November 20, 2009


Is your relationship mediocre or toxic?  Many people know when their relationship isn’t as good as they would like. They realize there’s something missing, yet they think most relationships are missing something.  Where people get stuck is in realizing when a relationship isn’t ideal versus when a relationship is toxic.  Here’s a quick list of signs that your relationship may be toxic:

1.    There is any type of physical abuse going on in the relationship.  If there is any physical abuse going on (hitting, pinching, pushing, pulling hair, slapping, etc.) then your relationship is toxic.  This is true even if the abuse happens only twice a year.  What you need to know about this is that abusers will abuse no matter who they are with—it’s not about you.  It’s about the abuser.  The bottom line is that abusers rely on others to allow their abuse.
2.    One partner is having an affair (or multiple affairs) and is not willing to give it up.  When you stay with a partner who’s having an ongoing affair, it is toxic to your system.  You start questioning your own attractiveness, you begin to hate the fact that you “can’t” seem to leave and you begin to cling to your partner out of desperation.  Your fear of losing your partner results in your accepting all sorts of unacceptable behavior.  The ripple effect of your staying in this situation is self esteem issues, depression, lack of self respect and even physical/health problems.

3.    One person has an active addiction that s/he is unwilling to address.  If your partner is an addict, they are not home.  You cannot have a relationship with someone who is never emotionally present.  When someone is always high or drunk, they are not present.  Get yourself to Al-Anon.
4.    One partner is a rager.  If your partner frequently explodes when they don’t like something, they are toxic--even if there is no physical violence occurring.  Being in a relationship with a rager is like living in a war zone.  You become hyper-vigilant to their moods so you can manage your behavior in a way that won’t set them off.  Your heart rate speeds up, you become anxious and you often live in fear of the next blow up.  This is trauma, not a relationship.
5.    Your partner often speaks to you with contempt, judgment and disdain.  If you’re in a relationship with someone who dismisses what you say, talks down to you and seldom takes responsibility for their actions—you’re in a toxic relationship.  If you often feel small, less than, dumb or inconsequential in their presence, yet you don’t normally feel these things in the presence of others, it’s likely you’re in a toxic relationship.

If any of the issues above are happening in your relationship, your relationship is not just mediocre, it is toxic.  Either address the issue head on and insist your partner get help or move on if they refuse.  Living in a toxic relationship will chip away at your life and your health one day at a time.  No-one and nothing is worth that.  Don’t ask your partner to get help, tell them that if they don’t, you can’t stay. Then you get help yourself to see why you’ve stayed in a toxic relationship for so long and to ensure you don’t repeat the same mistake in the future.

CHALLENGE:  If any of the above behaviors are going on in your relationship, realize that you do have the power to create change—by yourself.  Step in and address the issues directly.  There are a number of services available to help you through this toxicity.  If you choose not to use them, realize that any excuse you give for not making changes, is just that—an excuse.  Good luck and know that you deserve to be in loving relationships that fuels you.  Get out of the toxicity!!! 


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I'm a male, divorced now. Had a self-centered destructive wife that put me through lots of mental, psychological and verbal abuse:- Even physical abuse cause she was protected by LAW. Always got her way and lots of sympathy and support from outsiders, just because she was the woman. She wasted years of my live (and our child) and left me with lots of psychological scars. I'm trying to find myself again, but will never be the same person again. Toxic can come from either party. I never came across a support group for men. I really loved her.

This is an amazing post and one that I will be sharing with others. It can be very hard to see the difference between a relationship that is just in a rut or in trouble but still worth working on & one that is toxic.
Thank you for sharing your expertise.

DEAR RACHEL: You are very welcome!
Take care-Lisa

is there still loving relationships out there? where are they? what do they really look like, not the hollywood version.

When we first met we both thought that we had met our soulmates. We just fit together so perfectly, I had never felt that way about any other man ever. We haven't been together for very long, even though we both feel as if we've known each other our whole lives, maybe even some past ones I don't know maybe it's possible. Lately he's been acting really distant, not showing me any affection, talking to me with no love, more contempt. He no longer even tries to make me happy, like he could care less. He talks to me like he wants to purposely hurt me and make me cry. I have walked out and went home, and told myself that I didn't want to see him again, but that didn't last long, I end up calling him or going over, I can't stay away. Sometimes he can be so loving, but not as often as he is mean, calling me names, flinging his hands about an inch from my face, like he's hoping I will move so one of his hands will hit me, he does this while yelling at me like a mad man because I told him I didn't appreciate the way he made a sexist comment and disrespected me in front of my friends. I love him, but I need to love myself more. Thank you so much, for helping me realize that I'd rather be alone than with someone who is not good to have in my life.

DEAR BERTHA: You are very welcome. I'm happy for you for realizing great relationships start with yourself first. Love yourself enough to not accept poor treatment and the poor treatment will no longer be in your life (either because they change or because you realize you can't stay).
Nice job and never forget that you deserve to be treated well.
Take care-Lisa

This is a brilliant post that helped me enforce the acceptance of the behavior that I currently display to my spouse. We have been married for 8 years and the later part of our marriage has not been well.
Recently we have discussed getting help. In the past, we have seen counselors, but not on a consistent basis. Mostly due to the fact that when things became better, we stopped going. Eventually, all had reverted to the old ways and the cycle continued.
I have always been aware that I am the larger, toxic half to our relationship. With my own personal issues, coupled with the daily achievements of being in a relationship, at times, it felt overwhelming. I also realize that many of the behaviors that I exhibit are simply learned reactions to my own parent’s toxic relationship.
Reading this article and the many others you have available, has not opened my eyes, but helped me realized my issues even more and drove me to make an appointment to a counselor, to finally confront, and continue to address my issues and learn how to evolve myself into more positive self position for myself, and my wife.

DEAR JASON: Thank you so much for sharing and being courageous enough to look at your side AND change it. I hope more men see your example and follow suit (and yes women have to change as well--it's just nice for men to hear it directly from other men).
Take care-Lisa

Thank you for sharing this post. As much as I do not want to admit that my relationship is toxic or abusive, it seems that all signs point to this conclusion. I want to feel safe in my relationship. I want to be supported. When I open the door for a discussion of a problem, every negative and hurtful thing my partner can think to put me down is said. I tell him that 'I am having a rough time right now', and with this knowledge he proceeds to kick me while I am down and remind me of all the ways in which I am inadequate. I don't want to be afraid to ask for kindness without fear of being told I'm asking for too much. I value myself and I believe that I deserve better, so why can't I leave? Even in the face of emotional abuse and apathy, I want to find a way to make it work. Is this salvagable? Or I am fooling myself? Your advice is always so measured, and I hope that, even without the whole story, you are able to advise me. Thank you.

DEAR NICOLE: It sounds like your relationship is toxic. It also can be salvageable if your partner is willing to make some changes. If he's not willing to change, then you'll have to get stronger so you don't accept the unacceptable. Changing the relationship starts with you being clear his mean comments are not okay with you. Every time he says one you need to step in and tell him it's not okay to speak to you like that. If he continues, tell him you are ending the conversation until he can be respectful--then leave the room. Do this EVERY time.
I would first, however, sit him down and tell him how you feel. Let him know what you're seeing and that you don't like it. Be clear that it is hurting your relationship. Let him know you love him and he needs to start treating you better. Also let him know that you will be setting limits on his mean comments and will no longer sit there while he talks to you in a mean way. You then need to follow through with what you say. If you do this, it is a gift to you and your relationship. Remember that every time you set a limit. Don't worry about him being mad. Remind yourself that you deserve to be in a loving relationship and refuse to settle for less. When you settle, you chip away at yourself until leaving becomes an almost impossible feat. Setting these limits will help you to be strong enough to leave should you need to.
Good luck--Lisa

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