What a “Toxic” Relationship Really Feels Like
Don’t confuse “familiar” with “acceptable”. Toxic relationships can fool you like that. -Steve Maraboli
People use terms like “toxic” and “narcissist” and “gaslighting” these days. Practically every article you read refers to relationship terms that aren’t well defined.
You can google for days searching signs of a bad relationship. You may fit a few of the criteria. And then you rationalize that it might be ok because you don’t fit them all. I know, because I do it too.
If you find yourself asking any question along the lines of is my relationship toxic? then you are experiencing a pretty bad situation.
The problem is, when you find yourself in a bad situation, it is nearly impossible to see clearly. It isn’t just that your partner is toxic, it is that the entire environment in which you exist has become toxic. It affects your ability to think clearly, it affects your self-esteem and your life begins to shrink as you hide the truth from friends and family out of sheer embarrassment over the truth of your relationship.
It’s rare for a toxic person to change their behavior. More often, the only thing that varies is their target and the blame they place…If the list of people they blame is long… it’s probably only a matter of time before you’re on that list.
What Toxic Really Means
Relationships are by definition, the way in which two people are connected to one another. When it becomes toxic, two people have become dependent on one another for how they feel. Instead of being self-sufficient and finding their value in the world by what they contribute, they depend on their partner to make them feel good.
In place of a genuine connection between partners, you find manufactured drama. By fighting, toxic partners can feel some emotion for each other by fearing loss of the relationship. This descends into a cycle of bickering and disagreement followed by making up, maybe followed by great sex. Then, just for a moment the relationship feels like true love.
But it never was.
So how do you know if it’s toxic?
Because it happens again. And again.
A relationship that requires an injection of drama to feel connected is a relationship that has no connection. You find yourself trying to calculate what you can do to keep the other person happy. It is a downward spiral where you constantly feel in the wrong.
And in an effort to keep the relationship, you lose more and more of yourself. Your passions disappear. Your sense of self starts to evaporate. Life becomes an anxious, depressing effort and you have no idea how you got there.
- You never feel free: You can barely get through a conversation without mentioning their name. You are consumed with one subject. People quietly drift out of your life. The brave few may comment on your relationship obsession but most people just disappear.
- You can’t live without them: You have given up so many things over time. All of your sacrifices to keep the relationship alive have become the meaning in your life. So you are left wondering what you even have left without this person.
- You feel like you are always wrong: The drama is all-consuming and pointed in your direction. You have to have done something wrong to keep up the cycle of fighting and making up. But it takes its toll.
- It is exhausting. Being in a toxic relationship consumes your energy. When you are with them, you just want to get away. And when you do pull away, you feel nervous. Being manipulated has aftershocks. Drama breeds more drama. You begin to believe this partnership is what you need when in fact, it is the anchor weighing you down.
What Healthy Really Means
The relationship between two healthy partners can be described as interdependent. According to Dr. Barton Goldsmith on Psychology Today, interdependence is where two people, both strong individuals, are involved with each other, but without sacrificing themselves or compromising their values.
A balanced relationship requires independence for each partner. By maintaining your career ambitions, your friendships and your creative endeavors you maintain your individuality. Only by taking care of yourself as an individual can you contribute to a balanced partnership.
The catch is that a toxic partner will not stand for it. An independent partner is a threat. A threat to the drama that fuels the unhealthy attachment in the relationship. By giving you your freedom, they know that means giving up dominance in the relationship and maybe the relationship itself.
But there is one sign of true love that almost no one ever talks about. You may not even think of it as a healthy belief. Ask yourself this question about your relationship: do you want them to be free? Do they give you your freedom?
You see, in the purest form of love, you want to see your partner take off in every aspect of their life. What would you sacrifice to see them pursue their dreams? If your answer is anything, even the relationship itself, then you know what it means to love.
When you pick a partner, you pick a story, and that story becomes the life you live. -Esther Perel