If you’ve ever been in an unhealthy relationship, you probably didn’t even realize it for the longest time. Maybe, the toxicity had become so entrenched that you totally lost perspective and “couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” In other words, you were so close to the dysfunction that you no longer knew what normal relationships even looked like.
That’s why it is nice to be able to help a friend when you recognize something is off or toxic about their relationship. Your gentle observations, as a caring friend or family member, may be exactly what they need to help them see things clearly again.
What is toxicity in a relationship?
There are infinite reasons why people are attracted to each other and form connections. While ideally these points of attraction will be healthy traits, like kindness, intelligence or a nice smile, there are some unhealthy traits that can also draw people together. For instance, you might be subconsciously attracted to someone who has the same dysfunctional, yet familiar, characteristics of an abusive, neglectful or narcissistic parent from your childhood.
Toxicity in a relationship can make you feel bad about yourself. When a relationship is toxic, you feel off-balance and emotionally insecure. A healthy relationship feels like a safe place where you can rest confidently in the knowledge that you are cared for — a toxic relationship has no shared desire for wellbeing. It is a lopsided relationship, with neither partner feeling fulfilled. At its worst, toxicity can be physically and/or psychologically harmful.
6 signs of a toxic relationship
If these signs are present, the relationship in question is likely toxic:
- One or both partners are jealous or insecure: There is a general lack of trust in the relationship — they are suspicious of each other’s activities.
- One of the partners is a narcissist: A narcissist belittles the other person, exerts control over them, tries to manipulate them with fear, and isolates them from their loved ones.
- They fight often: Incompatible couples argue and fight more than the norm. The relationship is exhausting and tense.
- They are codependent: Codependency is a toxic trait where one or both partners exhibit an unhealthy neediness. One partner’s problems become the other partner’s source for martyrdom.
- Sense of self is lost: Partners become so fused together that they lose sight of themselves as individual persons.
- Physical or psychological abuse: Abuse of any type is evidence of toxicity and should never be tolerated.
How to approach your loved one
If you have identified toxicity in a loved one’s relationship, how do you go about broaching the subject with them? This can be a sensitive topic, so keep these tips in mind:
- Find the right moment: As tempting as it is to want to call their partner out on the spot, avoid doing so! Instead, after witnessing multiple examples of toxic behavior or tendencies, ask your loved one if they are free for lunch or a walk to bring up your concerns.
- Avoid being judgmental: All relationships are flawed, including your own. Don’t rip apart their partners and list out all their flaws. Focus on your loved one’s well being — ask them if they are okay, or if they would like to chat about the relationship. Be an active listener and choose your words carefully.
- Offer support: Be prepared to offer some solutions, especially if there is abuse involved. If so, provide them with information for the local domestic violence support group, and offer to assist them as they begin the process of breaking free.
If your loved one is in a toxic relationship, you might be surprised to learn how much they needed to talk to someone about it. Go ahead and start that conversation when the time is right.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.