Am I asking for too much, or is this relationship toxic?

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If you are dating for a serious relationship, then you need to remember the golden rule: Who you connect with produces the quality of the commitment you build.

Asking for your needs in a relationship is a normal and healthy thing to do. It is part of communicating your standards and boundaries to produce a relationship that is fulfilling.

Spending time together whilst balancing your own self care and keeping your own individuality are all things that a good relationship has. 

Illustration of a couple fighting

However, what happens when we feel guilt or are told we are ‘too needy’ by the person we are dating? Are they gaslighting us?  Is this a red flag that the relationship is toxic or are our expectations too high?

Let’s break it down and work out if you are asking for too much or whether the relationship you are in is indeed toxic and full of warning signs.

What is the definition of a toxic relationship?

The first step to know if you are in a toxic relationship, is to be able to identify what one looks like.

The truth is whilst most unhealthy relationships are easy to spot, we can sometimes convince ourselves otherwise due to lack of knowledge or experience.

For some people with an anxious attachment style or a fear of commitment, they tend to label a relationship toxic or engage in toxic behaviour to justify leaving it, when in fact it could have been quite a normal relationship.

Whilst on the other hand, people who have experienced trauma and brokenness in love will often stay in a bad relationship because they cannot see it for what it is.

The best way to define a toxic relationship is this: a connection between two people that has no peace or progress and is often detrimental to one person more than the other. 

Illustration of a couple fighting

Toxic relationships are toxic because it kills growth, love and life – the very things that are needed to feel fulfilled in a relationship. 

They are often volatile, have repetitive cycles of destructive behaviour and do not nurture the fundamentals of what makes a relationship healthy and joyful.  

Why are we attracted to toxic relationships?

So why do we attract toxic relationships when we know that they aren’t good for us? Are we unconsciously self-masochism or purposely trying to self-sabotage our happiness?

There are several reasons why you could be attracting or addicted to toxic relationships, here are a few to consider:

Dating Culture

Having constant access to options through dating apps puts us in a position to attach easily to people without knowing their full character and intentions.

Social Media Culture

Believe it or not toxic relationships are affected by the growth in social media.

People are seeking attention and validation through likes and numbers on social media, which can cause them to engage in narcissistic behaviour.

Unhealed Trauma

The biggest reason we engage in toxic relationships is our unhealed or even unrecognised trauma that we are storing in our brain, body and spirit.

This trauma is also stored in our RAS (Reticulating Active System) – a part of the brain that works like a GPS.

The RAS looks for what it is familiar with and tries to seek it out constantly. Hence if you are only familiar with abusive love and broken and toxic behaviour your brain will be on auto pilot to find that.

Illustration of a couple fighting

The Need For Validation And Acceptance

If you are someone that has not learned to love yourself or are constantly struggling with boundaries, chances are you are seeking out to be validated by someone else at any cost.

This usually stems from low self-esteem, low self-worth and a family/ past upbringing of neglect.

The Desire to Rescue or Be Rescued

If you have Cinderella syndrome, then you are at risk of engaging in toxic relationships or toxic behaviour. This syndrome is the desire to have someone rescue you and ‘save’ you from the job of learning to love yourself.

On the flip side, if you are someone who likes to fix or save broken people you will often find yourself being taken advantage of and focusing on potential rather than the reality.

Toxic habits that seem normal

It’s important to make sure that you are able to discern what habits are normal and what are actually toxic. For example, conflict in a relationship is normal to a degree. Constant or aggressive conflict however is not.

Too often people will stay longer than they should in a toxic relationship because they assume that what they are experiencing is ‘just normal’ or only a ‘season ‘that they are going through.

Remember healthy relationships have seasons, toxic relationships have cycles. So, let’s break down a few of the habits you might be experiencing and clarify if they are toxic or not:

Lack of Intimacy

Relationships require intimacy in order to stay healthy, however there can be seasons where it may lack a little. It only becomes toxic if that lack of intimacy is sought elsewhere or used as a manipulating tool which becomes emotional abuse.

Neglectful behaviour is not edifying and being forced into intimacy or gash lighted because one person does not want to be intimate is toxic behaviour.

Communication Breakdown

Great communication takes time and practice between a couple. There will be seasons in any relationship where there will be a communication breakdown. Even with loved ones who are good for us , we can still be constantly improving our communication.

It only becomes toxic if it never improves and if the by-product of the communication breakdown is more conflict, indifference, manipulation or abusive behaviour.

Illustration of a couple fighting

Extreme Feelings in Love

When we first meet someone, we tend to go into infatuation mode. However, this mode should evolve into stable love. Toxic relationships tend to focus on lust and infatuation that is fed by drama and insecure attachment.

Extreme emotions usually encourage a lack of trust due to the volatile nature of the emotions. And it usually means the couple break up and then get back together producing an on-off cycle .

Conflict and Arguments

As stated earlier, some conflict is healthy and normal in a relationship. However constant and extreme conflict without any resolution is toxic.

Avoidance of conflict or walking on eggshells to please someone else or keep their temper at bay is also a sure sign of toxic behaviour. 

Conflict that evolves into physical abuse or verbal abuse is never healthy or justified. 

How to avoid a toxic relationship before it starts

Ideally the key is to avoid a toxic relationship rather than adapt or recover from one. Knowing what the red flags are that can produce a toxic relationship cycle, can help you prevent yourself from entering into one.

The best way to set yourself up to do this is to assess someone’s character and intentions before you become attached.

Most of the time we can’t see toxic traits because that person is on their best behaviour.

By setting the pace early on in the dating phase you are able to have the time and space to see what they are consistent in and then reflect.

Having accountability with friends or professionals who have an objective opinion also helps you have a balanced point of view on someone’s treatment of you.

Illustration of a couple fighting

How to move on from a toxic relationship

Moving on from a toxic relationship is integral so that you can break the cycle and prevent yourself from falling into another one.

Whilst grieving the relationship is part of the healing process, it’s also equally important to understand why you arrived at this point and what you can learn from it.

This is an opportunity to grow and identify the patterns that were present as well as the new standard you should be setting for yourself and move forward.

Educating yourself on how to handle conflict in a relationship to produce a healthy outcome keeps you feeling in control.

It is also advisable to learn why you arrived at this point of falling into a toxic relationship.  Our own habits and convictions if not kept in check can cause us to self-sabotage our own chance at happiness.

Help resources and how to reach out and what to know

Truth is there is such a wide variety of support for everyone out there who has experienced a toxic partner or wants to prevent one.

We can often feel alone in the process or completely unaware because this information or help isn’t directly handed or taught to us.

However, living with a victim mind-set, even if you have been a victim of a toxic relationship, isn’t going to keep serving you – it’s time to grow in this area!

Whether you choose to engage in a mental health professional or simply choose to research via the web, there is no excuse for not being able to access something valuable and educational.

The real struggle is not knowing what to do, but rather applying the lessons and wisdom that you are learning. Relying on just knowledge and no action will not break the cycle.

This is where having a strategy and some accountability keep you on track to building new habits and decisions that eventually produce a healthy relationship.