Dr. Lillian Glass, a psychology expert, defines a toxic relationship as “any relationship [between people who] don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there are disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness.”
Every relationship has its ebbs and flows. Every relationship is difficult at times. However, a toxic relationship is constantly difficult and exhausting for the partners. A toxic relationship has more negative than positive moments and both parties are feeling miserable in it.
Dr. Kristen Fuller, a specialist in mental health, says that toxic relationships are emotionally, mentally, and sometimes even physically abusive and harmful to one or both partners. And toxic relationships don’t have to be romantic – toxicity can happen in all relationships from friendly and familial to professional ones.
Fuller adds that toxicity happens when people constantly undermine or harm their partner on purpose or unintentionally. “Maybe they were in a toxic relationship, either romantically or as a child. Maybe they didn’t have the most supportive, loving upbringing,” Fuller says. “They could have been bullied in school. They could be suffering from an undiagnosed mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, any form of trauma.”
According to Glass, toxic relationships can sometimes be a result of a pairing of two people who are not compatible with each other. For example, when both partners have a need to control everything or an empath with a controlling person. “It’s just that the combination is wrong,” she says.
If you are wondering whether you are in a toxic relationship, there are some warning signs that are universal and that indicate that the relationship is damaging to your wellbeing. The first sign is feeling constantly unhappy. If the relationship you are in doesn’t make you happy, but you feel angry, sad, and anxious, then the relationship is toxic.
Also, negative shifts on your personality, self-esteem, or your mental health, are all red flags as well. These changes include conditions such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or feeling uncomfortable and nervous especially when you are with your partner. Feeling like you can’t talk honestly about what’s bothering you with your partner is another red flag.
Finally, when your family and friends are concerned about your relationship, you should take them seriously because usually, people stuck in toxic relationships are the last ones to realize that they are ruining their lives. They are getting paralyzed because they have gotten used to the abuse.
If this is your story, then it is time to act. If you are experiencing mental or emotional abuse, you have to decide whether you can work through the problem and solve it or not. You should get to the root of the problem and decide, but usually, the best solution is to walk away.
“I really am a firm believer that you have to try to work everything out and understand why the person is toxic. You may be able to live with it — but on the other hand, you may not,” Glass says. “[If you can’t], you’ve got to get out of it. We have to not put ourselves in that position.”
“Love should never cost you your peace. It should never cost you your joy. It should never cost you your happiness,” Gamble says. “If there’s more negative in the situation than positive, something has to change.”