Recognizing “Toxic relationships: the toxic, the victim & the solution” is our topic for today. This is simply because the number of cases emanating from toxicity in relationships is on an upward swing with relationships and marriages crashing all around. We want to love and be loved in return by someone or something else but always fail to understand that the best relationships are intentionally nurtured.
Every good relationship takes work and if every toxic person was declined an opportunity to get married or experience a relationship, this would simply mean that 7 out of every 10 people you know will never get the chance to enjoy being in a relationship. Yes, there are that many toxic people around you and for all you care, one of them might just be reading this article. Even with parenting, there are many flaws that we decide to overlook because even our parents aren’t particularly saints. Over time we learn to adapt to their idiosyncrasies, opinions, habits and temperaments as they also learn to do with us.
This adaptation is the same expectation for relationships but this sometimes proves harder because with relationships, it’s two different people from different backgrounds trying to make it work.
Identifying A Toxic Relationship
Various schools of thought believe this is hard to recognize but after years of listening to people talk, it isn’t the hardest thing to recognize. Toxicity in a relationship in most cases is so obvious that friends, family and externals are usually the first ones to pick up on this. This could be because it pulls at something deep within them or the couples involved are usually in denial until someone else points it out. Any behavior that the toxic partner exerts that damages the other party emotionally or physically is what defines a toxic relationship. If you cannot vouch for the presence of mutual respect, care, self-esteem building interactions and positive emotional energy in your relationship then you are most likely in a toxic relationship.
I will also tell you what a toxic relationship is not. Some couples get to that point where they are too lazy to build their relationship upwards and would rather quickly label it toxic than “unattended to”. – Temple Obike
Here are some other mild signs that you may be in a toxic relationship;
1) You leave the room when your partner comes is there
2) There’s no communication
3) Constant feelings of being drained
4) There’s always drama in the house
5) You have a heavily jealous or envious partner
6) You can’t talk when your partner is there
7) You lower your standards for your partner
8) Your partner brings out the worst in you
9) You’re always apologizing
It Takes Two …
This may not be the most palatable piece of information for you but it does take two to create a toxic relationship. There is the partner who is toxic and the partner who enables or allows toxicity to continue. The next natural question that comes to mind is “Why stay in a toxic relationship rather than leaving”?.
The most perfect relationships sometimes have a spell of toxicity and because there isn’t any rule book that describes marriage or relationships than the mere act of actually being in it, many couples learn on the move. Once you notice manipulative or controlling behavior from a partner, it’s usually the first sign of toxicity especially if that partner is a saint in the eyes of everyone else. Toxic relationships can be fixed but i’d like to mention that if substance , physical or verbal abuse is already part of your relationship you need intervention or separation.
The Mind of The Toxic
Week in, week out i see many individuals who sit down and paint their partners pitch black. The thing about this is that they most times do not seem to see anything wrong with themselves, their attitude or a lack of it. With this said, the most prominent factor in the mind of every toxic person is “CONTROL & POWER”. I know that at the beginning of most relationships and marriages, subtle power struggles occur. That is very different from this because in this case, one partner is absolutely obsessed with maintaining and controlling power through any means possible. In most cases, the means of control isn’t obvious at first to the enabling partner within the toxic relationship.
If any of the descriptions used below are familiar to you, then you are either in a toxic relationship, enabling a toxic person or have observed a toxic relationship up close. These signs may occur in everyday platonic friendships, parent-child relationships, a marriage or even in a relationship between two people building up to marriage.
THE TOXIC TYPES I’VE SEEN
A. THE GUILT FARMER
Can you think of anyone right now who makes you feel like you’re constantly in a courtroom. Guilty! Guilty! and more Guilt! is all you can see,think and believe when you are around them. Their power is perfected when you feel guilty. This guilt may come to you directly when they convey their dis-satisfaction or indirectly when someone else communicates their disappointment for something else you did.
A perfect example would be a scenario where a friend calls you out of the blues to find out how you could have done such a terrible thing to another friend of your’s. If a friend can pick up a phone and complain to a third party about you, nothing stops them from calling you directly. The “Guilt Farmer” also uses guilt as a tool when they remove it after they’ve gotten you to carry out their wish. Please take note of this fact. If there is anyone in your life that you feel so relieved after you carry out their instructions especially because you now feel less guilty. You need to become a bit more observant to see if you can establish a pattern of guilt and forgiveness. If this seems true then you are indeed in the presence of what i call a “Guilt Farmer”.
This toxicity type is something i’ve come to notice mostly in parent-child relationships where parents get their older children to do what they want. It also occurs with spouses e.g You have a heartfelt discussion about something you are passionate about with your partner who is 100% in support, you go all out and begin only for them to tell you that there “Ain’t no sunshine now that you’re gone”. “You’re missing out of the children’s life” or “You’ve changed since xyz began”.
B. THE CHOKER
Remember when your boo/bae was so adorable and couldn’t even hide his jealousy when a little baby was checking you out? Awwwnn 💚 (cute). Well, that was then, now that both of you are in a committed relationship or married, you thought it was going to sort that aspect out since they would now be re-assured you were fully their’s right? WRONG.
You just bought a mirage. The more time that passes, the more suspicious and controlling they become. The first thing they do is remove any meaningful friendships around you, then subtly cut you off from family, after this phase comes the bugging of your phones, car and constant interrogations on your whereabouts. If any of these are familiar to you (especially if you haven’t done anything in the past to attract dis-trust), then you are not in a healthy relationship but rather viewed as a possession. Your attempts at constantly trying to validate a “Choker” will suddenly become a full-time job by itself and gets progressively worse. A relationship with this toxic type will strip you of every aspect of your personality.
It get’s worse if you have actually created room for the toxic partner to dis-trust you in times past because you will eternally work to get back into their good books but to no avail. This relationship after a while mirrors a blackmailer-victim scenario.
C. THE GOLIATH SYNDROME
Have you ever heard of the term “insensitive jokes”? These toxic types are the masters at this because they are naturally prone to the fear of direct confrontation but would mask it with lots of painful jokes targeted at their victims(the enabler). That partner or friend who has a way of cracking jokes that get under your skin could be this type. They are the “Bullies” in your home.
Everyone knows couples where one of the partners belittles the other in public, with friends or family and makes them feel unattractive, less intelligent and every other way not nice. This is a move that is supposed to give them all the decision-making power because the less of everything you feel about you, the more of everything you hand over to them. They feed on your self-esteem and this will worsen once you do not destabilize their centre of control (if you can find it, because they usually go through a lot to hide it).
D. THE LEECH
Have you been privy to see couples where one of the parties looked like they couldn’t lift an arm without the help of the other obviously stronger person? I’m sure we all know a couple or two who fit this narrative. Well, the shocking fact is that the partner who looks weak in this relationship is actually the stronger person.
All decisions are made for them and i need you to understand that not deciding on something by itself is a choice. So when you are saddled with that choice, you are responsible for the outcome of that decision.
This simply implies that choosing the wrong school for the kids or the best supermarket to shop at gives room for passive aggressive behavior such as the silent treatment or tantrums. This is a strong tool when it comes to control because whoever you are always worried about what their perception of you is has you contained.
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E THE OPPORTUNIST
These are the ones who trap you in a one lane relationship where you keep giving and never receiving. They usually start off as charming, warm and nice people. And they are as long as they are on the receiving end of everything they need from you. It could be material, financial, status or more but the opportunist will always drain your energy and leave the moment someone else who can do more for them turns up.
Most of them would sometime provide favors that really dont cost them anything. For the untrained eye these are favors but for the trained, they only just gave you another “Reason”. Another reason why you should keep doing what you do for them. Don’t get trapped in their web because it’s usually a trap that doesn’t ever let you go until what it is you offer them is totally gone. This makes them one of the most dangerous toxic types you could ever come across.
F THE RHINO
Control through intimidation is one of the classic tell-tale signs of a toxic partner. You have arguments that never seem to arrive at a logical conclusion and to make matters worse, you dont even want to argue healthily with them. Why i ask? Simply because they can hold a grudge for the next two weeks when things don’t go their way. You have the enabling partner living under an atmosphere of uncertainty because the toxic partner is unpredictable and prone to outbursts anytime. The sad thing about confronting this type of toxic partner is that they always have a way of turning the tables. You suddenly become the one who makes them rage, curse and yell. This ability to disown their dysfunction would remain the same reason they battle it. That rage is an expression almost like that of a petulant child when they do not get what they ask for.
The dangerous aspect of this toxic type is the draining effect they have on your mental and emotional well-being. Let me explain. Someone who goes into a rage when they cannot get their way know it’s less than desirable so they go through their lives developing a persona that perfectly masks this. For these individuals, they appear to be the angels in their relationships and the abused seem to be the irrational ones that can never be pleased.
G THE SKILLED DODGER
Have you ever gotten to a point where you felt so selfish after you tried having a discussion with your partner. This discussion did not start out with you or anything you’d done but instead was supposed to address something that hurt you. Now you are apologizing and wishing you never mentioned what it was eating you up. This type are evasive in their approach to pertinent life issues.
They are almost never confrontational but will deflect from important topics and make you feel guilty if you try to hold them to commitments of any kind.
H THE LONE RANGER
This toxic type is a very interesting one because what makes them risky is the same thing that may have attracted you to them. Their lack of COMMITMENT. They have become masters at hiding their true intent. You can have countless sessions with this type and never know what you are up against because they usually turn up for sessions solo with a great narrative of their quest for independent positive change. However, they are like spiders who spin a web and let you trap yourself because the fact that they do not offer you any form of emotional or physical commitments in relationships.
Are you constantly trying to find out if your partner still loves you, think your beautiful, still finds you sexually attractive and so on? You might just be in the presence of a Lone ranger type. Their approach leaves you out in the cold “emotional wild”. This type will slowly erode your self-confidence.
Now that You’ve met Them All, Let’s Talk.
Every now and then i know partners may try to make their significant other feel guilty, trigger insecurity or simply appear helpless just to achieve some goal. This points to our imperfections as human and shows that every relationship if deeply scrutinized has a measure of toxicity. The real issues start when the toxicity level becomes higher than it ought to be. How do you know when it’s become too high you might ask? my answer to that question is this. “When you and your partner can’t laugh about it even after either one of you discovered the other person tripped them up”.
Toxic people are usually individuals who have an underlying fear that they aren’t lovable. This is also the same issue with people who allow themselves become entangled in toxic relationships. Narcissism also plays a part in this dynamic because most of these toxic types possess inflated egos and an overtly blown-out perception of themselves thereby believing that they are doing a favor for anyone else in their lives. However, i’d like to mention that narcissism is the response the human gives when it has insecurity or esteem issues.
Many clients who have been caught up in toxic relationships are there because of the atmosphere of fear created by the toxic partner. This simply means that lots of people in these types of relationships keep enduring the maltreatment for the fear of loosing the relationship.
This brings up the question and the problem of what to do if you’re in a toxic relationship. Many of my clients initially come to me with the hope that I will give them a magical tool that will “fix” their toxic partner, or, at the very least, for me to sympathize with them and agree how bad their partner is.
Is There a Solution?
Yes there is one solution i employ when it comes to healing clients from a toxic relationship and it is called “Catharsis“. This is simply a psychoanalytic approach that brings emotions associated with trauma to the surface and then forcefully releases them. This best occurs under hypnosis..
Prior to confronting a toxic partner, ensure that your confidence and esteem levels are in a really good place because you run the risk of ending your relationship as most toxic personalities would either not accept their faults or simply pretend to only to inflict more damage when their partners guard is down. For individuals who are not in a mentally strong place, look for a good counselor near you or online and get some assistance.
The fact that someone else refuses to change does not mean that you cannot change yourself. This is one of the best ways to get feedback from a stubborn partner who wouldn’t accept his own bit of the fault or even go for a psychotherapy session. The moment you understand that you deserve love, compassion, respect and more, that’s the game changer.
If your partner has a history of physical abuse, write down what you need from them and divide it under three segments such as where we are, the effect on me/us & Where i’d love us to be. This will help you detail everything that you are not cool with in the relationship. Once you are done with this, inform them you have something you wrote that would help your relationship heal and grow.
If your partner isn’t physical, gently ask for a sit down with them and detail every single thing you would like to change. They can ask their questions or make their comments when you are done.
Get ready in some extreme cases of partner abuse for a turn up of the heat you are currently facing. The obsessive controlling behavior may spiral but you are already in a healthy emotional and mental place. When met with this response, i always ask my clients to remain calm and ask for a clean 2 week break that will allow everyone re-assess their emotions. For married couples, you can take a 3 day break from Friday morning to Sunday evening at your parents (if the relationship hasn’t cost you that privilege or at a friends). 3 days is enough for anyone who loves you to initiate something.
After the hiatus, repeat your request again and clearly state that you may not remain in the relationship if the emotional abuse continues.If your partner agrees to work on changing themselves and then relapses again, you can repeat this cycle with them 2 more times.
If this abusive other is a parent, you still need to “respectfully” confront the abusive behavior with the help of a professional psychotherapist around you or with the support of a partner or sibling. If after confronting this behavior it still persists, you will need to take control of the relationship and while you may not be abandoning the parent, you might need to limit contact for some time until this guides them to seeking the help they need.
You did not try to change the toxic partner by threatening them, you meant every word of it and that’s why you did it. So the thing is this. You may have to actually leave if things don’t change especially if there are elements of physical abuse involved.
I understand that months or maybe years of being in a toxic relationship can rob you off the last vestiges of self-esteem. This may make you feel slightly unsure if confronting the toxic partner is a really good idea. Asides from everything i have mentioned here, there are books on the internet that could help you improve your confidence and esteem because i know that once you have fixed those, you would know what your next best steps are.
As always, i hope this piece on “Toxic relationships: the toxic, the victim & the solution” helped someone. If you are struggling with a toxic relationship and would love to talk about it, You know how to reach me. Don’t wait until it affects your career, family life or more before seeking help.
Written by Obike Temple.
Temple Obike is a licensed marriage and family therapist, speaker, author and psychotherapist who has counseled over one thousand, two hundred clients comprising of couples, individuals, abuse victims (substance, physical, emotional and sexual) and grief-stricken clients. With over 70,000 in-counseling minutes (1,000+ hours) accrued in practice. He runs his private psychotherapy & counseling practice out of Lagos, Nigeria and has counseling centers in Abuja and Port-Harcourt. His practice also provides options for both online and on-site services.
His private practice has positively empowered lives through his online counseling, podcasts, free advisory services and free online materials. Readership of his articles also receive a growing number of visitors alongside subscriptions to his email newsletter at templeobike.com. His passion for empowering and uncovering the secrets to lifelong marriages and personal development led to his new book titled “Soul Bodega” available on amazon and across other online and traditional stores.
Never give up on yourself! You are a journey happening through various destinations.