By Dr. Jill Weber
It can be hard to see the signs of a toxic relationship when you are in the middle of it.
The dominant emotions in a toxic love pattern are insecurity and anxiety. You can’t take for granted that you are safe in the partnership. You don’t feel at peace that your needs will get met. When apart, you agonize over whether or not your partner is still into you. You live with angst and fear about how things will turn out in the future with your partner. You wonder if/when you will see your partner again. You live for the highs, but mostly you experience the lows. You too easily give up your responsibilities and commitments to spend a moment of time with your partner. When your time with your partner comes to an end, you feel empty and anxious all over again.
People who fall into dysfunctional love dynamics tend to go in and out of denial. At times they may make excuses for their behavior or that of their partners’. At other times they become so emotionally wrought with upset over the union, they can barely function or cope with daily life demands.
Toxic love is typically associated with strong highs, where both partners feel jubilant and passionate, and the lowest of the lows, often resulting in depression and generally feeling “stressed out” for long periods of time. Just like a drug, the reward centers of the brain light up when the highs are high and the brain’s happy chemicals plummet when the lows occur. The highs and positive feelings may be short-lived, but people often stay in these dysfunctional unions for a surprisingly long time, sustained by the anticipation of the next endorphin rush.
Typically with toxic love there is a repetitive kind of romantic trauma that takes place in your partnership. The nature of the trauma is different for everyone but the general theme is you disagree or argue about something — their lies, their mistreatment of you, your lies, your mistreatment of them are common conflicts — then you make up and have one brief moment of bliss. Then, the cycle repeats all over again.
The destructive pattern in the relationship can be because your partner has an addiction, including drugs or alcohol, has another romantic relationship, spouse, or complete other family and fits you in on the side. Or perhaps you or your partner have commitment/intimacy issues so that no matter what you do, you’re never able to become really close.
Whatever it is you are competing with makes your partner seem like a rare conquest. You spend your emotional resources and energy trying to get more — working to capture that special conquest that is your toxic love partner. It feels good when you get them for a moment, but the high is short lived and followed by an ever sinking low.
When a person partners with an unhealthy match, an addictive kind of relationship dynamic takes hold. The thoughts are all about getting your needs met or how they go unmet. What you or your partner are not thinking about is the other person’s ultimate well-being or happiness. You are each consumed with getting whatever you need from the other.
Here are five signs you are in a toxic love situation:
- Chronically second guessing yourself and doubting when you are upset with your partner, “am I overreacting…maybe I am being too sensitive…”
- Making excuses to friends and family members about your partner’s poor behavior “he had a tough week at work….he thought he had told me that he wasn’t coming, but I misunderstood…”
- Taking yourself away from your own feelings “just let it go…it’s really not a big deal…don’t be overly dramatic…”
- Anger that never seems to quite get quenched or resolved when you communicate with your partner.
- Continually trying to ‘fix’ things in the relationship. Working overtime to please or make things right. Feeling overly guilty and working to make amends about things that really may not be your responsibility.