“Please, please, stop yelling at me!
I will stop shouting when you freakin’ stop complaining!
I am not complaining. I am just calmly telling you what bothers me.
You never stop doing you. Whatever I do for this family is never good enough!
You are such a controlling bitch! I am out of here!”

Have you ever thought: It is impossible to talk to you! You are so reactive, always defensive and angry. Our conversations always end in blowouts.

“I am exhausted. I can’t do this anymore.”

Even strong, independent people can find themselves in toxic relationships. Toxic relationships erode a person’s self-esteem and worth. They tear at the muscle tissue of self-confidence and rip at the integrity of the soul, crushing the human spirit.

Can you imagine sitting on the couch together, calmly speaking about very sensitive matters and having enough self-control and mutual respect that the emotional intensity does not elevate from 0-10 in seconds? This is possible for nine out 10 couples! Sure, it may take some work, but the good news is . . . it is just work!

Most Frequently Asked Questions:

Can a Toxic Person Change?

The answer to this is, of course! The harder question is: How much change is possible? The working material of change begins with genetics, biology, attachments and historical modelling. Generally speaking, professionals believe that a person’s personality will not change. In other words, the grain of pine will never be like that of an oak. However, if a person is willing and able to invite insight and investigate the lens through which they see their world, they can transform behaviours, emotional responses and even their neurological pathways. That is a lot of change!

But let’s be real. It does take openness and a lot of hard work. The good news is that no one died from hard work. However, many have died from a broken heart.

So, I believe that, while we all are predisposed to certain characteristics, we are all invited to change the parts of ourselves that can create an environment of chaos and hurt, even to the partners we love.

To stay in a toxic relationship is another question entirely!

What we do know is that toxic relationships can snuff out our soul. It is important to understand the consequences of staying as well as leaving. What I can recommend with my whole heart is that doing nothing about issues does not solve them. Problems get solved or they don’t!

Remember, you have been given a gift that NO ONE can take away from you.

Choice and Voice.

I believe that toxic people seem to need partners to be toxic with, and their partners might be contributing to the toxic relationship in some way or another as well. So, the equally valid question is:

Can the partner of a toxic person change? My answer to this is, ABSOLUTELY!

I believe that toxic relationships are created by at least two individuals. Toxic relationships have certain characteristics, just as individuals do. So, the relationship is at least somewhat reflective of the two individuals. Whether someone is driven to be with a person who is bad for them or compelled to push away a person who is good for them, people enter into a toxic relationship in order to repeat patterns from their past that are unpleasant but familiar. Of course, this is a highly unconscious process. People often choose a partner who fits with their attachment style and defense mechanisms. They are often unaware that their partner’s undesirable traits match up with their own.

What does a toxic relationship look like?

Toxic relationships often display the following behaviours:

  • They often confuse committed love with desperation or love hunger.They are afraid of intimacy.
  • They often do not know themselves well and are in love with the propped-up image of themselves.
  • They are often attracted to early attachment styles, even though they might be unhealthy.
  • They have an inability to take responsibility for their words or actions.
  • Blame is the name of the game, and they freak out when you disagree with them.
  • They are often selfish, demanding, and have a great need for power or powerlessness.
  • They have difficulty sharing power, decisions, and responsibility, and seem obsessed about fairness.
  • They can be controlling, even by using helplessness.
  • They may lie or deny or shave the truth until it is hard to tell what is real anymore. You might even question your own sanity.
  • They can be emotionally manipulating, taking on the role of a parent or child.
  • They often switch their issues to focus on yours; when bringing up your concerns they overpower you with theirs.
  • They may bulldoze their agenda through all forms of negotiations.
  • They may use anger or emotional blackmail to get their way.
  • They are more likely to criticize than affirm or acknowledge.
  • They may be very narcissistic and unable to allow you to be an individual.
  • They ignore your boundaries.

Can we work this out while staying together?

All relationships are worth fighting for.

How do you know when you should leave?

All relationships are worth fighting for until they are not. Continued fighting to hold on to someone who is not fighting to hold on to you makes us ask the question: Is it time to leave?

This is an almost impossible space to live in. We often feel it is too good to leave but also too bad to stay. We live in this tension, day in day out, until we can’t sleep, eat or smile. We can feel our soul washing away with every accusation, criticism and cold shoulder. The sparkle is gone from our eyes, the spring has left our step and we find reasons to just simply avoid them.

These are monumental decisions that put the children, the family and you at risk. It is time to leave if you are at risk of any kind of continual abuse – physical, mental, spiritual or emotional. We know that life sometimes throws wounding stones, leaving us feeling battered and bruised. For most of us, though, we can argue and rebalance to a reasonable and respectful stance. If this doesn’t happen, we live life off-balance, wounded and toxically infected. This state will kill love and steal all that is precious to us. No relationship is worth losing our self-worth over!

No one should have to make these extremely difficult decisions alone. It is most unlikely that you have the ability to think through the emotional maze of the relationship. It is time to call for help immediately. And I did say immediately! Seek out an experienced marriage therapist. An online marriage therapist may be your answer.

Never travel a difficult road alone!

What are the characteristics of a toxic relationship?

  • We yell, shout and swear at one another.
  • We turn and redirect the focus from our behavior to theirs.
  • We don’t take ownership of our words or behaviour.
  • One or both avoid expressing thoughts and feelings because they feel there is no point.
  • When someone cannot disagree without emotional fireworks.
  • When saying ‘no’ is a fighting word.
  • When indirect attacks are made through sarcasm and passive-aggressive behaviours.
  • When your partner feels that whatever you are going through, they are going through it in a worse way.
  • Denial and outright lies.
  • Crazy-making – when they deny having just said something.
  • When your sacrifices for the relationship are bankrupting you.
  • When one or both withhold human needs in order to punish.
  • Someone weaponizes sex, money or relationships.
  • Someone creates alliances to isolate the other.

Why is it so difficult to end a toxic relationship?

Reasons why people chose to stay in toxic relationships

  • Being married only once was their dream for their life.
  • Their faith frowns upon it.
  • They said vows to each other.
  • They value the financial security.
  • They don’t want to lose all that they as a couple have worked so hard to accomplish.
  • There is still good mingled with the bad.
  • They still care about the other person.
  • They are afraid of retribution.
  • They want to give the children a traditional family.
  • They do not want to hurt the children.
  • They fear they cannot make it on their own.
  • They fear they would regret their decision.
  • They don’t want to make a potentially big mistake.

Reasons why people chose to stay in toxic relationships

  • Being married only once was their dream for their life.
  • Their faith frowns upon it.
  • They said vows to each other.
  • They value the financial security.
  • They don’t want to lose all that they as a couple have worked so hard to accomplish.
  • There is still good mingled with the bad.
  • They still care about the other person.
  • They are afraid of retribution.
  • They want to give the children a traditional family.
  • They do not want to hurt the children.
  • They fear they cannot make it on their own.
  • They fear they would regret their decision.
  • They don’t want to make a potentially big mistake.

How do I get out of a toxic relationship?

Well, we might get some ideas from this famous pop song . . .

There must be fifty ways to leave a lover!

“The problem is all inside your head”, she said to me
“The answer is easy if you take it logically
I’d like to help you in your struggle to be free
There must be fifty ways to leave your lover”

You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free

However, getting yourself free from a marriage is not that simple, and not that clean. It is one of the most difficult things people go through in life. At the same time, there is some sound wisdom in the song.

Firstly, if you are not safe, you hop on the bus and get yourself out of there. Now!
Secondly, you need to make a careful plan (possibly with Stan) to take care of yourself and your children. You should work with trusted people to walk with you through the front door, not the back, with your head held high and your integrity intact.

You should begin to create a team of specialists to help guide you through this potentially difficult journey. An online marriage therapist, or one you see face-to-face, may be the first one to have join your team. But a trusted neutral friend will also be an important addition. Speaking to a lawyer can be essential but only after you have come to the definite decision that you want to leave. Just remember, never do this alone!

How do I get over a relationship?

Well, some people would say that time heals all wounds. I disagree. Time doesn’t heal anything. The healing is a whole other process that time allows for. But if someone doesn’t do the work of healing, it will not heal.

Being proactive and intentional about your internal and relational self is always a good idea. You do not want to waste one ounce of pain when you have to go through such a difficult process. There are lessons to learn, patterns to ponder, courses to correct, and things to not repeat. A smart person does not see this as a failure but as an opportunity to never repeat past mistakes and to learn from even painful ones. An online therapist is someone with whom you can fully process your experiences in a confidential setting.

Lastly, you need to refocus on the present and future and begin to invest in what you want your new life to look like. Gently let go of the past relationship, respecting its place in your story but starting a new chapter with hope and courage. You will heal and life will be good again!