Relationships can be a deep source of effervescent joy, but they can also become painful causes of debilitating sadness. When the relationships are nurtured, and the people involved care for one another in life-giving ways, relationships can create room to flourish. However, in situations with poor communication, misaligned priorities, and unhealthy behaviors, those same relationships can cause us to wither.No one wants to create, participate in, or facilitate a toxic relationship – but some people may not even be aware that patterns of behavior that they engage in or are subjected to are toxic and signify a toxic relationship. Whether we’re talking about romantic relationships, friendships, relationships in the workplace, or parent-child relations, toxic behavior can be found about everywhere.
If you are wondering whether you are in a toxic relationship, it makes sense to ask what makes a relationship toxic, and then to try and figure out what can be done to address it.
All relationships go through their bad patches. Work stress can make you irritable with one another, as can financial pressure. Typically, you come out of the situation, and you go back to being more patient and affirming. Stress can make us behave in ways we normally wouldn’t. However, when those behaviors become your normal pattern, regardless of the pressures on you, it needs to be addressed.
Toxicity in a relationship can manifest in a variety of ways, but it is emotionally draining. Some of these manifestations of toxicity amount to abuse, whether emotionally or physically. In those situations of abuse, especially, you must carefully consider if it’s safe to remain in the relationship, or wiser to step away entirely where possible.
Signs of a Toxic Relationship
A few of the signs of a toxic relationship include:
Negative communication. Either you stop talking to one another altogether, or when you do speak, it is laced with hostility, sarcasm, and criticism. In a toxic relationship, communication may be laced with threats of physical violence towards you, the other person, or a loved one
No support. People in a healthy relationship look out for one another, but in a toxic relationship, they no longer root for one another to succeed in various areas of life.
Your needs are ignored. Not having your needs acknowledged or met is a clear sign of a toxic relationship
Gaslighting. When someone gaslights you, they make you question your memory, instincts, feelings, and sometimes even your sanity. It erodes one’s sense of confidence and self-esteem, creating a power imbalance in the relationship.
Feeling stressed. While stress and stressful situations are part of the human condition, when you constantly dealing with tension, and feel like you must walk on eggshells to avoid conflict in a relationship, it is a sign that something is amiss. People should be able to express themselves, and conflict avoidance is an indicator of unhealthy relational dynamics,
Disrespect. If the pattern of behavior in the relationship is one where you, your time, or your opinions are not valued or respected, or when situations such as making financial decisions without consulting you are the norm, something is not right
Being cut off from other relationships. Not spending time with family and friends, because you’re either always caught up in damage control with your partner, or you want to avoid conflict may signal a toxic relationship
Dishonesty. A lack of transparency about finances, one’s whereabouts, and so on may be problematic
Controlling behavior. If a partner constantly needs to know their partner’s whereabouts and what company they keep, or they want access to their social media, phone, banking, and computer passwords, such controlling behavior may be toxic
Physical violence. If a partner shoves or slaps their partner, or if they punch walls and slam doors, that is an issue to be taken seriously. If you are in imminent danger, calling 911 or leaving the situation to find safety is a priority.
Resentment. Couples do things that may offend. When those offenses multiply and aren’t forgiven, and the couple has a pattern of holding onto frustrations and not letting them go, they can build until they affect every aspect of the relationship, from communication to intimacy. Resentment undermines a relationship and is a sign of toxicity in that relationship.
Fixing an unhealthy relationship
To bring a toxic relationship back from the brink, the people in it need to be clear about what is going on. The possibility of restoring the relationship rests on whether you are both willing to see things for what they are and change. If only one of the partners is willing to work at it, the relationship won’t be salvaged – this is one of those all or nothing situations, where either everyone works at it, or it won’t work at all.
How do you go about fixing a toxic relationship?
Accept responsibility, for your part in fostering the toxic behavior, if you need to own your voice and speak up more, do so. You have been created in God’s image, and therefore have value. Your confidence and sense of worth are rooted in a reality greater than yourself, and you should stand up for yourself.
If you’ve been using your voice to silence your partner, repent of it, and recognize that it may take time to change how you behave. Each partner must take responsibility for contributing to the situation.
Be willing to dig in and get to work. To fix a toxic relationship, both parties should be willing to work. A lot of work must be done individually and well as in the relationship dynamic. For instance, gaslighting causes a person to doubt themselves, meaning you must learn to trust yourself again. Others must relinquish power and learn to create room for others. All of this is a lot of work, and you both must be willing to dig in and do it.
Keep your eyes forward. Of course, you must reflect on past behavior relearn how to relate to one another, but move away from blame toward mutual understanding, and don’t dwell on the past without cause.
Create room for healing. Toxic relationships cause untold emotional damage to the people in them. Give yourself room to ask yourself how you feel about certain aspects of the relationship, and whether you need to create or revisit boundaries for your emotional health and the overall health of the relationship.
Create room for change. Things won’t change overnight; it takes a while to overcome months and years of ingrained behaviors, so have a balance between working for change and being patient in those inevitable moments of stumbling.
Communicate in healthy ways. Avoid criticism and sarcasm. Use your “I” statements as an alternative way to communicate. Instead of saying “You make me feel insignificant,” it’s probably more helpful to say, “I feel unimportant when I’m spoken to like that.”
Be willing to use your voice and don’t walk on eggshells. Bring up your concerns and needs without fear of reprimand or being silenced. If you must criticize, let it be constructive, and do not make it the dominant mode of your communication.
Be willing to accept help. Getting help may involve joining a support group or bringing your friends and family into the loop to help you. It can also involve seeking the help of a professional therapist
Both individual therapy and marriage counseling will bring in a third party to give you much-needed perspective, provide the tools to process and begin altering your relationship dynamics, help you create a plan for dealing with conflict, and offer a safe space to share and explore your feelings.
It can be a training ground where you practice what the relationship should be in a safe space where conflict isn’t a battle to the death, and differences of opinion don’t have to turn the relationship sour.
If both parties work at it, a toxic relationship can become healthy and life-giving again. In some cases, there has been enormous damage done, and it is a struggle to restore the vitality that the relationship once had.
Unfortunately, sometimes, the relationship cannot be salvaged. When you’ve tried to salvage the relationship, but the dynamics have not changed or have worsened, walking away may be the best thing to do. God intended relationships to be sources of joy and flourishing, but sadly that isn’t always the case. Ultimately, you will have to decide whether the Bible’s teaching is urging you to stay or leave.
“Argument”, Courtesy of Mart Production, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “I can’t believe I’m hearing this!”, Courtesy of Anthony Shkraba, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Mad”, Courtesy of Viktoria Slowikowska, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Distance”, Courtesy of Ron Lach, Pexels.com, CC0 License