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Toxic Love: 5 Steps to Get Rid of a Toxic Relationship

24.09.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Relationships between people are multifaceted. But the main principle of emotionally comfortable communication is one thing – exclusively positive emotions should prevail in the interaction of two personalities. Sympathy, respect for each other, trust, love. But what if the communication gives a solid negative? This is a toxic relationship that causes pain to at least one person. In this article, we will discuss some important issues: how to recognize destructive relations and whether it makes sense to fight for them.


What relationships are called toxic?

Toxic Love

“Toxic relationships” is an informal psychological term. But it very clearly describes what a person feels when dealing with certain personalities from his/her close (or not so close) environment. This is any interaction between people that brings emotional pain and the complete depletion of the resources of one of the parties. Being in a toxic relationship means constantly experiencing depression, guilt, fear, anxiety. A whole range of emotions and feelings, but they all have a negative color. [1]

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Toxic relationships seem easy to recognize. Why are there so many problems in communicating with colleagues, husband / wife, friends, relatives, because you can simply cut off all communications? Unfortunately, toxic human behavior is often not considered such, and we live for years without noticing what exactly destroys relationships that at first seemed ideal.

Between whom can a toxic relationship arise?

The phrase “toxic behavior” often sounds in the context of a relationship between a man and a woman. But in fact, you can encounter a person who will slowly but surely “poison” your life anywhere, anytime.

Considering some particular cases of toxic relationships.

  1. Parents and children

Relationships with parents and other older relatives are formed over the years. But in some cases it is simply necessary to change this stable system.

According to an American psychotherapist Jenny Miller, the younger generation suffers more from toxic relationships between parents and children. The specialist identifies a number of mistakes on the side of parents that can “poison” the life of a child:

  • aggression and excessive severity;
  • excessive care and control;
  • indifference;
  • humiliation;
  • emotional blackmail;
  • imposing one’s opinion;
  • excessive requirements;
  • constant violations of personal boundaries;
  • “emotional carousel”: either a harsh attitude or a manifestation of kindness.

Toxic parents, perhaps sometimes without realizing it, instill feelings of fear, self-doubt, guilt, shame in their children. Hence the numerous personal problems that prevent them in adult life from building relationships with partners, doing what they like and reaching heights.

Children of toxic parents often in one way or another repeat the traumatic experience of family relationships. A girl from a family of alcoholics marries a person with an addiction, experiencing the whole spectrum of negativity from the loved one’s drinking. A boy brought up by an emotionally cold mother finds an exactly the same wife and for many years suffers from a toxic relationship with a woman who does not show warmth and affection. [2]

  1.  Spouses

A toxic relationship with a husband or wife in a family can be different in both form and degree of destructive power. But there is a general characteristic – gradually developing dependence on a partner.

According to experts, people who, on the one hand, suffer in a toxic marriage, often cannot imagine their lives in an emotionally healthy marital union. And no matter how bad the victim of the manipulator and the aggressor feels, over time, he/she stops even trying to get out of the toxic relationship. This is the dependence on the partner and on those emotions (negative) that he/she gives. [1]

  1. Friends

A typical behavior of toxic friends is to take everything from you (both tangible and intangible) without giving anything in return.

A toxic friend often borrows money and does not give it back later, almost always speaks only about himself/herself, exerts psychological pressure, goes for emotional blackmail. He/she seems to be doing a favor, allowing him/her to be near.

A toxic relationship with a girlfriend or a friend is a one-way friendship. One of the parties to them always feels only disappointment.

Signs of a toxic relationship

Signs of a toxic relationship

Destructive relationships, regardless of the particular sphere of life in which they occur, have similar signs. How to understand that a relationship is toxic? A person who is not ready to build constructive interaction has the following behavioral features:

  • Open or latent aggression.
  • Attempts to derive material benefits from a relationship.
  • Baseless jealousy, which eventually turns into a mania.
  • Criticism with the aim of humiliating, ridiculing and dominating.
  • Disputes for the sake of disputes, just to “win”.
  • Emotional blackmail, which becomes a means of manipulation.

Toxic relationship test

You can justify a “strange” behavior of a loved one for a long time, hoping that he/she will do better, be ready for a peaceful dialogue and a constructive resolution of problems. As a rule, the signs of a toxic relationship with a man / woman are quite obvious, it is just necessary to objectively assess the current situation in the couple. 

Try a test to see if you are in a toxic relationship with your mother, husband, or a colleague. It is rather difficult to analyze in detail the behavior of an unfamiliar person. But if you have been in a relationship for a long time, assessing the “symptoms” of toxic relationships is not difficult. For each statement, which in your opinion is true, count 1 point.

  1. You are unhappy in a relationship.
  2. After communicating with a person, you feel moral exhaustion.
  3. From constant criticism by a person, you have become less self-confident.
  4. You constantly feel guilty of person’s problems.
  5. A person smoothly turns all conversations into discussion about only his/her problems.
  6. You are worried that a person is trying to control any of your actions.
  7. A person severely reproaches you, making you feel ashamed, even you had good reasons why you could not help him/her.
  8. You are afraid of what the next dialogue will lead to, as a person has sharp mood swings.
  9. Sometimes you do not understand how you agreed to do something for a person, because you have already ceased to understand where the truth is and where the skillful manipulations are.
  10. Relationships “inhibit” your personal development. Now all the time is spent on solving the numerous problems of another person.

Count your points:

  • Less than 3. Perhaps you are not communicating with a toxic person. And all the problems in relationship are connected with the next crisis.
  • From 3 to 7. It is likely that you are in close contact with a toxic person. It makes sense to more carefully analyze whether a particular person brings a lot of negativity into your life.
  • More than 7. Most likely, you are “stuck” in a relationship with a toxic person. Listen to your feelings and look at existing problems sensibly. You will feel better if you end a toxic relationship.

Negative effects of toxic relationships

Negative effects of toxic relationships

A clinical psychologist Seth Meyers identifies a number of the most serious consequences, which then will have to be “treated” for a long time if you do not get out of the toxic relationship with a man / woman. [3]

  1. Decrease in self-esteem

People who are in a toxic relationship almost always suffer from low self-esteem and sooner or later completely lose faith in themselves. A partner consciously or unconsciously builds interaction in such a way as to take complete control over the situation.

And even if you get rid of toxic relationships, self-confidence and the desire to enjoy every day you live will not come back soon.

  1. Losing yourself

A toxic person skillfully manipulates the feelings and actions of the partner. Time passes and the victim forgets that once there were bright dreams and plans for self-realization. A person already out of habit begins to live as the partner wants. A vivid example is a toxic relationship with a mother, when a dominating woman manipulates the feelings of a child so that her beloved child would always be “with her”. Any means are used – criticism, emotional blackmail, severe violation of personal boundaries. As a result, an adult child has no individual life, only his/her mother’s.

Loss of personal integrity can lead to a strong dependence on a toxic person. This makes it almost impossible to independently get out of a toxic relationship.

  1. Mental disorders

People who are in a toxic relationship for a long time often suffer from mental disorders – depression, neurosis, panic attacks, and increased anxiety. This is a consequence of the emotional tension that exists between people. There is a risk that mental disorders sooner or later have a negative impact on the physical condition of a person.

A typical case when the victim experiences not only emotional discomfort when interacting with another person is a toxic relationship with a man who is openly aggressive. Cases of domestic violence, when a woman suffers physical humiliation and pain for many years, are not new even for developed countries.

What stops breaking up a toxic relationship?

Many people, even realizing what emotional discomfort a connection with a partner brings, do not attempt to do anything to get rid of a toxic relationship. This is a fear of loneliness, guilt, shame – the feelings that the manipulator most likely developed over the years. And he/she feels these emotions, continuing to put even more pressure on the object of abuse. And the victim, in turn, argues like this: “it’s better than being alone”, “I’ll stay, because sometimes I feel good with him/her”, “what will people say if I start to change something in my life?”

Often an unhealthy interaction with the people around is a person’s own choice. Having broken one toxic relationship, he/she immediately finds another manipulator and a liar. A peculiar habit is being formed. If, over and over again, it is not possible to build a constructive, trusting relationship with a partner precisely because of an unhealthy behavior model, psychological training on the 7Spsy behavior modification technique will be effective. Positive attitudes will help you realize that being a victim in a relationship is the road to nowhere.

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5 steps to break up a toxic relationship

5 steps to break up a toxic relationship

It is difficult to get out of a toxic relationship with a friend, husband / wife, parents, especially if they lasted for many years. But having decided to change your life for the better, do it.

  1. Do not deny the problem

Do not deny the obvious. If signs of a toxic relationship with a husband / wife are clearly manifested, stop looking for an excuse for the behavior of a loved one and do not expect repentance.

  1. Understand that you are not losing anything when you leave a relationship

Many victims of toxic relationships think that by breaking unhealthy ties, they will lose something very valuable. This is just an illusion. You do not lose anything, but give yourself a chance to live happily.

The easiest way is to make a specific list. Write on paper all the good that you lose by breaking all ties with a person. It will immediately become clear that staying in the mutual interaction was no positive at all. And the sooner you realize this, finally seeing all the signs of a toxic relationship, the sooner you decide to do something.

  1. Start taking care of yourself

In a toxic relationship, you get used to thinking about another person. But now it should be different. Fill the void of your inner I, starting to take care of yourself.

Remember what hobby you always wanted to enjoy – it’s time to make dreams come true. Spend time and energy on self-education, look for new goals in life and achieve them.

  1. Get rid of guilt and shame

You will have to get rid of the feelings of guilt and shame that a toxic person has managed to impose on you over the years. But this is important to do in order to improve your life and “make peace” with the own self.

Analyze the experience of toxic relationships. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you once made and your weakness, for having lost so much time building unhealthy relationships. Do not feel sorry for yourself. And most importantly – try not to feel sympathy for the person who was left.

  1. Surround yourself with positive people

Isolating yourself is what you should definitely not do after breaking up the toxic relationship with your husband / wife. If a manipulator and an aggressor meets on your life path, this does not mean that all people are like that. Communicate and make friends, focus attention only on the positive. Taught by bitter experience, now you will immediately recognize a toxic person and will not establish a relationship with him/her.


  1. “Psychology of Relationships: selected psychological works”, 2004, V. N. Myasishchev.
  2. “Personal Boundaries: How to Establish and Defend them”, 2018, J. Miller.
  3. «Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve», 2010 г., S. Meyers.