We’re concerned about toxins in the air and in our food, but the toxins in our relationships can be just as detrimental to our mental, physical and spiritual health. Unfortunately, there’s no label or FDA warning that comes with an unhealthy marriages, but there are warning signs that can be detected — if you’re willing to look for them.
“It’s not uncommon for people to minimize, deny, or rationalize their pain and unmet needs and thus stay in a toxic relationship,” writes Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT. “In so doing, they underestimate the real consequences to their mental and physical health, including increased stress and depression.”
Lancer is the author of Codependency for Dummies and Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You. She outlines five signs that you are in a toxic relationship:
1. You feel drained or starved, instead of nourished.
2. Your behavior is motivated by fear, anger, or guilt.
3. Your needs and feelings are ignored.
4. You “walk on eggshells,” for fear of upsetting your partner.
5. You frequently feel used, exploited, or disrespected.
A toxic relationship may involve physical, sexual, financial, verbal or emotional abuse. Active addiction is often in play, along with chronic dishonesty, irresponsibility, mood swings, and passive-aggressiveness. These unhealthy patterns and the inability to alter them for fear of losing love are what Lancer defines as codependency. “Codependency is based on a lie,” says Lancer. “Its symptoms develop to cope with the deep, but false and painful belief – that ‘I’m not worthy of love and respect.’”
Awareness of the toxins is the first step to taking care of yourself. However, Lancer notes that even if you’re aware the relationship isn’t healthy for you, it can be difficult to let go and move on. A skilled psychologist or therapist can help you gain perspective. Divorce may not be necessary if both parties are willing to look at the underlying issues behind the dysfunction of their relationship. Working with a professional can provide the support and tools to help you move out of the cycle of codependency and into healthier communication.