Toxic relationships can take many different forms and involve many different types of relationships. It seems that we divide them into two categories: those with a romantic partner and those with everyone else. I wrote an article entitled, “Toxic Love Relationships” that focuses on romantic partners. In this article, I am going to discuss this issue more generally.
A toxic relationship may be obvious or difficult to identify. They may develop with a romantic partner, friend, family member, or coworker. They may even become evident with an unexpected person like a teacher, coach, doctor, or leader at your place of worship.
Any relationship that regularly leaves you feeling depressed about any aspect of your life after you’ve spent time with that person is potentially a toxic relationship. Any relationship in which you feel emotionally or physically abused to any degree whether it is done subtly or openly is likely a toxic relationship. In addition, any person who encourages or leads you in a direction that is unhealthy (mentally or physically) or illegal is probably a toxic relationship.
Any person who has a toxic effect on you emotionally or physically should be put at a distance or removed from your life. They shouldn’t be allowed to be a part of your inner circle of friends and family. Your inter-circle is those individuals who you regularly contact, spend time with, and have entrusted your confidence, friendship, and love.
Your inter-circle should only be made up of individuals who encourage the best in you in a positive manner and are 100 percent for you. In many cases, it may be difficult to determine if a person is 100% in your corner. In these situations, you must tune in to and trust your intuition.
You may be in a toxic relationship if the person excessively & continually…
- Abuses you emotionally or physically to any degree.
- Criticizes you on any aspect of your life.
- Critiques you on any aspect of your life.
- Talks to you in a condescending, belittling, or disrespectful manner.
- Finds fault with any activities or projects you’re doing.
- Blames you when you make mistakes or have problems.
- Points out your shortcomings, mistakes, and failures.
- Compares you in any way to “what most people do.”
- Teases you in a contemptuous, critical, and sarcastic manner.
- Withholds compliments when it would be appropriate to do so.
- Withholds encouragement when it would be appropriate to do so.
- Withholds love and affection when it would be appropriate to do so.
- Fails to follow through on what they say they are going to do.
- Fails to follow through on what they promise they will do.
- Lies about or withholds information that you should know.
- Talks about you to others in ways that make you look bad.
- Tells other people lies and twisted stories about you.
- Tells other people confidential information about you.
- Talks about themselves and the world in a negative manner.
- Points out faults in other people, places, and things.
If you are in a relationship where several of these things are happening on an excessive and regular basis, then it would advisable for you to consider renegotiating it, distancing yourself from it, or ending it.
Renegotiating a Relationship
Renegotiating a relationship is about having a serious, frank, and direct conversation about your concerns either face-to-face or in writing. It can be done formally or informally depending on the severity and scope of the problem. If it’s a minor problem, then a quick, firm statement about what behavior you’ll no longer allow may do the trick. But you must be prepared to follow through and take a stand if the issue pops up again.
When you renegotiate a relationship, your objectives are to make the other person aware of your concerns, establish boundaries on behavior that you will no longer allow, and present consequences if any violations occur. Depending on the situation, you may make the consequences known or you may simply point out the violation when it happens and then implement the penalty. Consequences can range from leaving the room/home, ending the phone call, not calling, not visiting, and ending the relationship. All of this must be done in a mature, dignified, and diplomatic manner.
When a serious set of problems exist in a relationship that I want to preserve and improve, I prefer to do this in writing. Renegotiating a relationship in writing gives me the opportunity to carefully choose my words, present my concerns without interruption or confrontation, and tactfully explain the consequences of violations. Then when the recipient receives my letter, they are required to give it their full attention and patience in order to understand it. The result is a much purer communication with no opportunity to strike back immediately without thinking.
I developed a unique, non-confrontational written communication system for couples that would be ideal for this purpose and adaptable to almost any type of relationship. It is presented in an article entitled, “Couple’s Communication Without Confrontation” at Solotopia. Full details on this communication system including a comprehensive, easy-to-use appraisal and other instruments that guide you through the entire process are inside my book entitled, “The Couple’s Review.”
When it comes to cutting off contact, I prefer to distance myself from a toxic relationship rather than ending it because it is a kinder and less hurtful way to go about it. Unless something very serious has occurred, I believe distancing yourself is the best choice especially when it involves family members and old friends. You never know when they may change. But keep your expectations low.
Here are some ideas for distancing yourself or ending a toxic relationship.
- Stop contacting them.
- If they contact you, do not respond. They may get the message.
- From here you’ve got these two options.
Option 1 – Limited Contact
If the person is a close family member, it may be advisable to limit your contact with them as much as possible. If you have needs that have never been satisfied by this person, it may be hard for you to do this and move on. But it’s certainly a positive choice if it’s a toxic relationship. Fulfill your moral obligations to them if they are in need but limit your contact as much as you can.
Option 2 – Zero Contact
If they continue to attempt to contact you, send them an email or postal letter that says something like this:
“I see no benefit in having any further discussions at this time. I feel that it is in our best interests that we take a break from our relationship indefinitely. I wish you well.” YOUR FIRST NAME
“I do not want to have any further discussions at this time. I feel that it is best that we take a break from our relationship indefinitely.” YOUR FIRST NAME
Ending a Relationship
- Stop contacting them for any reason. Ever!
- If they contact you, do not respond. They may get the message.
- If they continue to attempt to contact you, send them an email or postal letter that says something like this:
Option 1 – Loving
“I see no benefit in having any further discussions. I feel that it is in our best interests that we end our friendship (or relationship). I will remember the good times. I wish you well in your life. Goodbye.” YOUR FIRST NAME
Option 2 – Tough
“I do want to be your friend (or have a relationship with you) anymore. I will not have any further discussions with you. Goodbye.” YOUR FIRST NAME
There is one final part to accurately appraising a toxic relationship that other articles I’ve read on this topic fail to cover. This part involves taking a brutally honest look at whether you are contributing to the relationship being toxic by unwittingly encouraging and allowing it and/or whether you are the one who is being abusive in this or other relationships.
If you grew up in a home where one or both of your parents were emotionally or physically abusive, then there’s a good chance that you may unintentionally invite abusive behavior and subconsciously evaluate it as normal. Or you may also perpetuate the abuse you experienced by being abusive in other relationships. The abuse may occur in both directions whereby you are being abused in one relationship and being the abuser in the other or both.
I grew up in a home where my stepfather emotionally abused me in very secretive and subtle ways. I am not sure that he was completely aware of this fact because he grew up in a home where his real father emotionally abused him. Consequently, he didn’t see his own behavior as being inappropriate until he was on his deathbed and admitted it to me.
Have I ever unwittingly permitted abusive behavior in my relationships as a result? Yes, I have to some extent, mostly when I was younger. And have I ever been emotionally abusive to other people? Yes, I have but in a much, much milder way and shorter duration than what was imposed on me. My problem was sometimes being overly critical in an effort to be helpful. I was never vicious, calculating, or self-servicing. It’s not in my nature to do that. I came to realize that although my intentions were sincere and positive, being excessively critical is inappropriate and toxic behavior.
Facing being abused and being an abuser was a huge breakthrough for me. My solution is the same as I am suggesting to you. I took a brutally honest look at my relationships, accepted full responsibility for their condition, and distanced myself from or ended those that I determined as being toxic or incongruent with my values.
Whatever the case may be for you, toxic relationships are destructive to a person’s well-being whether they are the victim, partly the cause, or the abuser. Break away from participating in toxic relationships of any kind and in any way. Do this by taking 100% responsibility for your part.
Here’s Toxic Relationships: Part 2.