When is a Relationship Declared “Toxic”?
I hear patients link the words “relationship” and “toxic” together quite often when they find themselves in a relationship that has proven to be a merry-go-round of emotions. I feel many times people will refer top their relationship as “toxic” yet, they don’t actually understand the ramifications of a truly toxic relationship.
So, what exactly is a toxic relationship? In many cases, this question is subjective.
A toxic relationship is often characterized by repeated, mutually destructive modes of relating between a couple. These patterns can involve jealousy, possessiveness, dominance, manipulation, desperation, selfishness or rejection. However, one common theme in a toxic relationship involves the partners’ intense draw toward each other, despite the pain they both cause one another. This is apparent with a couple who have entered into what I call “Fantasy Bondage.” This is an illusion or fantasy-based connection created between two people that helps alleviate their individual deep seeded fears by creating a false, instable sense of connection to the other person.
Fantasy Bondage is toxic to a relationship because it replaces real feelings of love and support with a desire to fuse identities and function as a unit. A sense of self is lost, individually is non-existent, and individuals began wondering, “who am I without the other person”.
As the couple relates as a “we” instead of a “you” and “me,” their relationship becomes more about appearances and roles than true substance, genuine feelings and authenticity. One or both parties in the relationship have an intense fear of loss or abandonment.
There are specific behaviors that have a toxic effect on relationships:
- Being selfish or demanding, behaving as if you have power over your partner.
- Acting out the role of parent or child, by showing submission or dominance.
- Using emotional coercion or manipulation to get what you want.
- Denying your own or your partner’s separateness or individuality, instead seeking a merged identity.
- Confusing real love with desperation or emotional hunger.
- Basing actions and behaviors on fear of loss or abandonment.
- Refusing to act in kind ways with actions your partner would perceive as loving.
Although toxic relationships seem like an unsolvable mystery, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
Yes, there is an underlying pattern to always getting into toxic relationships, but in order to break this pattern, you must take a look at the bigger picture…A complicated picture to most.
“Patience is a virtue” is really a thing.
For us that don’t demonstrate patience, this will bite you in the ass. You jump in too quickly with both feet. You know “this is the one” and you have your stuff packed and ready to move in or graciously invite “the love of my life” into your bed, home, life, and your entire world.
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CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.