The Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship & How to Break Free
by Dr. Coral Arvon, PhD, MFT, LCSW
Before you can get out of a toxic relationship, you have to admit you are in one. Recognize the red flags and the signs you’re in a toxic relationship by asking yourself these seven questions:
- Can you be yourself with your partner?
- Is your partner critical of you, constantly challenging your viewpoints?
- Are there equal amounts of “give and take” in your relationship?
- Do you share major values like integrity?
- Do you feel up or down around your partner?
- Do you feel like you are in a committed relationship?
- Do you feel good about yourself when you are with your partner?
Relationships are an investment in yourself and your life. Depending on your answers to the above questions, you may want to consider whether you are making a good investment or not. In the best of relationships, there will be times that are more challenging than others, but when discord and unhappiness become the norm, it may be time to leave the relationship. When more obvious clues of toxicity like behaviors of selfishness, disrespect, rejection, possessiveness ,and jealousy show up or spirals into abusive and threatening behavior, a change may ultimately save your life.
An intense, recurring pull between partners is a common characteristic of toxic relationships even though the pain they cause each other is also recurring. Clinical psychologist, Robert Firestone, author of the Fantasy Bond describes this phenomenon as “an illusion created by two people that helps them alleviate their fears by creating a false sense of connection.” The pull is toxic because according to Dr. Firestone, “It replaces real feelings of love and support with a desire to fuse identities and operate as a unit.”
There are unconscious reasons why toxic relationships are formed; many of them transgress back to childhood. For example, someone may seek emotional comfort through familiarity with a romantic partner that mimics an old, unhealthy relationship or behavior of a family member, often a parent. Without realizing why, this process may be repeated indefinitely, further preventing awareness of qualities needed to form healthy relationships, in favor of old, destructive ones.
Once you realize that you are in a toxic relationship, you may first opt to confront specific toxic behaviors with your partner. You will need to be direct with the truth of how you feel when you are treated a certain way and ask if they are willing to stop the behavior; if they are dismissive and refuse to acknowledge your feelings, then ending the relationship will ultimately be for your own good.
Everyone deserves to feel happy, respected, and valued. Once your decision is made, be straight and to the point with your partner. Be firm in your decision to end it, and immediately put time and distance between you. Avoid any chance for conversation and remain firm. Reaffirm your decision daily, and embrace new opportunities to engage in life. Remember, this not the end of your life—just one aspect of it.