Why do we stay in toxic relationships and what can we do about it?


Toxic relationships: What it feels like to be in one, how to recognise red flags and what can you do about it. Read on to find out more on toxic relationships.

“Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” ~Marilyn Monroe

Toxic relationship: What it feels like?

Why does it have to hurt so badly? You’re so in love, but your relationship has become toxic. It simply can’t continue. Night after sleepless night, you lie awake replaying the fights in your head. You can’t understand why your partner won’t change or how they can simply ignore how you feel. You wonder if they ever truly loved you. You’ve tried everything to save your relationship, but nothing’s worked. You know it’s time to end it, yet the thought of being alone petrifies you. But still, the pain has become too unbearable. If you don’t end things now, you might completely lose yourself.

It’s hard to see what’s best for yourself when you’re invested in a relationship. It’s not always easy to remember who you are and what you want. You can start to lose yourself and forget to make yourself and your happiness a priority. There is a lot we put up with because the pain certain relationships bring us is less intimidating than the pain of letting go of the person you love.

unhealthy relationship

There’s nothing wrong with admitting a relationship has run its course. Even if you can’t conceptualize your life without that person, with time and distance, you’ll be able to see the relationship for what it was

We fall into habits in our relationships just as we fall into habits in our daily lives. People become part of our comfort zone. They become part of our daily reality and routine. It can be hard to recognize that we are in a toxic relationship at all and even harder to say goodbye. We have to learn to recognize when we are staying in a relationship out of fear. We tell ourselves stories: “Without them I’ll be miserable, not everyone’s perfect, it’s not that bad, I’ve known them too long, I depend on them financially.” All of these are tough situations. But ultimately, we need to make a decision. Do we want to be more committed to our comfort zone? Or do we want to be more committed to our joy, happiness, and freedom? We have a choice to make. It’s not an easy one, but it’s a necessary one. And it doesn’t always mean that we have to eliminate someone from our life. You can always learn how to manage it and transform it if possible.

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What is a toxic relationship?

A toxic relationship is one where behaviors on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally and, not infrequently, damaging to their partner. poisonous relationshipWhile a healthy relationship contributes to our self-esteem and emotional energy, a toxic relationship damages self-esteem and drains energy. A healthy relationship involves mutual caring, respect, and compassion, a shared desire for each other’s happiness. A healthy relationship is a safe relationship, a relationship where we can be ourselves without fear, a place where we feel comfortable and secure. A toxic relationship, on the other hand, is not a safe place. A toxic relationship is characterized by insecurity, self-centeredness, dominance, control. We risk our very being by staying in such a relationship.

4 ways to find out if someone is really poisonous for your life:

In an argument they look to inflict damage, not solve problems. They are not trying to solve problems; they are trying to protect themselves from damage. When you do something that makes them feel insecure, they won’t come to you with that vulnerability, instead they will make it into a fight and then go on to revenge. They will try doing something that will make you feel even more jealous than they are feeling right now.

They treat everything like it’s an attack. You may come to them completely civil and rational way and choose your words very carefully and yet you will find that they will meet that with aggression

They make you the root of all evil. So whenever there is a problem, whenever there is something going wrong, they will always make it about you, your problems and what you’re doing wrong and why you don’t understand it. So now instead of admitting that something is actually their fault, and that they need to change something, they will convince you that the problem is coming from you.

They will show you the most love when you are hurt. So it’s a kind of behaviour where they’ll go super aggressive, they will make you feel like crap and when you’re so insecure that you need love, and you’re sorry, you need someone to lean on and you need them as a crutch, then they will show you love because at that point they feel like it is safe to do so.

So why do we stay in toxic relationships?

abusive relationshipAs humans, we learn to observe and experience relationship patterns while we grow up. What we observe and understand and experience in our own families gets imbibed in our hearts and in our minds. The way we understand love and relationships, the way we learn to receive and give love to others is formed based on our childhood experiences and these becomes our patterns in love and relationships throughout our lives. These patterns and experiences are more familiar to us and thus make us feel safe as we can anticipate them, even if they hurt us or are not able to fulfil our needs and desires in the relationship. With anything other than what you are familiar to, even if it fulfils your needs and desires, it might seem overwhelming and so instead, you look to create a pattern that you are familiar to and used to dealing with. All of this is not necessarily a conscious attempt to create and remain in such patterns but an unconscious attempt to tread on familiar paths to safeguard ourselves from the presumed dangers of the unknown.

What to do when in a toxic relationship?

In a relationship, we come with imperfections, we come with flaws, insecurities and wounds from previous relationships. The whole point is that you need to come into a relationship to meet a team player, who is also imperfect and you can help heal each other.  “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”- Thomas Merton. You don’t need someone to complete you, you only need them to love you completely.

The truth is, you may or may not be able to fix a toxic relationship, but there are certainly steps you can take to try.

In some cases, clear communication and two willing partners can vastly improve the quality of their relationship.

Sometimes the other person is completely unwilling to change, or change anything about how they treat you. At that point, you’ll need to have clear boundaries and decide whether or not you want them to be in your life at all (relationships with family members or the parent to your children might be examples of relationships you don’t sever, but approach with extremely clear boundaries in place).


There are a few things you must put in place in order to improve a toxic relationship:

First, you need to be willing to walk away. Find the place in your mind where you could picture leaving the relationship and being completely OK. Visualizing this is important because it will help your mind see that you really are OK and it will quiet the voices in your head that fuel your fear of loss.

Establishing clear boundaries isn’t about being confrontational or assertive or mean. It is simply about being clear on what you will accept and what you won’t accept, clear in your communication and clear about who is responsible for what.

You cannot be responsible for someone else’s emotions, reactions or actions. You are completely responsible for your own actions and emotions. Nobody else can be. Notice I used the word “can” up above and not “should”.

When things are calm, talk about the relationship. difficult relationshipYou can start the conversation by saying “You’re important to me and I want you in my life. There are some things in this relationship that are deal-breakers for me. My hope is that we can work them out and the only way that could happen is if I tell you clearly what they are.” Then explain instances you found unacceptable to you and suggest ways of resolving those issues mutually.

It might be a calm conversation or it might get ugly. What determines if there can be improvement is if, at the end of the conversation, you have an agreement that you are both willing to each take responsibility for your own actions and emotions and not put that on the other person. This applies to both of you. In order for this to work, the relationship cannot be approached from a victim/victimizer perspective. Instead, it must be approached from the perspective of what’s best for everyone involved, with clear and complete personal emotional responsibility in both people.

They might choose not to change, in which case you might choose to end the relationship (or drastically limit your exposure to him if completely leaving is not possible).

They might fight you hard at first, but without your negative reaction to his habitual communication to you, they might begin to change when they realize you really will leave if things don’t change.

Or they might be surprisingly understanding and receptive to what you tell them and be willing to work with you on improving the relationship together.

If you do decide to stay in the relationship and they are willing to consciously work on how they communicate with you, make sure you remember that you’re on the same side and you’re right there with them (not standing back waiting, judging, and watching with your arms crossed).


NOTE: Any relationship involving physical violence or substance abuse is by definition extremely toxic and requires immediate intervention and, with very few exceptions, separation of the two partners. While these relationships are not necessarily irreparable, I cannot emphasise too much how destructive they are. If you’re in such a relationship, get help now! Speak with our relationship counsellors and experts anonymously at Askmile.com.

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