A toxic relationship is “any relationship [between two people] who don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness” (Dr. Lillian Glass, 1955). Toxic relationships are not limited to romantic partnerships. They can exist in families, between friends, and in the workplace as well.

The difference between a healthy and a toxic relationship

In a healthy relationship both people enjoy each other’s company, they make decisions together as well as discuss any problems that arise, and they feel happy, respected, and free to be themselves. In a toxic relationship, however, they are more likely to feel drained and unhappy.

Negative moments outnumber positive ones, and being consistently disrespected, demeaned, misunderstood, or attacked by the other person may leave them dreading the thought of seeing them, rather than looking forward to it as they used to at the beginning of the relationship.

Love should never cost you your peace. It should never cost you your joy. It should never cost you your happiness. – Carolyn Gamble

Signs of a toxic relationship

Lack of support. You don’t feel supported or encouraged and get the impression that the other person doesn’t care about your needs or interests. It seems to be all take and no give, and you feel devalued and disrespected.

Constantly sacrificing your wants and needs. You neglect yourself and don’t take care of your own wants or needs because you’re giving your all to the other person. Additionally, you may do things you never thought you would do out of fear that if you don’t, he or she will reject and abandon you.

Hostile communication. You argue a lot, and your conversations tend to be filled with sarcasm, criticism, and contemptuous remarks. Your partner may hurl insults at you aimed at belittling your interests, your appearance, or your accomplishments.

They may constantly humiliate you in front of other people, all of which can wreak havoc on your confidence and security. Another form of hostile communication the other person may resort to is giving you the silent treatment.

Toxic financial behavior. Your partner constantly disrespects agreements you may have made about how you will spend or save your money, for example, by withdrawing large sums of money from your bank account or buying big-ticket items without consulting you first. Or they may refuse to let you be involved in financial matters at all and try to control the money themselves by preventing you from having your own bank account and making you rely on an allowance.

Controlling behaviors. Your partner constantly checks on you, wanting to know where you are and who you are with, insists on having access to your cell phone and e-mail accounts, and tries to isolate you from life outside of the relationship by keeping you from spending time with your friends or family, or on hobbies and other activities.

If they sense you want to leave the relationship, they may use intimidation, threatening you with the loss of something important to you, such as time with your children or financial support, so you will be afraid to do so.

Disrespect. The other person may consistently show patterns of disrespect for your time such as “forgetting” appointments or always being late.

Ignoring your needs. The other person only cares about their own wants and needs – not yours – and you go along with whatever they want to do even when it goes against your wishes or comfort level because you fear rejection, or don’t want to start a fight.

Stonewalling. When you try to bring up something that’s bothering you and that you’d like to discuss with him or her, the other person shuts down and stops listening to you. They may tell you they don’t want to talk about it and just walk away.

Gaslighting. The other person tries to make you feel you are going crazy by manipulating you into doubting the validity of what you are feeling. They will, for instance, persuade you that things you think are real are not, and give “evidence” to prove it that you know isn’t true.

Resentment. You don’t feel safe speaking up when something bothers you, so you hold onto grudges and let them fester.

Dishonesty. You lie about where you are or who you are with because you want to avoid having to spend time with the other person, or because you’re afraid of his or her reaction if you tell them the truth.

Constant stress. You feel as though you’re constantly walking on eggshells to keep from setting them off.

Diminished self-worth. The other person is always belittling you and making you feel as though you can’t do anything right. He or she strips away your self-esteem by constantly criticizing you and putting you down, and blaming you for everything that goes wrong, leaving you feeling confused and shamed.

Are you the cause?

Do you feel superior to the other person? Do you treat the other person in a condescending way, doing things such as rolling your eyes at him or her, or being sarcastic? Acting contemptuously toward the other person is bound to make him or her feel degraded, and cause toxicity in the relationship.

Are you constantly critical of the other person? Constantly criticizing or shaming the other person is a form of bullying that is both hurtful and humiliating, and a sign of a toxic relationship.

Do you manipulate the other person to get your way? Do you, for instance, use tears to make the other person feel guilty, or act deceitfully to cover your actions and then accuse him or her of being paranoid if they question you? Constantly resorting to manipulation could be a sign of a toxic relationship.

Do you use the silent treatment to punish the other person? Consistently using the silent treatment as a way of punishing and controlling the other person is damaging to their sense of worth, and a symptom of a toxic relationship.

Do you tend to be stone-faced? Being consistently unresponsive or expressionless is toxic to the other person, making him or her feel insecure and uncertain about what you’re feeling, and it could be interpreted as a threat even if that’s not your intention.

Do you use threats to get your way? Threatening to break up with your partner every time something goes wrong is toxic behavior that damages the safety and security of the relationship and doesn’t solve anything.

Do you have irrational fears that the other person will reject you? A healthy relationship can turn toxic if self-doubt and irrational fears of being rejected cause you to overanalyze every word the other person says and are afraid to tell him or her how you truly feel.

Do you have a short fuse? Being hotheaded and quick to become extremely angry can make you the toxic person in the relationship.

Are you self-absorbed? Ignoring the other person’s needs, and only being aware of what he or she does to you, but not of what you do to them, is a big factor in toxic relationships, as is the tendency to constantly blame them for your wrongdoings.

Christian counseling for couples

Christian couples therapy involves a combination of Biblical principles and clinical intervention. If you are in a toxic relationship and need more help than what this article can provide, please give us a call today. We would be happy to answer your questions and set up an appointment to discuss how we can help you manage the challenges you are facing and walk you through the healing process.

“Broken Heart”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “She Doesn’t Love Me Back…”, Courtesy of Maria Oswalt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Having a Domestic”, Courtesy of RODNAE Productions, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Argument”, Courtesy of Keira Burton, Unsplash.com, CC0 License


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