What is a toxic relationship?
Dr. Lillian Glass, a California-based communication and psychology expert who says she coined the term in her 1995 book Toxic People, 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’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness.”
While every relationship goes through ups and downs, Glass says a toxic relationship is consistently unpleasant and draining for the people in it, to the point that negative moments outweigh and outnumber the positive ones. Dr. Kristen Fuller, a California-based family medicine physician who specializes in mental health, adds that toxic relationships are mentally, emotionally and possibly even physically damaging to one or both participants.
And these relationships don’t have to be romantic: Glass says friendly, familial and professional relationships can all be toxic as well.
What makes a relationship toxic?
Fuller says people who consistently undermine or cause harm to a partner — whether intentionally or not — often have a reason for their behavior, even if it’s subconscious. “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.”
Sometimes, Glass says, toxic relationships are simply the result of an imperfect pairing — like two people who both need control, or a sarcastic type dating someone with thin skin. “It’s just that the combination is wrong,” she says.
What are the warning signs of a toxic relationship?
The most serious warning signs include any form of violence, abuse or harassment, which should be dealt with immediately. But in many cases, the indicators of a toxic relationship are much more subtle.
The first, and simplest, is persistent unhappiness, Glass says. If a relationship stops bringing joy, and instead consistently makes you feel sad, angry, anxious or “resigned, like you’ve sold out,” it may be toxic, Glass says. You may also find yourself envious of happy couples.
Fuller says negative shifts in your mental health, personality or self-esteem are all red flags, too. These changes could range from clinically diagnosable conditions, such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders, to constantly feeling nervous or uncomfortable — especially around your partner. Feeling like you can’t talk with or voice concerns to your significant other is another sign that something is amiss, Fuller says.
You should also look out for changes in your other relationships, or in the ways you spend your free time, Fuller says. “You may feel bad for doing things on your own time, because you feel like you have to attend to your partner all the time,” she says. “You cross the line when you’re not your individual self anymore and you’re giving everything to your partner.”
Source: Jamie Ducharme, TIME, JUNE 5, 2018
Watch out for harmful relationships
On the whole, relationships are good for us and, for most of us, are central to living a good life, but that’s not true of all relationships. Sometimes relationships in our lives can be harmful – for example, when they are characterized by bullying or abuse. It’s important to remember that harmful relationships are not just limited to our romantic partnerships; a person can have a damaging relationship with a friend, co-worker or even a family member.
Although domestic violence is more common among women, men can also experience it and can be exposed to the same range of potentially negative relationships. These toxic relationships are defined by an unhealthy dynamic that two people are participating in.
Here are some signs to look out for when assessing whether you are in a toxic or harmful relationship:
Source: Mental Health Foundation