All failed relationships hurt, but letting go of a toxic relationship is actually a gain, not a loss.
As youngsters we learn about sex education in grade school, the legality of marriage in our late teens, and perhaps some social psychology in college. But when it comes down to actually handling the intricacies of real-world relationships, we’re given very little formal guidance… or worse, we’re given advice columns in online beauty magazines.
Yes, relationships are trial-and-error from the get-go. And if you’re like most of us, you’ve experienced plenty of error along the way.
A big part of the problem is that many toxic relationship behaviors are baked right into our culture. We worship the idea of carefree romantic love – you know, where two people ride off into the sunset happily ever after before they even truly know each other. And we are raised to objectify our relationships and guard them like personal property. Thus, our friends and lovers are often treated as assets rather than human beings of free will with whom to share true love and emotional support.
Fortunately, there’s been a lot of scientific research into healthy and happy relationships over the past few decades that have allowed people in the know to build their mental strength against toxic relationships and toxic relationship behaviors. And that’s exactly what I want to share with you today – ten common types of toxic relationships mentally strong people learn to avoid:
1. Relationships run by one person.
A relationship is toxic when one person is running it. Period.
When you feel out of control or a little lost it can be tempting to look for someone willing to take charge of your life for you, just to alleviate the pressure. But before you do consider this: If you put a collar around your own neck and hand the leash to someone else, you’ll have no say about where they lead you in life.
We should never feel powerless or trapped in a relationship. In fact, if either person feels powerless or trapped, the relationship doesn’t really exist. Because that’s what relationships are all about: freedom.
Yes, healthy relationships are built on a solid foundation of free will and teamwork. And since relationships are one of the greatest vehicles of personal growth and happiness, the most important trip you will ever take in life is meeting someone else halfway. You will achieve far more by working with them, rather than working against them or trying to control them. It really is a full circle. The strength of a relationship depends on the individual strength of its two members, and the strength of each member in the long run depends on the quality of the relationship.
2. Relationships that are supposed to “complete” you.
Our culture, which is predicated on fantasies of romantic love, often suggests that once you meet “The One,” you will be lifted out of your misery or boredom and elevated into a state of perpetual wholeness and bliss.
So, it’s easy to believe that it’s your partner’s job to make you feel joyful and whole. But the truth is, while a healthy relationship can certainly bring joy, it’s not your partner’s job to fill in your empty voids. That’s your job and yours alone, and until you accept full responsibility for your emptiness, pain, or boredom, problems will inevitably ensue in the relationship.
The longing for completion that you feel inside comes from being out of touch with who you are. Nobody else in this world can make you happy. It’s something you have to do on your own. And you have to create your own happiness first before you can share it with someone else.
3. Relationships that rely on codependency.
When your actions and thoughts revolve around another person to the complete disregard of your own needs, that’s codependency, and it’s toxic. When you set a precedent that someone else is responsible for how you feel at all times (and vice versa), then you both will develop codependent tendencies. Suddenly, neither one of you is allowed to plan something without getting approval. All activities – even the mundane things such as watching a TV program – must be negotiated and compromised. When someone begins to get upset, all personal needs go out the window because it’s now your responsibility to make one another feel better.
The biggest problem of developing these codependent tendencies is that they breed resentment. Sure, if Angel gets mad at me once because she’s had a crappy day and is aggravated and needs attention, that’s understandable. But if it becomes an expectation that my life revolves around her emotional well-being 24/7, then I’m eventually going to become very bitter towards her feelings and desires.
As Jim Rohn once said, “The greatest gift you can give somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, ‘If you will take care of me, I will take care of you. “Now I say, I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.’”
In other words, take responsibility for your own emotions and expect your partner and friends to be responsible for theirs. There’s a subtle yet important difference between being supportive and being obligated at all times. Any sacrifices for others should be made as a self-directed choice and not seen as an obligation. (Read Codependent No More.)
4. Relationships based on idealistic expectations.
You don’t love and appreciate someone because they’re perfect, you love and appreciate them in spite of the fact that they are not. “Perfection” is a deadly fantasy – something none of us will ever be. So beware of your tendency to “fix” someone when they’re NOT broken. They are perfectly imperfect, just the way they should be.
Truthfully, the less you expect from someone you care about, the happier your relationship with them will be. No one in your life will act exactly as you hope or expect them to, ever. They are not YOU – they will not love, give, understand or respond like you do.
The biggest disappointments in life and in relationships are the result of misplaced expectations. Tempering unrealistic expectations of how something or someone “should be” will greatly reduce unnecessary frustration and suffering.
Bottom line: Any relationship that’s real will not be perfect, but if you’re willing to work at it and open up, it could be everything you’ve ever dreamed of.
5. Relationships where past blame is used to justify present righteousness.
When someone you’re in a relationship with continues to blame you for your past mistakes, your relationship is toxic. If both people in the relationship do this it becomes a hopeless battle to see who has screwed up the most over the years, and therefore who owes the other one more of an apology.
When you use someone else’s past wrongdoings in order to try and justify your own present righteousness, it’s a lose-lose situation. Not only are you dodging the current (valid) issue itself, but you’re digging up guilt and bitterness from the past to manipulate the other person into feeling wrong in the present.
If this goes on long enough, both people in the relationship eventually spend most of their energy trying to prove that they’re less guilty than the other rather than solving the present problem. They spend all of their time trying to be less wrong for each other instead of being more right for each other.
You must recognize that by choosing to be in a relationship with someone, you are choosing to be with all of their prior mistakes. If you don’t accept those mistakes, then ultimately, you do not accept them. If something bothered you that much in the past, you should have dealt with it then. It’s time to let bygones be bygones. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
6. Relationships built on daily lies.
Trust is the foundation of a healthy relationship, and when trust is broken it takes time and willingness on the part of both people to repair it and heal. All too often, I’ll hear a coaching client say something like, “I didn’t tell him but I didn’t lie about it, either.” This statement is a contradiction, as omissions are lies too. If you’re covering up your tracks in any way, it’s only a matter of time before the truth is revealed and trust in the relationship is broken.
Remember, an honest adversary is always better than a friend or lover who lies. Pay less attention to what people say, and more attention to what they do. Their actions will show you the truth in the long run.
If you catch someone you care about lying to you, speak up. Some people will lie to you repeatedly in a vicious effort to get you to repeat their lies over and over until they effectively become true. Don’t partake in their nonsense. Don’t let their lies be your reality. Don’t be afraid to stand up for the truth – YOUR truth. Forgiveness and reconciliation can’t begin until this truth is told.
7. Relationships that lack forgiveness and the willingness to rebuild trust.
Failing to understand that broken trust CAN be repaired leads to a grim future.
When trust is broken, which happens in nearly every long-term relationship at some point, it’s essential to understand that it can be repaired, provided both people are willing to do the hard work of self-growth.
In fact, it’s at this time, when it feels like the solid bedrock of your relationship has crumbled into dust, that you’re being given an opportunity to shed the patterns and dynamics with each other that haven’t been serving you. It’s painful work and a painful time, and the impulse will be to leave, especially if you believe that broken trust cannot be repaired. But if you understand that trust levels rise and fall over the course of a lifetime you’ll be more likely to find the strength to hang in, hang on, and grow together.
8. Relationships in which passive aggression trumps communication.
Passive aggressive behavior takes many forms but can generally be described as a non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior. Instead of openly expressing how they feel, someone makes subtle, annoying gestures directed at you. Instead of saying what’s actually upsetting you, you find small and petty ways to take jabs at someone until they pay attention and get upset.
This is obviously a toxic relationship situation. It shows that you two are not comfortable communicating openly and clearly with one another. A person has no reason to be passive-aggressive if they feel safe expressing any worries or insecurities within the relationship. A person will never feel a need to hide behind passive aggression if they feel like they won’t be judged or criticized for what they are thinking.
In healthy relationships, feelings and desires are shared openly. Make it clear that the other person is not necessarily responsible or obligated to your ideas and opinions, but that you’d love to have their support. If they care about you, they will likely give it, or at least compromise in some way.
9. Relationships governed by emotional blackmail.
Emotional blackmail is when someone applies an emotional penalty against you when you don’t do exactly what they want. The key condition here is that you change your behavior, against your will, as a result of the emotional blackmail. In other words, absent the emotional blackmail you would do differently, but you fear the penalty so you give in. This is extremely toxic behavior.
The solution, as with passive aggression, is simply better communication. There should never be a penalty, just an honest conversation. It’s crucial for both people in a relationship to know that negative thoughts and feelings can be communicated safely to one another without there being penalties and harsh repercussions. Otherwise people will suppress their true thoughts and feelings which leads to an environment of distrust and manipulation.
Perhaps there’s something that really bothers you about your friend or lover. Why aren’t you saying something? Are you afraid they’ll get upset? Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. Either way you need to deal with it upfront, constructively, and avoid burying it until it worsens, festers and explodes out of you.
Remember, it’s fine to get upset at someone you care about or to not like something about them. That’s called being an imperfect human being. Understand that committing to a person and always liking a person’s choices is not the same thing. One can be committed to someone and not like everything about them. On the contrary, two people who are capable of communicating sincere criticism towards one another without judgment or emotional blackmail will strengthen their commitment to one another in the long run. (Read Emotional Blackmail.)
10. Relationships that are always put on the back burner.
Failing to carve out quality time for important relationships is one of the most toxic relationship mistakes of them all, and yet it often goes unnoticed… at least for a while… until everything starts falling apart.
The truth is, relationships are like any other living entity: they require dedicated time in order to survive and thrive. It’s easy to allow life to take over, especially when you have young children, work, and a body that needs nourishing food and exercise. But your relationship with someone is a body as well, and if it’s not watered with quality time every week, it will start to wither. Make time every week to focus only on those you care about, and time every day to pour even just a few minutes of quality interaction into your closest relationships.
Nothing you can give is more appreciated than your sincere, focused attention – your full presence. Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of the next event is the ultimate compliment. It is indeed the most valued gesture you can make to another human being.
The floor is yours…
What would you add to the list? What toxic relationship circumstances and behaviors do you try to avoid? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
This article was co-written by Marc and Angel and Mark Manson, and inspired by Mark’s insightful work which can be found here.
I just broke up with someone who exhibited the passive aggressive behaviour and emotional blackmail… I thank God I managed to get over him and end things between us.
Emotional Black mail… I’ve done this to my wife and I was entirely justified. This list isn’t black and white and it doesn’t address the root of all issues in a relationship.
I had to tell my wife that she could either receive counseling for an anxiety disorder or I would be divorcing her. I simply could not live with her anymore with all that the anxiety drove her to do. It affected everything in our relationship and I was entirely justified in using that threat to ensure she ultimately got help – if reluctantly.
Joe , I have compassion for you, it’s an unfortunate and perplexing set of circumstances few people would understand without experiencing it themselves. In saying that, the way forward is through compassion and support. Makes me wonder how such a ‘threat’ could make a fearful person more fearful and in order to cling to the last pillar they have begrudgingly comply whilst holding resent for you.
I would much prefer to be supported into therapy than threatened into it.Sounds more to me like the ‘threat’ ensured you got what you wanted. A decision founded on fear is rarely a good one, ironically, potentially even more catastrophic if that person has anxiety.
Jamie amazing comment thank you
Andy Randon says
First I’m really impressed by your blog and wanted to congratulate you on your success. To be perfectly honest there are very few blogs I read on a regular basis and this has always been one of them ever since I first stumbled upon it and added it to my bookmarks. The whole concept of applied psychology to assist in making our lives and relationships that much better has been something I’ve believed in for quite some time. This is my first time commenting but I’m hoping it’s not the last because I feel that we are on the same page with our way of thinking. This post reminded me a lot of a similar one I wrote awhile back (solongmediocrity.com/relationship-advice-and-perspective/) Please check it out if you have a chance and keep the quality content coming!
True, very true post. I recently lost my brother, he was really depressed, and I did not try to help him, he put all his life’s happiness , directions around me which used to make me feel suffocated, I did not look for a better way to tell him ‘get your own life’ so I started passive aggression, he understood it and tried to talk to to me about it, but I took it as nagging, very pathetic of me, he started to get really depressed , and I put him in the backburner, all he wanted to spend some time with me everyday and I ran and ran away from him. one morning I found him dead in my parents home where he used to live alone for six years. A few days later I found a note written by him saying that the last thing he wanted to do in this world is to upset me, since he got an idea that he mastered the art of upsetting me , so he decided to give me a break from himself. I found no way to handle the amount of guilt I feel every moment. Living has become such a burden.
Helen, I know this thread is old but I just saw your comment and wanted to express my sympathy. I recently lost my brother also, under different circumstances, but I also feel guilt and sadness about times I let him down because of issues in my own life, or just because I felt overwhelmed by the situation. It is normal that you wanted to live your own life, which does not mean you didn’t care about your brother. Guilt is a common feeling when we lose someone, even under the best of circumstances. In this case your brother left you with a tremendous burden which was terribly unfair to you. We all wish we had handled certain situations differently. I hope that you have found peace and acceptance. To me, “acceptance” means accepting everything that happened – the good and the bad – including the things we now wish we had been able to do differently, but couldn’t at the time. I wish you the best.
This was a brilliant, insightful and hopeful story. It is missing one item: psychological abuse. Google it. Passive aggression and control are a part of it, its terribly common, and if you are in such a relationship you must try to leave as soon as you can safely do so. Staying will destroy your sense of self, your happiness, and possibly your very desire to live.
If you are the abuser, separate and get professional help now.
I have always experienced issues in relationships and it is so true that our culture does not teach us how to create healthy relationships. I recently ended this unhealthy friendship I was involved in for over a year. And honestly, I feel much better now that this girl and I are no longer in touch. It was my boyfriend who told me that the friendship was unhealthy and that I deserved to be treated better. An article like this does basically the same thing. I hope that the good advice may help others as much having good advice helped me. Thank you.
I have been reading all that has been posted on this blog and though so many things have touched my heart I really never ever left a comment, however this time while reading this post it felt like someone just pulled my relationship out of the drawer and told me, look here… “wake up”… and I need to wake up. Thanks for this wake up call
Wow! What an incredible piece of encouragement. I was in a toxic relation until i let the thing go… now I feel healthier and happier.
Great points made in this article. One of the other things that I am discovering about myself over the past years and even decades is that sometimes the kind of relationships you have can stem what people really share with one another. Throughout my life the kinds of conversations that people have had with me or I have had with them are either probing about information about me, without showing a real interest in me, or gabbing about politics or religion. While a lot of people do talk about those subjects, I feel that a relationship based on that is just empty; I have nothing to gain from it, except for a headache. As far as people asking things about me, it should be because they are interested in me, not because they are criticizing me or trying to change me.
Throughout my life, I have been around people who have criticized me or offered their two cents on what I need to do (to be a better person) for them. That did nothing for my self esteem. While I do have real conversations with people when in the right setting, it is hard for me to approach someone and start a conversation. When someone does show a true interest in me, or invites me to something as friends with no strings attached, it is almost awkward for me because I am still not used to people being interested in me (for me) or accepts my initiatives or invitations.
So, I think that when there are problems in various relationships, do a reality check. It may be hard to let the relationship(s) go, but I try to tell myself that I will be a better person for it.
Oh reading this really hits me. I feel my spouse is toxic. Last night felt horrible. His silence felt like poison.
You have a point says
I personally avoid relationships with those who believe they posses all the answers to life or the solutions to everyone problems.
Despite them also being an imperfect person who is in essence on a similar type of journey that you and I are in this life.
In other words: those who openly (or covertly which is usually the case) believe that they somehow possess the solutions to everyone elses problems.
So called ‘wise individuals’ with the intentions of more so gaining attention for themselves … versus the intentions of truly and sincerely assisting you as a friend, loved one and human being.
These types of people are all too often emotionally dangerous, covertly self absorbed (understatement!) and truly incapable of sincerely caring for others beyond a superficial front.
Yet consistently claiming that they do really care. No … they don’t.
Attention seekers in general make awful bed mates.
I just want to say that if you run from a toxic relationship without first taking an honest look at your own contributions to it and “fixing” yourself, then you will never have the opportunity to grow that relationship into the beautiful place it could be. It took years for me to come out from under a cloud of confusion with my husband. I had never been in a relationship where emotional blackmail and passive-aggressive behaviour were being displayed, nor could I identify them, I just fought back. What ensued was years of finger pointing and the unhappiness culminated into an affair, complicated by manipulation from that person to end our marriage. I’m happy to say that by prioritizing my marriage and my own personal growth, that affair is over and we are falling in love all over again. I lead the way but because I love my husband and showed him that wisdom comes from making mistakes and honesty is the basis for any relationship, he realized too that living a lie is not living and that he too found happiness in not living in the past. I’ve learned so much about life and about myself by reading this blog and others with marital advice. If you aren’t proud of your own behaviour then stop worrying about what your partner is doing wrong and fix yourself.
This is a great post, and it reminds me of something important: Abusive/toxic relationships are a ‘joint effort’, and the victim is equally responsible for healing.
My girlfriend had a number of obvious emotional abuser like traits (she was definitely not a full blown abuser), but I contributed to the toxicity of our relationship with my own wrondoings.Had I been emotionally healed, I would have never ever engaged in such a relationship to start with.
The point I’m trying to make is that among all the things that bring and keep a couple together (relationship compatibility), one which can take you a long way is neurosis (or pathology, hungry ghost or pain-body, you name it). Regardless of the role taxonomy (active-passive, martyr-tormentor, sadic-massoquistic, etc.) used to describe the relationship, or the severity of the disorder of the agressor, it is the complementary conflicted views on relationships from both parties that contribute to its malfunctioning.
Understandably, due to the nature of the dynamics, the person alledgely suffering the attacks will be the one to start questioning the status quo, and will be, too, the party most likely to exit the relationship at some point. And even if this probably ensures the person a better chance of truly healing, just ending the suffering is not going to bring that healing by itself.
Please be self-critical and be compassionate to both your abuser and yourself.
Oh My G-d!
I read the article and some of the comments last night and am reading more today, and just realized something “epiphanic”, if that’s even a word.lol. My ex and I were def. in a toxic relationship, and I felt he was emotionally abusive sometimes. I broke it off in Nov. 2015, and we have started talking again about things and both want to get back together but I am still not sure that it is right, and am too nervous about patterns reappearing and destroying me. I can’t believe how intuitive and understanding he is, and it is the one thing that is keeping me interested, besides the fact that he seems to be the only one who understands me and accepts me crap. But anyways reading the comments this morning, I saw someone said that the person who is toxic has to want to change no matter if they’re in a relationship or not. And since I cannot make my ex change and am only in control of my actions, I know that I must change my beliefs as well as my toxic actions, like how sometimes I give him the silent treatment even though it drives him crazy, but since I inherited it from my mom, it is a hard habit to change.
Or the fact that I am so nervous about speaking badly about someone, when he does it I get so sensitive and tell him to stop even though he is just venting. I know it’s because I don’t like to be judged that I don’t want him to judge other people, but it is also my drama creeping in there and we have gotten into fights before. After he was aware when he would insult someone, and I thought that was great. At least he was making conscious efforts. But he would also insult me to the point of putting all my choices down when he was mad.
I am still in limbo with this relationship, because I know it was toxic, and I still love him and he is my family (cause family can be toxic sometimes lol), and we are super attracted to each other like crazy, and we have great fun together and have the same goals, but he drives me absolutely crazy!!!
Wahhhh!! (so adult of me lol)
I know I have to fix myself first. Thank you for writing this article. It’s good to know people out there have the guts to talk about what happened to them and help other people going through the same crap. We all have the capacity to create toxic relationships. I guess when you take responsibility for your own actions, you create healthIER relationships? I bloody hope so
Thank you, I needed this. I’m only 19 and I know I’m only young but I’ve been clinging onto one of these relationships for far too long now. He broke up with me about a month ago and I’ve been looking for ways to bring him back ever since, but I can see now that’s not a good idea. I relied on him to give me a sense of worth, but I need to learn to do that for myself. Many of these signs were present.
What makes moving forward hard is that I live about 2 minutes from him on uni campus and can literally see him all over other girls, having an amazing time without me etc, with friends he already had, whilst I’m having to build a new social life from scratch. I hope my positivity will make it easier to watch that…
These points really hit home for me. I have been in a toxic marriage for 20 years. He used emotional blackmail and covert manipulation to get me to marry him. I was too broken and spineless to stand up for myself back then. I now see clearly the big picture and what he has done to me. He is a man/child, always perusing child interests one after another (model railroading, collecting hot wheels, comics, drumming, RC car racing). Now his big thing is online gaming. This is the biggest problem because he doesn’t pay in moderation, no, but hours and hours, only coming ‘up for air’ for a meal, TV or sleep. It is very violent, which bothers me. He has hidden porn from me for 15 years. I discovered this due to his ‘confession’ once when he thought he was losing me. It was his last ditch effort to hang on. Now I have no trust whatsoever. Yes, he has a job, but he misses work weekly due to G.I. issues (Ulcerative colitis). He pays me rent and is late by 2 weeks with the other half since he cannot afford to pay it all at once.
I have lost my identity as a person long time ago and now feel I am taking care of a 14 year old. He refuses to learn how to cook. He doesn’t take the lead in the relationship, but rather I do most of the cleaning, repair and upkeep of the home while holding down a stressful job. He has given me all the power from the beginning.
He has left me 5 times, only to ‘boomerang’ back, realizing how good he had it. We have been to counseling many times. Have tried many times over the years to have an adult conversation with him about things. He always walks away. I honestly don’t know what to do with him. I feel trapped. I’m trying to take care of myself. My health is effected. I have depression and anxiety, resulting in weight gain.
For those reading this, the answer is obvious: kick him to the curb. I have stayed this long because I have had empathy toward him due to his childhood abuse. He is ‘stuck’ emotionally as a little boy because that was when it happened. But I am suffering as a result. There are more things in this relationship, but I’ll spare you. Now I’m 50 and things are changing for me. SOMETHING needs to change but I don’t know where to begin. Thanks for reading.
I am 38 and in a very similar situation. I am currently 7 months pregnant with our second child, and despite the scariness of going it alone I am on the brink of doing so. I hope you have rid yourself of him and have refound yourself.
I’ve learned that passive aggressive behaviors are extremely toxic for a relationship.
Thank you for this post, I am now better equipped to nurture the beneficial relationships I have and to leave toxic relationships.
Make a list of everything you want in a partner. Not what you think you deserve, what you WANT. The first time you new paramour turns out lacking against your list- HISTORY. No Second chances. When the yellow flag starts to wave, exit stage left. Put all your focus on character. You can work around anything but a bad character. Also, can they laugh at themselves. If not, soyonara. There are worse things than being single va ND being in a miserablearriage
I am in the process of ending a relationship, one that I found out that I was in all by myself. Looking back on things I can see where it had very little chance of surviving to begin with. You see I was the one who expressed an interest and even though the other party seemed thrilled and very much interested, that faded quickly. I noticed he started taking me and everything I did for granted. I made him a priority and for him I was a rarely selected option. I was always last and least. The things that were important to me, like birthdays, holidays and remembering to call when promised weren’t of any concern to him. I was very attentive to his needs and desires and made it clear that I expected no less from him. But when time after time he didn’t find or make the time to nurture our relationship I became more and more disappointed . It became painfully clear to me that either I wasn’t the one or he never was or could be. So gradually I withdrew and made it known to him that I needed to move on with my life and I wished him the best. Now I’m in the process of letting go of all the hopes and dreams of what could of been. So that I can one day have a truly healthy, fulfilling and happy relationship.
I’d add: 1. Manipulation. 2. Direct Aggression. To the list. Thank you verry much for posting. 🙂 x. It was good for me to read this, and assess how I feel about my current relationships. The result is: for the moment, i’m happy with them all. I always intuitively know when i’m in bad company, so i’ve managed to successfully move away from negative energies. Yay!
Jason White says
Effort, it’s all about the effort on both sides. Effort must be reciprocated, otherwise, one side or the other will start to fell unappreciated, plain and simple.