this. Everyone makes mistakes, but yours are used as proof that you’re too uninvested, too wrong, too stupid, too something. The only thing you really are is too good to be treated like this.

  3. You avoid saying what you need because there’s just no point.

    We all have important needs in relationships. Some of the big ones are connection, validation, appreciation, love, sex, affection. When those needs are mocked or ignored, the emptiness of that unmet need will clamour like an old church bell. If your attempts to talk about what you need end in a fight, a(nother) empty promise, accusations of neediness, insecurity, jealousy or madness you’ll either bury the need or resent that it keeps being overlooked. Either way, it’s toxic.

  4. There’s no effort.

    Standing on a dance floor doesn’t make you a dancer, and being physically present in a relationship doesn’t mean there is an investment being made in that relationship. Doing things separately sometimes is healthy, but as with all healthy things, too much is too much. When there is no effort to love you, spend time with you, share the things that are important to you, the relationship stops giving and starts taking too much. There comes a point that the only way to respond to ‘Well I’m here, aren’t I?’ is, ‘Yeah. But maybe better if you weren’t.’

  5. All the work, love, compromise comes from you.

    Nobody can hold a relationship together when they are the only one doing the work. It’s lonely and it’s exhausting. If you’re not able to leave the relationship, give what you need to give but don’t give any more than that. Let go of the fantasy that you can make things better if you try hard enough, work hard enough, say enough, do enough. Stop. Just stop. You’re enough. You always have been. 

  6. When ‘no’ is a dirty word.

    ‘No’ is an important word in any relationship. Don’t strike it from your vocabulary, even in the name of love – especially not in the name of love. Healthy relationships need compromise but they also respect the needs and wants of both people. Communicating what you want is as important for you and the relationship as communicating what you don’t want. Find your ‘no’, give it a polish, and know where the release button is. A loving partner will respect that you’re not going to agree with everything they say or do. If you’re only accepted when you’re saying ‘yes’, it’s probably time to say ‘no’ to the relationship. And if you’re worried about the gap you’re leaving, buy your soon-to-be ex some putty. Problem solved.

  7. The score card. Let me show you how wrong you are. 

    One of the glorious things about being human is that making mistakes is all part of what we do. It’s how we learn, how we grow, and how we find out the people who don’t deserve us. Even the most loving, committed partners will do hurtful, stupid things sometimes. When those things are brought up over and over, it will slowly kill even the healthiest relationship and keep the ‘guilty’ person small. At some point, there has to be a decision to move on or move out. Having shots continually fired at you based on history is a way to control, shame and manipulate. Healthy relationships nurture your strengths. Toxic ones focus on your weaknesses.

  8. There’s a battle – and you’re on your own. Again.

    You and your partner are a team. You need to know that whatever happens, you have each other’s backs, at least publicly. In healthy relationships, when the world starts throwing stones, the couple comes together and fortifies the wall around each other. Toxic relationships often see one person going it alone when it comes to public put-downs. Similarly, when attempts are made from outside the relationship to divide and conquer, the couple is divided and conquered as easily as if they were never together in the first place.

  9. Physical or verbal abuse. Or both.

    These are deal-breakers. You know they are.

  10. Too much passive-aggressive.

    Passive-aggressive behaviour is an indirect attack and a cowardly move for control. The toxicity lies in stealing your capacity to respond and for issues to be dealt with directly. The attack is subtle and often disguised as something else, such as anger disguised as indifference ‘whatever’ or ‘I’m fine’; manipulation disguised as permission ‘I’ll just stay at home by myself while you go out and have fun,’ and the worst – a villain disguised as a hero, ‘You seem really tired baby. We don’t have to go out tonight. You just stay in and cook yourself some dinner and I’ll have a few drinks with Svetlana by myself hey? She’s been a mess since the cruise was postponed.’ You know the action or the behaviour was designed to manipulate you or hurt you, because you can feel the scrape, but it’s not obvious enough to respond to the real issue. If it’s worth getting upset about, it’s worth talking about, but passive-aggressive behaviour shuts down any possibility of this.

  11. Nothing gets resolved.

    Every relationship will have its issues. In a toxic relationship, nothing gets worked through because any conflict ends in an argument. There is no trust that the other person will have the capacity to deal with the issue in a way that is safe and preserves the connection. When this happens, needs get buried, and in a relationship, unmet needs will always feed resentment. 

  12. Whatever you’re going through, I’m going through worse.

    In a healthy relationship, both people need their turn at being the supported and the supporter. In a toxic relationship, even if you’re the one in need of support, the focus will always be on the other person. ‘Babe like I know you’re really sick and can’t get out of bed but it’s soooo stressful for me because now I have to go to the party by myself. Next Saturday I get to choose what we do. K? [sad emoji, balloon emoji, heart emoji, another heart emoji, lips emoji].’

  13. Privacy? What privacy?

    Unless you’ve done something to your partner that you shouldn’t have, like, you know, forgot you had one  on ‘Singles Saturday’, then you deserve to be trusted. Everybody deserves some level of privacy and healthy relationships can trust that this won’t be misused. If your partner constantly goes through your receipts, phone bills, text messages this shows a toxic level of control. It’s demeaning. You’re an adult and don’t need constantly supervision. 

  14. The lies. Oh the lies!

    Lying and cheating will dissolve trust as if it was never there to begin with. Once trust is so far gone, it’s hard to get it back. It might come back in moments or days, but it’s likely that it will always feel fragile – just waiting for the wrong move. A relationship without trust can turn strong, healthy people into something they aren’t naturally – insecure, jealous and suspicious. The toxicity of this lies in the slow erosion of confidence. Sometimes all the fight in the world can’t repair trust when it’s badly broken. Know when enough is enough. It’s not your fault that the trust was broken, but it’s up to you to make sure that you’re not broken next.

  15. Big decisions are for important people. And clearly you’re not one of them.

    If you’re sharing your life with someone, it’s critical that you have a say in the decisions that will affect you. Your partner’s opinions and feelings will always be important, and so are yours. Your voice is an important one. A loving partner in the context of a healthy relationship will value your thoughts and opinions, not pretend that they don’t exist or assume theirs are more important.

I think I might be in a toxic relationship. What now?

If it’s toxic, it’s changing you and it’s time to leave or put up a very big wall. (See here for how.) Be clear about where the relationship starts and where you begin. Keep your distance emotionally and think of it as something to be managed, rather than something to be beaten or understood. Look for the patterns and look for the triggers. Then, be mindful about what is okay and what isn’t. Above all else, know that you are strong, complete and vital. Don’t buy into any tiny-hearted, close-minded push that would have you believe otherwise. You’re amazing.

And finally …

There are plenty of reasons you might end up in a toxic relationship, none of which have nothing to do with strength of character or courage.

Sometimes the toxicity grows and blindsides you and by the time you realise, it’s too late – the cost of leaving might feel too high or there may be limited options.  

Toxicity in any relationship doesn’t make sense. In an attempt to make it make sense, you might blame history, circumstance or your own behaviour. The truth is that none of this matters. It doesn’t matter where the toxicity comes from or the reason for it being there. 

Love and happiness don’t always go together. The world would run so much smoother if they did, but it just doesn’t happen like that. Love can be a dirty little liar sometimes. So can commitment. Staying in a relationship should never have losing yourself as one of the conditions. You’re far too important for that. 

It’s important to make sacrifices in relationships but your happiness, self-esteem and self-respect should always be on the list – always. If a relationship is built on love, it nurtures, restores, replenishes and revives. It doesn’t diminish. It isn’t cruel and it doesn’t ever violate a warm, open heart. Everything you need to be happy is in you. When you are with someone who suffocates those precious parts of you, be alive to the damage they are doing. You owe them nothing, you owe yourself everything. You deserve to thrive and to feel safe, and you deserve to be happy.

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39 Comments

Desmene

Amazing… Fits a current situation of mine to a “T.” And I’d just been contemplating apologizing for distancing, but this stopped me in my tracks. I can see that my fantasies of reconciliation are likely just that– fantasies that could yield some small initial result, but that would dissolve over time, taking us right back to the kind of interactions that led to the split to begin with. Too many matched perfectly with the examples you gave above.

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Hey Sigmund

Desmene you sound so clear. It’s worrying isn’t it that there are so many signs. It sounds like the wisdom was in you all along.

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Truth

I deal with people who get stuck in these relationships and they do not realize that they have options. In this day and age is so easy to meet new people thanks to the internet. One should never feel locked into a relationship. Even if people stay in a relationship for the kids, build other professional and social relationships outside of that.

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Confused

When I was 22, I got involved with a man 17 years my senior.

The relationship was intense and passionate. I knew that he was serious about our relationship, but I had a nagging feeling of insecurity because he was married before – divorced for 7 years. Also because he was so successful in his career, and I was just a young lady starting my first job.

Out of my insecurity, I did things to intentionally push him away – said hurtful things and flirted with other men. We had plenty of arguments because of my insecurity.

Somehow or rather, our relationship lasted for 2 years, but we fought every other week. Every time we fought, he would say things like “Why don’t you just go fuck someone else. It’s what you always wanted,” or things like “How can you say you love me when you…” And he would list out all the mistakes I did wrong.

I was always apologetic, tried to explain that I love him but was always very insecure. I made those mistakes out of fear, but he would always claim that I just used him and treated the relationship like a game/experiment.

It has been over one year since our relationship ended, but every other month he would text things like “How can you do this to me?” Or ask me about things that I said during the relationship – why did I say this, why did I say that.

Whenever I reply to him, he would ignore my messages. When I tried to put a stop to the messaging, he would say that it’s obvious that I don’t care about him.

At the end of the day, I would always tell him that the relationship meant a lot to me and I’m sorry for everything. Inevitably, he would claim “You are a bad person who just uses people. You never cared about me.”

He would tell me that I destroyed the relationship. He did nothing but showed me love and care, but I threw it all away. It’s too late to say anything now.

I feel so affected by this, because I’ve been trying so hard to salvage this relationship. Not to reconcile, but I fought so hard for his forgiveness. No matter what I say seems to make sense to him.

What I’m also affected about is that he says that I’m still holding onto him and preventing him from living his life. He even claimed that I was stalking him. Yet, he is the one initiating all these texts.

Is it really true that I’m a bad person? Am I really the crazy one who’s holding onto the relationship? Did I really destroy the relationship on my own?

Everyone says to block his number or ignore him, but I can’t bear to because I sincerely hoped that he could forgive me and we could work the relationship out again.

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Pam

Hi Confused, I just can’t pass this up. You do not have to have his forgiveness. You did nothing wrong but want to be loved and to give love. You said it yourself, he claims you are stalking him yet he is initiating the contact. You said that. No, you are not a bad person, he is. And I am living proof that you will never be forgiven by this person because besides the fact it’s not you that needs it, but these people are not capable of empathy, or they will never share it with us. I don’t like doing this to you, but you cannot fix this, he wants you to be helpless, he wants you to feel hopeless and he wants you to feel crazy. This man does not love you. This man DOES not love you because he is not capable of love. He needs you only to take you apart piece by piece until there is nothing left for him, and then he will toss you to the side and you will never be given a reason, he will take no blame and he will probably not leave you alone because negative emotion from you is just as good if not better than the positive. Does he tend to have a pattern with his anger? Maybe you can try to notice these things now. He will be almost nice for a while giving you hope that this time it will be better, and he may even do nice things for you, but when you start to feel like it just might work, BAMMO, he nails you to the wall with some ridiculous accusation that you know is just either so ridiculous or so impossible, and there you are, trying with all the sense you have in you to explain that no, that isn’t me. And you will stand on your head trying to explain to him what really happened, but then he changes the subject and you find you are defending yourself for something that happened five years ago. And when he finally gets you tied up in knots and in tears and almost crawling on the floor trying to make him happy, he walks out the door and you get a nice lively dose of that oh so painful, silent treatment. And who knows now if he will come back, or who will he run to, and when you are just about at the end of your rope, there he is. And he walks in like nothing ever happened. And you are so damn grateful and relieved that he is home and he is safe, that you let it go. And then it starts all over again. Have I hit on any truths there for you? He does not love you, love does not feel so horrible. Love should not hurt so badly that you start to doubt your sanity. And it’s time for you to save yourself and find a way out of this relationship Sweet Person. Because it has nowhere to go but downhill now. It sounds like he has already discarded you, threw you in the trash and takes not one bit of the blame on himself. He is already looking for a fresh victim and is just going to finish using you up while he looks. If he hasn’t already it won’t be long. I”ve been there, and in many ways I am still there. Today is the day I declare my freedom though. He is out of my home, we are now divorced, and he almost has all of his stuff gone. What is left now he can come get escorted by the police only. He has dragged this out for four months, and Yesterday was the last time. No more chances. I still all of this time tried to be nice to him, to be fair and I told him he was forgiven, but he didn’t ask me. He doesn’t think there is anything to forgive. And I PROMISE, he will never forgive you nor will you ever be given any kind of closure. But I also promise that you can heal, from this and even start to feel some hope, trust is barely starting to happen with me, but very little and I guard it with my life. But I have a glimmer now. And today I am officially free, because I’m learning how to stop his triggering me by being willing to lose anything to be away. He can’t hurt me if I don’t need anything. And he can’t hurt me unless I let him. And Karen, remember those months ago you said I would become stronger? I said I would be superwoman! WELL HERE I AM! Yahoooooooooooootie, I am free. He cannot define who I am, no one can do that but me. And I have taken yet another stand in my pursuit for freedom and it is worth more than anything else to me right now. OH, and you know what else? You know that pain you get everytime you think of him, and you remember him how it was at first? Your heart breaks all over again? You will get to a point when you realize that person you fell so hard for is not real. The real one is the one that can look at you while you are crying your heart out, and you feel that you might just die from the pain,, you will see in his eyes only the disgust he feels for you and your weakness. And he will leave you there on the ground so broken you first think you will die, then you begin to welcome it, and walk away from you without looking back. You are no longer even fuel for his sickness.
I don’t have that pain now. I don’t miss him either. I’m glad its over. Thank You God for letting me out of that sick living. And for the chance now I have to find myself again. And for all that has come in between. Amen and hallelujah.

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Margaret

Leaving is NOT the only solution. I used to be in that relationship! After and during counseling, I’ve learned to dig my heels in, stand my ground, get in my husband’s face and drill it into his head that “we are a team! I am not the enemy!” Even if you leave, you are going to have to learn to set FIRM BOUNDARIES on how you expect to be treated, so what is there to lose by starting now, with your husband? Married 39 years, the first 30 were miserable, got counseling, and the past 9 years have been better to great! Every couple goes through that euphoric stage, to seeing each other’s flaws, to hating them, to accepting them as they truly are, to loving them, faults and all.
A lot of my time was wasted by not standing firm in what I expected in our marriage.
Leaving a relationship isn’t always the answer!

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Pam

I don’t want to start something here, but just listen to yourself, you suffered for 30 years? and the last ten have been almost great? That is not how we are suppose to live, not ever. We were not put on this earth to be miserable for 30 years and there is no way you will ever convince me that this man has any respect for you. And I don’t accept that every couple goes through that hate, that’s someone trhing desperately to convince herself that her marriage is the norm. NO IT ISN”T.And if every time he starts his game you have to “get right up in his face” and convince him you aren’t his enemy, what tell me is in the least bit joyful or great in that feeling? If it is God you are worried about displeasing, My God, loves me, I am his child, and he does not even wish me to stay in misery to please him, he wants me to be the best I can be and he wants me to help out and do what I can to ease suffering of his other children. That marriage is not one that he would approve of, he wants us to grow and live and love not suffer and plead and demand. You can’t convince me to accept that ever. But I really wish for you to find your peace where you see fit, and I wish you only the best.

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Lisa Lisa

We all might not get the chance to live that long. If i only got 50 years on this planet, it means i will die miserably if i want to stay in a 30year old miserable marriage. If i got 60 years on this planet, it means i spent a good amount of my life miserable because i got marry to the wrong person, terrible advice…..

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Michelle F.

I think I was in a toxic relationship and even now it feels weird to say this because he was such a nice guy but you know I still broke up with him because he was not nice.
I’m probably not making any sense.
I broke up with him after going to revival service at church and it struck me that he didn’t believe in God and then he admitted it but the way he admitted it was like he told me all along and I was too stupid to hear or understand or something.
I’m not a pretend-face kind of Christian, and I still don’t like being called one because most of them are the pretend-face kind. However the fact that he didn’t believe in God in any way (one of my exes was Hindu, I was find with his faith but the age thing I draw a line at) really bothered me.
Some other things had bothered me before but I just told myself that love means compromise and everything can’t be perfect.
For example, when we argued he could always do this thing like, ‘Oh calm down honey, don’t stress yourself’ and it wasn’t as if I was getting worked up about something external but about something that he did that I wanted to point out and he was just ignoring it and it was pissing me off and rather than argue he did that, he’d say that to me.
Another example, we were both unemployed at the time. I was actively seeking work and he was more like, ‘It’ll happen when it’s supposed to’ like he didn’t care and that would start an argument and he’d give his dumb response about me not stressing myself out … AHHH!!!
Maybe I just can’t compromise, so I decided that being single is better. I decided this because I think that I may have been the toxic one.

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Hey Sigmund

Michelle this sounds like a relationship where perhaps the combination of you both was more an issue than the type of people you are individually. It’s difficult to know from what you have said, but sometimes it’s the combination of two people that doesn’t work, though it doesn’t mean either one is toxic. With every experience and relationship you learn more about what is right for you and what doesn’t work. no experience is wasted.

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Desmene

This is so spot-on. I’ve been grieving what I thought was a reconnection with a soul friend from 30 yrs. ago, only to find out that she was just using me as a service provider and energy source for her many projects. I had some hard, hard work to do to recognize how I had really ignored so many signals, all in the hope of being loved and affirmed. Ouch. Feeling the old shame of unworthiness just gutted me, but columns like this one helped me see that, while I certainly bore responsibility for not really listening to my intuition and keeping myself and my energy safe, I am a beautiful, whole person, deserving of truly supportive, respectful friends. Long process, and still ongoing, but my primary focus right now is growing love and trust in dialog with my Inner Self. Thank you so much for your offerings here!

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Ginger

How about when you find yourself in one toxic relationship after another? Like you are doomed to make friends who end up being toxic with/to you? … I have been forced to examine myself as a result of the repetitiveness of the trend but sincerely, this is me; I walk on eggshells to avoid hurting people’s feeling. I couldn’t dare to be rude to a remote person I don’t particularly like, how much less daring to a friend. I have had people tell me I am soo quiet and reserved … and too ‘nice’ … why then do people I consider friends end up giving me the toxic treatment ? It’s so consistent, it’s scary.

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Hey Sigmund

Toxic people are drawn to people with warm, generous, open hearts. Are you deliberate about who you allow to be close to you? Or is it more a passive process where they are drawn to you and you let them close. Do you listen to the early feelings you have about people? Your intuition in these situations is so important. Intuition is the collection of memories, knowledge, wisdom, etc that sits just below the surface of your consciousness. It is based on real information, but generally the information is just out of your awareness.

If you feel as though you are the one who deliberately chooses these people, what is it that draws you to them? Who do do they remind you of? Your mother? Father? Exes? Siblings? When people are drawn to the same people, it is often a sign of unfinished business. Let me explain. We humans have a pressing and intense need for closure. If there has been a relationship that wasn’t able to give you something important you needed, you may look to fulfil this need through other people. Often peole aren’t aware of this process happening, but the way it plays out is that you are drawn to people who remind you of the original person (the one who left an imporatnt need unmet), in the hope of getting what you need from them. So as an example, let’s say that you never feel the protective love you always wanted to feel from your father. He may have been inattentive, angry, indifferent, distracted – whatever he was, he didn’t notice you the way you wanted to be. Because this need is such an important one, you will continue to look to have it met. (Remember, this happens out of awareness.) You might find yourself being drawn to people who remind you of him, and then look to them for that protective love.

What generally happens is that if you are drawn to people who are similar in some way to the person who weren’t able to meet your important need, these new people will treat you in the same way and your need will remain unmet – so you look to the next person.

Of course, it might be something completely different to either of these possibilities that sees you being drawn to the wrong people. Have a think about what draws you to these people, what keeps you in the relationship and where you would like your boundaries to be.

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Theonlyone

The key is understaning that you 1) do not always have to be the nice guy and 2) You can be very happy by yourself.

Once you understand those two things you end up attracting the right people for business and social.

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Ginger

You are quite right there Theonlyone. Because I am reserved by nature, I don’t make friends very easily and I sort of eagerly go all out to please whoever shows interest in being a friend … sometimes, even when their faults is staring me right in the face … and that’s where Karen’s point on ‘intuition’ is soo true. Truth is, I have very good intuition but my biggest fear really is how far can I lean on intuition when there is d risk of having no friends at all? Afterall, no one is perfect, right?

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Ginger

Karen, I have my intuitions and they are usually frightenly true … at least it turns out to be true. I tell myself that since no one is perfect, why should I expect my friends to be? It’s like asking for too much. Sadly, I only get to answer that question myself when the damage has gone too far.
I made a friend 15 years ago and she was practically my best friend for the first 8 years. She had her moments of irrational outbursts every now and then … and demonstrated moments of intense immaturity… But there was no major toxicity at the time, to make me flee. Truth is she was quite caring on her flip side and I believe, even till now, that she truly appreciated me as a friend then. Then sometime in the 8th year of our friendship, she introduced me to her brother who came home on a visit from the states… and before long …and with her encouragement…. he and I started dating.
And that was when things started getting weird.
Now, just around this time, she had just come out of a broken relationship herself, so I tried all I could to encourage her and support her through it … though in earnest, I never got d feeling she was really into the guy and she admitted this several times herself… even before her relationship ended.
Anyways back to my relationship with her brother … she lured me on until we actually started dating and we officially became an item. Then she got all weird and started with being passively aggressive … saying the most hurtful things that I wouldn’t even know how to begin to react to, let alone respond. Then she became aggressively aggressive. She would reign all manner of negative comments, fault finding and accusations at me, as an opening statement when I call her on the phone. Once when I travelled to the states on a Christmas visit to her brothers, he gave me an engagement ring. I came back home naively excitedly sharing my joy with her … she put on a front… but that nagging intuition told me things were not necessarily as they seem. Her rudeness and weird behavior persisted in days that followed.
As it just so happened, her brother was quite the indecisive himself and I was increasingly getting uncomfortable with the whole arrangement… her behaviour not helping matters. The next trip I made to states proved my worries, he wasn’t all that into me, and since I could tell he wouldn’t come all out to say it, I gave him the ring back on our last morning together, with as much sensitivity as I could muster, because I was really hurting. I told that I would be waiting, if he ever changed his mind.
I got back home and went to my friends place with a gift for her but on my arrival, when I went to her place to give it to her, she told me with much bitterness to take my gift away, she didn’t want it. Here I was hurting and needing a shoulder to cry on but her reaction was soo toxic … I could taste it. I was so dissappointed, I turned around to leave and then she called me back and mumbled something which was like her own way of apologizing but really wasn’t (she never apologizes by the way… even when confronted) … then I told her what happened between her brother and I. She pretended she was hearing it for the first time and reprimanded me, like one would a child, saying I should never have given him the ring back … I should have held on …bla bla bla. …. it was all hogwash … but I had stopped being surprised by her.
Just when I thought nothing she did or said could ever surprise me, she did shock me one day by telling me that her brother said to tell me that it’s over. He didn’t deem it fit to call me himself to explain, after about 18 months relationship … worse still is that she didn’t deem it fit to leave him to speak for himself.
This is by far the most toxic relationship I ever had with a female friend and all the more saddest, because I still believe we once had a true friendship…. before her brother came between our relationship.
The weirdest part is..now, about 5 years after this incident and us going our separate ways… she is still passively aggressive towards me.
She got married about a year after I broke up with her brother… and as an afterthought, sheepishly asked me if I would join her bridal train, I respectfully declined….. but in memory of the friendship we once had, I attended her wedding but severed relationship with her afterwards. Now 5 years on … we work in the same office now…. but she is still passively aggressive to me. I do everything possible to not get burnt by her toxicity. … including keeping a very healthy distance …. though it’s hard for me, as it’s not in my nature … but I feel she’s left me with no choice at all.

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theonlyone

What I would say is that what happens is that some people are raised to be a bit idealistic about relationships. Unfortunately, the real world is not fair and people can be vicious. Nice guys do finish last. That is the sad truth of the matter.

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Ross

Karen,
I want to thank you for this site. Margaret has a point and I applaud her for reaching this goal.
As a male in my sixties and married the second time for 35 years most of us do not have the luck of Margaret. I tried 4 counselors with her and left twice only to be manipulated back with my wife’s ability to charm. This last year I became stronger standing my ground and she is now walking on eggshells and being nice. The sad part is I must play this game to stay in control and it is exhausting. Let my guard down and I am insulted and “commanded” to “make her feel like a woman”. If I really loved her I would know exactly what she wants. Oh, I can bring out the worst in her by relaxing my hold.
This is still toxic and now I am the manipulator. So, now I am the toxic manipulator and although I can keep things together I have decided to leave. Controlling in any form is not love.
It is hard. I have daily doubts. I won’t miss it, I am just use to it. There is a difference and after more than a year of reading and finding sites such as yours I found strength to keep moving forward.
Thank you.

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Tracey

It sounds like your wife was a narcissist Ross, look into that and see if that helps to explain her behavior.

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Unknown

Wow, this article brought tears to my eyes!! This is me, this is my story, you hit it on the nose. I read something that was so true the other day; we seek advice form others to look for the answers that we already know but do not want to see or hear. I have been reading your articles and done just that, I got the answers I did not want to hear. Sadly I am in a toxic relationship and have been for the past 24 years. I have lost myself and in return have become just as toxic as he is to me. It is a vicious cycle with no end. It is a cat and mouse chase that becomes a mouse and cat chase. I have the knowledge, all the knowledge, I am an MFT and have refused to look at the symptoms of my own marriage. And whats even more frustrating is that I blinded myself from the toxins and became paralyzed. I am like a doctor, I can treat everyone else but myself? Reading this article brought me to tears, because I failed to see this and raised 2 beautiful daughters in the chaos because I didn’t want them to be brought up in a broken home. I have counseled numerous of children form broken homes and never wanted that for my own, but in reality they were raised in a broken and toxic home. Thank you for shedding the light to my darkness, thank you for confirming the answers to my questions that I never wanted to answer myself. For the first time in a long time I have stepped outside of me and seen me. Thank You!!

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kev

I went back into a toxic relationship everything that was mentioned happened and this time is over for real I deserve better too nice allowing people to use me no more i’m nearly 40 so its time i meet someone who really appreciates me give and take before it was all give and nothing in return thank you for this eye opener. great site.

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Anita

Thank you, I’m freshly divorced and my ex tried to cheat on me and was an alcoholic but that isn’t my actual problem. I met this very nice man on the internet. he was perfect. everything just klick in so quick. he showered me with compliments. after just one month he gave me the key to his house but also he started to stay in my place, I’m very nice and open and I was never saying..listen I need some time to myself. I have big house he was in guest bedroom and he live 4 hours away from me so no problem till he started to be moody …and he admit he is sleeping with his ex-girlfriend back home and he has some other girl he “meets” with sometimes but this is not love and he plans to go “mono” with me…all his partners are poly and he is actually poly too ?!!!. I freaked out and I broke up with him…one..two times, he cried, he told me he loved me, he said its too soon for me to be in an exclusive relationship…i agreed, and he needs more time to end everything with other people! but in meantime he changed his work schedule to spend more time with me…he bcc me on the email with his supervisor where he mentioned his schedule change and asked me then …I hope that’s OK. I was flatter but shock! then he started to get more and more involved with my toddler…and he started to use the word “we” but he still was meeting with other women, although I officially wasn’t informed about his whereabouts while not with me…on the end I broke with him…he cried when I agree to stay again he introduced me to all his friends! I broke up again via text …I know how bad is that. his last texts are: “Goodnight…! I’m thinking about you. Nothing will take me away from you but you!:)” and then I told him I will block his phone# because I’m hurting myself and I’m hurting him with this crazy drama. he wrote this: “I’m sorry you’re hurting. I know it’s true. But I never hurt you. I was always very good to you….your pain is not my fault, even if I wish I could stop it. I’m so sorry you’re hurting. :(” I didn’t respond to it…also when he wrote all those texts I knew he was spending time with one of his poly partners…my friends…all hated him…he told me my friends and my ex. ruined our relationship, and my friends are not my real friends because he is making me happy and cares for me and they want him gone from my life…I’m so confused, I so don’t trust him, I’m so very hurt…I literally don’t want to go out anymore and meet anybody…I’m scared of this post-divorce world and he damage me even further

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Jason C

Check, check AND check…been there and done that. Took me a long time to look around and realize just how mired I was in a toxic relationship. Got out…but still smarting from the wounds.

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Lily

I like your articles. I find it a bit harsh to call others toxic. Empathy and compassion are the backbone of relationships.

I have a dysfunctional relationship. I admit that partly it is my fault. I cannot call my loved one a toxic person nor can I call myself a toxic person because we are a product of our culture and circumstances.

Ultimately, we are still all needy children at heart forced to fit in a competitive profit driven world.
We all long for unconditional love.
When I get selfish, resentful and pessimistic, I try to see my partner as a child who has to deal with many problems at work and never ending bureaucracy. I don’t expect him to change me and I don’t want to change him.
All I wanted is to have honesty and openness. It is hard to achieve it as an inexperienced young woman because men don’t open up easily.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Lily you are right in that empathy and compassion are the backbone of relationships, but the empathy and compassion must come from both people. It is not helpful to judge other people based on your own experiences. No relationship is perfect, and your relationship, though it may have certain challenges, may not be toxic. Toxic relationships are relationships that involve consistent bullying, manipulation, lying, cheating, abuse, control … and the list goes on. All relationships have their faults – none of us are perfect, but when hurtful, destructive behaviour is the norm, and when it damages at least one of the people in it, the relationship is toxic. These relationship are called ‘toxic’, because of the way they contaminate the self-esteem and self-concept of at least one of the people in the relationship. Toxic relationships cause toxic stress which ultimately can change the physiology of the brain and body in harmful ways.

Furthermore, we are not children, we are adults. Yes we all have our vulnerabilities, and we all have our ‘stuff’, but we all have a responsibility to the people we love, and to the people who love us, to be emotionally responsible in our relationships. So many people who are in toxic relationships have open, generous, kind hearts. The problem is not a lack of compassion or a lack of empathy – the problem is the abuse of power, love and manipulation by the toxic person. Toxic relationships are not those relationships where there is the occasional argument, or where there may be patterns of difficult behaviour. Toxic relationships are highly damaging and involve a consistent way of relating that is harmful and damaging to at least one person in the relationship. It is also not at all uncommon for the person who has been hurt by toxic behaviour to continually bend and flex and fight hard to keep trying to make the relationship work. The problem with toxic people, is that the need for control will mean that any amount of compassion, empathy, compromise or change will never be enough.

Toxic behaviour is consistently damaging, and consistently causes pain. Calling it anything other than what it is, only serves to enable the toxic person. (‘It’s not your fault that you lie/cheat/abuse me/manipulate me/turn people against me/abuse me in front of our children/abuse our children/ – and then blame me for all of it.’) Not only is it enabling, but it is also disempowering for the person who has been the target of the behaviour. At some point, compassion and empathy have to give way to clarity, strength and self-love. For others outside the relationship, the person who deserves our compassion, empathy, support and validation is the person who has been the target of the toxic behaviour.

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Jason C

I couldn’t agree more. The natural tendency of an empath is to subordinate one’s own feelings and needs to that of our partners. All well and good until you come across a narcissist or a “toxic” person who will completely drain the empath of all positive energy. The empath will desperately try to understand and measure up to the needs of the toxic person yet…it’s never enough. Always failing, always absorbing both the self-induced guilt as well as that heaped on by the toxic person. It’s a losing proposition but one an empath will choose to continue…always believing that with enough love and understanding they can make a difference. I compare it to a slot machine in Vegas…we keep putting more and more money into it and pulling the lever hoping to win back what we previously invested. It’s far better to acknowledge that the game is rigged and stop playing.
I know it’s hard to walk away…hard to accept that the person we’ve invested so much time in is either unwilling or incapable of reciprocating. Doesn’t make them evil…they’re often wounded too. But don’t fall for the trap of thinking you can heal that wound. This is something they themselves have to figure out and a journey they have to choose to take.

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Mike

How do I start to heal? I’ve been in this for 15 years and have been forced to raise our son because of her legal troubles and prison time. Yet I’ve let her back in over and over again.
I have not loved with her in nearly three years but she knows exactly how to manipulate me into letting her spend the night and even weeks at a time only to end up right back at square one with realizing things will never ever be what I deserve. She is addict and has completely ruined her life and I’ve always been there for her.
I believe I’ve been so damaged by this woman that it’s caused my self esteem and confidence to be completely destroyed and am scared I will never heal. So if there is anyone here who can give me any advice which I’m sure I already know I would greatly appreciate it. I guess sometimes hearing it from others makes it more real in a sense.
I just want to know how to let go, move on and not think about her. My weakness is my lust and sexual desires for her and she knows this using it every time to get back the control. This makes me feel weak and incapable of ever finding anyone who will truly love me for all the man I truly am. I’m lost in my loneliness and have everything. I feel as if I’m past the point of being fixed in my heart and soul. They’ve been smashed with lies, cheating and hurt from this woman.

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Jason C.

Mike, having “been there and done that” in some sense…my advice is acknowledge that the person you visualize in this woman doesn’t exist. You’ve built her up into some “damsel in distress” that you think only you can save…if you but hold out a little longer or be some kind of anchor she can rely on. Get that out of your head. She’s blatantly using you (as you yourself said…she knows how to manipulate you) so right off the bat you know that any connection you have with her is based on a lie. Its’ not your fault she’s an addict. It’s not your fault that she’s “off the chain” in terms of upholding her responsibility as a parent. You don’t owe it to her to keep on giving her ten, twelve, twenty chances to reform. You owe it to your daughter and yourself to look to the future. You deserve better. And as long as your tangled up with miss “hot mess” miss right is going to keep right on avoiding the train wreck.

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Jason C

Mike,

From my perspective of having “been there…done that” in terms of holding onto a toxic relationship, I would add the following comments. First off, you have to shake the illusion that if you hold out a little longer that your “damsel in distress” will turn things around. She won’t. You have stated yourself that she is a master at manipulating your vulnerabilities and appealing to your largesse. She’s using you and you know it…she doesn’t love you, she doesn’t appear to love her daughter…this is all about her and her addiction. So quit trying to save her. The person you have built her up to be in your mind simply doesn’t exist. Instead, you face a “stranger” who will continue to use and abuse you as long as you allow it. If she hasn’t changed in 15 years…she ain’t gonna.

Secondly, you have to establish some boundaries. Stop taking her calls…stop answering her emails. You can’t keep her from her daughter (without a court order)…but that doesn’t mean you have to entertain her drama.

Lastly, any decent woman that you may have otherwise had a shot with is going to take one look at this train wreck and keep on walking by. Don’t let “Miss hot mess” ruin your chances of finding “Miss Right.” You owe it to yourself and your daughter to get off the crazy train.

-Jason

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Mike

Thank you Jason. I appreciate you taking g the time to respond. I’m struggling to find this strength to just let go of this woman. She is truly as toxic as anyone can be. The last time I slept with her over a month ago I had nightmares of the devil or demons?? She was sleeping next to me that night. I guess my own spirit is trying to tell me this evil person is next to me?
It’s hard to believe when you say she doesn’t love me. I want to believe she does care about me but that she just doesn’t love herself at all to make any changes to better her life then to make ours better as a family. But like you said, if she hadn’t done it by now she never will. What’s hard for me to understand is how a 45 year old woman who can have everything with an awesome man and her awesome son is still so stuck and chooses to have nothing but herself and her selfishness. She’s lost everything!?? I’ve known that she can’t give me what I deserve for a very long time and have let her sexually manipulate me as you’ve read but I crave so much more than that and have told her. I tell her she need to be more available to me and her son emotionally and attentive to both of our needs from her not just an hour here and an hour there. She just doesn’t understand or know how too do that. She’s stuck and I know I can’t save her.
I’m trying to move on and enjoy all I’ve accomplished and have made for myself and my son. I know what I need to do I just hope I have the strength and confidence still left in me to do this.

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AJ

I’ve had a terrible day. Travelling for my work, alone. And I am alone at home because my wife ended our marriage a couple of months ago. I go through a feeling of numbness, which is my best time unfortunately, to feelings of despair, confusion, and shame (unfounded). Bawl my eyes out quite often and thoughts of the past can cause tears to well in my eyes very easily. And today I found myself feeling very down.

We were married for 9 years, together for 13. I loved her deeply from very early on. Although there were a few signs of the 15 signs in the article, I fell deeper and deeper. I thought they were just a phase, being young. Many times we broke up, and always because she had jealous and trust issues, always totally unfounded. I tried so hard to convince her but it took me walking away for her to say she didn’t mean it. She’d lavish me with love and sex to get me back and all would be good for months. This went on for a long time. After an extended breakup we got back together and all was good and around a year later we got married. Nine years later, after me giving my life to her it’s over. I was happy to give my life to her, I loved her and still do. I understand I have an unrealistic, fantastic view of romance and love; I expect that someone will give as much as me and everything will work out and we will live happily ever after. That’s something I have to work on and understand my relationship wasn’t special, and neither is it in it’s deceased state.

Reading this article I can tick off every one of the 15 signs. After the day I have had feeling alone and gutted it makes it easier, knowing that I couldn’t have done any more. And it certainly shows I am not alone and deserve more.

Something I don’t know the answer to is are those who open up and bestow their unconditional love on these people all damaged as well, before they even get into these relationships? Will being like this cause my relationships in the future to fail? Or if I met someone the same as me, will that work? If she had been the same as me and put 100% into us like I did would that have been perfect?

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Jason C.

AJ…I’ve been through the wringer more times than I care to relate. I guess part of the answer is you have to take an inward look and decide what type of person you’re drawn to. Is it a giving person? Or do you tend to seek out the “broken ones” trying to fix them? At least half the equation here is knowing how to identify what qualities you want in a partner versus those qualities you’re inadvertently drawn to. Some people curse the heavens about the abusive relationships they find themselves in not realizing they inadvertently seek them out. So my advice is to train yourself to recognize a warm giving type from one that will require you to be in a constant state of anxiety trying to earn their love. Bottom line, love should be freely given and unconditional…if you have to chase it down or beg for it…you’re trying too hard and it’s not meant to be.

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theonlyone

Yes. We all control how we are treated. When you see someone is trying to dominate you simply keep distance. Being alone is really not that bad. There was a time when I thought friends were important but I learned that it is better to be alone than be around opportunist who will definitely look to bring you down because they are unhappy about something in their lives.

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Marie

One of the things you have is a deal breaker…physical violence.
I was in a relationship for 5 years, we broke up last year for about 6 months. He briefly dated a woman I know. Then we got back together. We have had lots of arguments and lots of good times in all of the 5 years. In that time we have been engaged twice. So longer story short, we got into an argument about the woman he dated, he said he was sick of arguing about it and called me a F***ing B***h! I slapped him across the face for calling me such a vile name and he swung back and hit me on the side of my neck and jaw. He used to be a sweet chubby nerdy guy, lost a lot of weight, went to counseling after we broke up last year and we had planned a life together. I just don’t know how to move on from this. I fear him hitting me again, yet I take responsibility for hitting first for being called a name that I hate. We have briefly spoken to each other after the incident, we are not together. its been 2 months and he wants to be together, but I have told him that there is no trust there. I am more confused than I have ever been in my life. I mean I always knew for myself that violence was a deal breaker. But now that this has happened I go back and forth every day from one end to the other, of hating him for hitting me to hating myself for hitting first to wondering if this is fixable or should I move forward alone?? I need help

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