Most people wonder, at one time or another, am I in a healthy relationship? Is my partner right for me? Is our fight normal? Are we really happy together? The answer is unique to a relationship, but one thing is almost universally true: every couple goes through tough times. Even the best matches and the most compatible people will have their drawbacks. People aren’t perfect, so naturally, relationships aren’t. However, when the bad starts to trump the good and when we start seeing real incompatibility that’s hard to reconcile, we may wonder, Am I in a toxic relationship? Here are some indicators that you might be in a toxic relationship, along with suggestions for how to handle the situation.
What is a toxic relationship?
A toxic relationship is often characterized by repetitive and mutually destructive patterns of intimate partner relationships. These patterns can include jealousy, possessiveness, dominance, manipulation, despair, selfishness, or rejection. However, a common theme in a toxic relationship involves both partners’ intense attraction toward each other, despite the pain they cause each other. This is illustrated with the couple entering into a “fantasy bond,” a term developed by psychologist and author Dr. Robert Firestone to describe the illusion of a connection created between two people that helps alleviate their fears by crafting a false sense of connection. An imaginary bond is toxic to a relationship because it replaces real feelings of love and support with a desire to integrate identities and act as one. As the couple relates to “we” rather than “you” and “I,” their relationship becomes more about form (based on appearances and roles) than substance (based on true feeling and authenticity).
There are specific behaviors that have a detrimental effect on relationships:
- Being selfish or demanding, act as if you have power over your partner.
- Taking on the role of a parent or child, by showing submission or dominance.
- Use emotional coercion or manipulation to get what you want.
- Denying your separation or separation from your partner or individuality, rather than searching for an integrated identity.
- Confusing true love with despair or emotional hunger.
- Refuse to be gentle with actions that your partner might view as loving.
How can I get out of a relationship that is toxic?
Three main psychological maneuvers are toxic to intimacy. All of them serve to undermine the possibility of a love relationship by repeating negative relationship dynamics from the past. The first maneuver involves choosing where the person chooses the wrong partner from the start. When you do this, you choose someone who reminds you of numbers from your past or with whom you can replay scenarios from your development years. You can choose someone who has similar qualities to family members or other early related personalities who have mistreated you, abused you, or mistreated you. For example, if one of your parents is negative and emotional, you might look for a partner who is more innuendo or cold. On the contrary, you can choose someone who is the opposite of the pole, someone who is arrogant with extreme mood swings. Either way, you’re ignoring the qualities that matter to you in the present, and instead basing your choice on old, ruined relationships. You can then relate to your partner in similar ways related to childhood numbers, thus re-establishing painful relationships with complex but very familiar outcomes.
When someone chooses a partner who is different from their early attachment personalities and establishes a close and meaningful relationship, other maneuvers can still turn their loving relationship into toxic. The second maneuver is mutilation, in which a person mutilates their partner to see him or her as a familiar figure from the past. When this works, you see that your partner has negative traits similar to those of people from your early life. The traits you are attracted to in your partner may begin to challenge your negative opinions of yourself, forcing you to see yourself or your relationship in a different way, both from a positive and emotional perspective. In reaction to this, you may distort your partner to conform to old familiar patterns from your childhood and respond as you did back then.
When the first two maneuvers fail, people often use the third provocation, provoking their partner to treat them as they were treated in their formative relationships. Most likely, you are unaware of how you are trying to provoke your partner to treat you as you were treated in your early life. You can represent qualities you don’t like about yourself, such as jealousy, criticism, or isolation. Oddly enough, you’re doing this to recreate an emotional environment that may be unpleasant but is comforting to get to know.
All three of these stages, selection, distortion, and provocation, prevent people from feeling too weak or too invested in someone else. Although people do this subconsciously as a defense of their deepest fears of intimacy, both parties in a couple can begin to play out the patterns that make the relationship toxic.
So why get into a toxic relationship?
People get into toxic relationships to repeat unpleasant but comfortable patterns from their past, whether they are forced to remain with someone who is bad for them or compelled to reject the one who is excellent for them. This is, of course, a fairly unconscious procedure. People often choose a partner that matches their defenses and don’t realize that their partner’s undesirable traits match their own. For example, if you tend to be passive or hesitant, you may be drawn to someone who is controlling and stubborn. A toxic relationship exists when a person fails to recognize the destructive dynamics in which they subconsciously aspire to play with a romantic partner. This not only leads to an imbalance in the relationship but often limits one’s personal growth.