Names of all clients have been changed.
An unhealthy or toxic relationship is one where you feel stuck in an unproductive, destructive, hostile or dependent pattern. These patterns cause you to go back and forth between wanting to leave and deciding to stay.
The critical question of toxic relationships is whether it’s time to leave. Here are 5 ways toxicity can crop up in relationships.
When one feels controlled by their partner
When a relationship is driven almost entirely by one person, that could be a sign of a toxic relationship.
Andy and Julie have been together for two years. Andy has a lot of opinions: he tells Julie what to wear, when to eat, where to buy her groceries- there is nothing that Andy leaves to Julie to figure out. At first, Julie enjoyed Andy’s involvement. It felt like he really cared about her and she agreed with most of his suggestions and even when they disagreed, she was happy to follow his lead.
Lately, however, Julie has begun to feel stifled and even derailed by Andy’s demands, but she feels like she can’t say no. Julie says, “I don’t feel like I had a choice. If I don’t do what he says, he refuses to speak to me or makes me feel like an idiot. It isn’t worth the trouble to disagree… and like I said, he’s usually right. I just want to feel like I can make my own decisions.”
Julie and Andy are likely in a toxic relationship. Though this doesn’t mean that Julie and Andy need to breakup, it does mean that they need some help to redefine the way they interact so that both partners can feel equal.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, I can help you navigate these discussions with your partner.
When one partner relies too much on the other
There are times when one person consults their partner on too many decisions- no matter how small.The consulted partner can feel put upon, taken advantage of, irritated and annoyed. Eventually, they often lose respect for their partner and wonder what happened to the adult person they fell in love with.
Amanda’s boyfriend Robert calls her every time he has a decision to make. It could be an important decision, like whether he should leave his job. Or, it can be a small one, like whether he should have Ramen again for the 4th night in a row. At first, Amanda liked feeling so included, consulted and involved. Now, though, when Robert calls, she doesn’t want to pick up the phone. “I don’t want to be my boyfriend’s mother. I want to have an adult relationship with him.”
Helping and relying on one another is a fundamental part of healthy love, but when you feel like your partner can’t think for themselves, this often begins to deteriorate a trusting adult romantic relationship.
If you find yourself in a dependent relationship, I can help you find balance in your relationship.
When money corrupts the relationship
It is common for one partner to make more money than the other. That doesn’t have to be a problem when both partners feel equal to each other. Sometimes, however, money can be used as a weapon of control and power. When this happens, the relationship can get corrupted.
Darryl and Michael have been together for fifteen years and share a bank account. When they first got together they were both struggling actors. Darryl is still auditioning and looking for his big break, while Michael has left acting and is now the creative director at an advertising agency. At first it was great that they had more money, but over time Darryl began to feel like Michael was monitoring his spending and second guessing his choices.
“It feels like I’m under surveillance. Even when I spend small amounts of money, he makes me feel guilty. And last year, when I wanted to buy a double oven so we can host our thanksgiving dinner with our friends, Michael completely blew up. He called me a slacker and said I was using him for his money. I can still hear those words in my ears.”
When financial decisions become personal and money is used to shut down equal discussions, things may be starting to fall apart. In relationships, it’s important that both partners feel equal, even when one partner makes much more money, or even all the money.
If you struggle with financial concerns in your relationships, therapy can help you decide how to move forward.
When there’s too much anger
Irritability and anger are normal human emotions, but when they occur too frequently it can feel like they dominate the relationship. In these cases, the negativity can become a barrier to a happy relationship.
Brene and Jamal have been together for only nine months. At first it was amazing. Jamal was caring towards her and open about himself. They talked and joked and they went everywhere together. She felt noticed, appreciated, and cared for in ways that were exciting and satisfying. They quickly fell madly in love.
Two months into the relationship, however, Brene began to have concerns. Every time they got together, she found herself trying to get Jamal out of a bad mood. He got mad about everything: the bagel wasn’t toasted, the coffee was too cold, the elevator was broken. It wasn’t long before Brene began to irritate him as well: she took too long to get ready, she didn’t answer when he texted, and she didn’t like his favorite movie. Now, Jamal frequently loses his temper and there is a lot of arguing.
“It’s only been nine months and it felt so great at the beginning. I don’t want to give up on him, but his temper is a big problem. I hate all this fighting. How do I get us back to the way we were?”
If you are in a relationship with too much anger, I can help you decide how to resolve the problem.
When one partner is too critical of the other
Feedback and constructive criticism between partners can be very valuable. Your partner knows you very well and can help you see yourself more clearly, especially when you are upset or vulnerable. When feedback becomes overly critical, however, it can create problems in your relationship.
Steve and Julie have been married for 22 years. When they met they were best friends, they talked about everything and supported each other through the beginnings of their careers. As their careers progressed, both Julie and Steve moved into upper management. Both of them feel good about their careers, but when they come home, things fall apart.
Steve says, “Julie used to be so supportive, but for the past few years, all she does is pick at me. She yells at me for coming home late, for not cleaning the kitchen properly, for being loud in the morning… everything gets on her nerves. Sometimes it gets personal. She makes fun of my grammar, tells me I’m not assertive enough at work and too soft on the kids, and she never stops talking about my weight. I’m not an insecure person, but It’s hard to feel good about myself when I’m around her.”
If you feel that your partner is overly critical of you, I can help you have productive discussions with your partner and work through this difficult and toxic situation.
Be honest with yourself, and believe that you deserve to be happy
Toxic relationships can take a toll on your mental health. Confident, happy people can become anxious and unhappy when there’s a recurring, unhealthy pattern in the relationship. Some toxic relationships can be healed, some may never be resolved.
Therapy can help you decide how to handle your relationship difficulties so you can feel confident and happy again.
To learn more about my couples counseling or marital therapy services head over to my services here.