Toxic Relationships and the Warning Signs

It’s better to be healthy alone than sick with someone else – Dr Phil

In this week’s episode, we look at toxic relationships and while the topic can be broad and there is no way we could cover it all in one episode as with most topics. However, the idea is to introduce you to topics and then if it is an area of interest, you might like to expand your knowledge and do your research. What are toxic relationships? Do we always have the language to define them? Does culture, society, family of origin, values and our way of being in the world influence this? Perhaps it’s safe to answer this question with a yes. To establish what a toxic relationship looks like, suppose we need to look at both ends of the scale by looking at what functioning relationships can look like also. I have used the power and control wheel and the equality wheel to do this. These resources can be found by doing a google search if you want to look for yourself and become familiar with them.

Traits of a relationship based on power and control can look like using intimidation, putting someone down and making them feel bad about themselves, name-calling, mind games, humiliation, trying to make the other person feel guilty, controlling what the other person does and who they talk to, using jealousy to justify actions, minimising denying and blaming, shifting responsibility for abusive or toxic behaviour and not taking someone’s concern seriously just to name a few. A relationship built on equality can look like negotiation and fairness, open communication, being understanding and the valuing of opinions even if they may be different, supporting each other’s goals in life, respecting each other’s feelings, accepting responsibility for self, admitting being wrong when necessary and working as a team and this list goes on.

Why do we stay in toxic relationships? According to Psychology Today, there are some reasons why and while the following points are regarding romantic relationships, they can also be transferable to other relationships.

  1. Being Satisfied with Unsatisfactory Relationships: In recent research exploring women’s decisions about whether to stay or to leave their relationships, the single most important determinant of women’s decisions to remain in their relationships was relationship satisfaction. How can we be satisfied with unsatisfactory relationships? Things to consider are lowself-esteem or seeing self to be less attractive, have low “comparison levels”, which can be thought of as “standards,” or expectations from a relationship. If we have low comparison levels, we won’t expect many benefits from the relationship. We may maintain a bad relationship because our low expectations are being met. If we have low self-esteem, we are more likely to become involved in relationships that are of shorter duration and experience further declines in self-esteem when the relationships end. Similarly, women who experienced abuse as children report more satisfaction with lower-quality relationships.
  2. A Shift in Priorities: Common mechanisms that can help maintain our relationships are “partner-enhancement” and “positive illusions”, which means we see our romantic partners through positive lenses, which is sometimes unrealistic. When our partners reveal negative characteristics, we may downgrade the importance of those characteristics and upgrade the importance of the positive traits our mates do possess.
  3. You can love someone and choose not to be in the relationship. Psychologists distinguish among three different components of attitudes which are thoughts, feelings, and behaviour or actions. These components are frequently not aligned with one another. An example is in the case of a bad relationship, your thoughts may be telling you that your partner is not suitable for you, but your feelings may still be positive. We may continue to love our partners, even though we consciously recognise that we are involved in destructive relationships. It is also possible that strong positive and negative feelings toward a partner may co-exist. If you would like more on this, I will include the article in this episode’s show notes.

On a finishing note, relationships can be complex. If you are in a toxic or abusive relationship, it may be helpful to seek support from your friends, family members or specialised support. Let this information empower you to make choices that move you towards what’s safe for you and your wellbeing. In the meantime, take care and wishing you a great week ahead.

Psychology Today Article 

Motivation without the Hype Podcast with Gez Perez and Special Guest Carmen Debono – Enabling Change 

Domestic Abuse Support