Relationships are complicated; each one unique. Some conflict in a relationship is to be expected as we all have differing opinions and viewpoints on life.

So what is a toxic relationship?

“A toxic relationship is a relationship characterized by behaviors on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally and, not infrequently, physically damaging to their partner. While a healthy relationship contributes to our self-esteem and emotional energy, a toxic relationship damages self-esteem and drains energy.”

If the relationship is toxic, and the person making it that way isn’t open to change, it is highly likely that attempts to compromise and ameliorate the issues won’t change anything. If the relationship is toxic, it is possible that the emotional health of the partner who is not toxic will be more and more damaged by staying in it. Sometimes, the only thing left to do, is to let go with grace and love and move on.

At what point does a relationship become toxic?

Perhaps your partner’s words or actions contribute to you feeling bad about yourself or unworthy. You might dread being around them but feel some sort of obligation to stick with them. Maybe they use guilt to twist you into staying around, despite the pain they cause you. Perhaps things get violent, or, they abuse you mentally and emotionally. Toxic relationships may not be easy to recognize but being aware of the following signs may make it easier to identify.

Eight signs that you may be in a toxic relationship:

1.You always feel guilty, but you don’t know why.
Your partner is always making you feel as though you did something wrong, but you genuinely can’t understand why.

2. Your partner is obsessively jealous.
It’s okay to occasionally be a little jealous. In a way, jealousy says they care about you, but too much can be controlling. If their jealousy means you can’t talk or spend time with others, then there may be a big problem.

3. It’s always your fault.
Nobody is perfect, and no relationship is perfect. Disagreements will arise, but the cause should be shared equally. Healthy relationships are a two-way street. If your partner accuses you of causing every issue every time, then that may be a red flag.

4. You’re never good enough.
Has your relationship caused you to lose self-confidence? Does your partner discourage you from following your goals and dreams? In a healthy relationship, both parties will support and encourage each other, build each other up, and cheer each other on.

5. You no longer do what you love.
Do you have passions and hobbies that your partner doesn’t approve of? Your partner may not care about knitting or gardening, but a non-toxic partner also won’t poke fun at the fact that you love doing those things. They will take an interest in your passions, even if it’s just to understand what makes you happy. It is not healthy or normal to sacrifice your passions to avoid a fight or conflict.

6. You never know when they’re going to explode.
Are you always walking on eggshells because you don’t know when your partner’s next insecurity will arise in the form of a fight or accusation? This is a form of intimidation and abuse. Any form of physical or emotional violence is never okay.

7. He or she doesn’t accept your flaws.
Everyone has flaws, so, don’t try to be perfect for your partner because your idiosyncrasies annoy them. A good partner may open a dialogue about some of these characteristics but will recognize that you’re human and shouldn’t have to be flaw-free. He or she will motivate you to become a better person because you want to be, not because they demand it.

8. Risky behavior is the norm.
These bad behaviors can be anything from smoking, drinking too much, or even driving like a maniac for a thrill. If your partner is engaging in damaging behaviors, or making you do the same, then it’s time to find a better solution.

If you’ve identified some signs that you might be in a toxic relationship, below are some recommended “next steps”.

First, if you and/or your child(ren) are being physically abused, get help and access to safety immediately.

Second, if you’re experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, don’t keep it a secret. It takes a lot of courage to identify and accept the reality of an out-of-balance relationship. Talk to someone you trust and seek professional help. A therapist can often serve as an objective, neutral party to help identify areas of the relationship that both parties can work on or to point out that which is so often obvious to outsiders, but sometimes we ourselves cannot see because we are too close to the situation. Many times, critical tools and skills are missing by one or both parties in the relationship. If both sides are truly open to change and want the relationship to work, it oftentimes can with a lot of work and effort.

Third, if after all your (and professional) efforts at bringing change have failed, it is at that point that you need to give that person over to God. It’s not to say that we give up on the person. To give up is to walk away and say, “I don’t care what happens to you.” To give a person “over to God” is to walk away as you say, “I have done all that I can do. I’m entrusting you to God from this point on.”

Trust God to help you recognize when a relationship is becoming detrimental to your business, your ministry, your health, or the health of your family life. Trust God to give you the strength to work on that relationship. If the relationship can’t be helped, trust God to give you the courage to end the relationship. Trust Him to give you the strength and courage to take the criticism that you may face for ending the relationship.

As Christians, some of us feel hopelessly trapped in abusive relationships. We think the Lord wants us to be endlessly patient and tolerant of the sins of others against us. The Bible does not instruct us to continue in an abusive relationship. Walking away from a relationship is never easy. It may be one of the most difficult decisions any of us will ever have to make. Often, we still love our abuser, even after many years of mistreatment. Deciding when a relationship is never going to be healthy for you and understanding when you are never going to be treated with love or respect is the key to getting out before things become so extreme.

Having a support system of good friends and loved ones is always helpful and necessary so that you do not feel alone if the relationship ends. You need people who truly care and want what’s best for you to lean on. Remember that you are never alone. Always lean upon our Lord who knows you, loves you and died for you.

…Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Susan Shields, LMHC, LIMHP, LPC
Mental Health & Marriage Counselor for Lutheran Family Service

Do you need professional help to get your relationship on a better path? Or, do you need help to recover from a toxic relationship? Reach out today HERE.

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