Hazardous love: Is this relationship toxic?
Love can seem addictive. That feeling can hook us fast, for some, maybe even faster than a drink or drug. And when we’re no longer drinking or using, a relationship can be an alternative to that high or an unhealthy distraction from our pain.
In early recovery—or even later in recovery—we may enter relationships too quickly because the other person makes us feel good. Sometimes it works out. But it’s easy for loneliness to lead us to bad choices of partners.
How do you know it’s toxic?
Many of us have made some unhealthy relationship choices in our years of drinking. In recovery, we want something healthier. Unfortunately, toxic people don’t show their trues stripes immediately. The behavior happens gradually. So what we can do is recognize the clues.
An organization called “One Love,” which is educating young people about healthy and unhealthy relationships, offers some signs of toxic relationships:
- Intensity—extreme feelings; over-the-top behavior; rushing the pace of a relationship; always wanting to see you and talk to you
- Jealousy—lashing out or trying to control you because of jealousy; getting upset when you text or hang out with other people; accusing you of flirting or cheating
- Manipulation—convincing you to do things you don’t feel comfortable with; ignoring you until they get their way; using gifts and apologies to influence your decisions or get back in your good graces (see entire list here)
In her book Toxic People, Dr. Lillian Glass wrote that a toxic relationship is one where there’s conflict, competition, and disrespect. While every relationship has ups and downs, a toxic relationship can be profoundly draining. The negative moments outweigh and outnumber the positive ones, Glass wrote. It doesn’t necessarily have to be abusive, though a toxic relationship could become abusive, and an abusive relationship is certainly toxic.
How do you leave a toxic relationship?
One of the keys at getting out of a toxic relationship is to look at it like you look at drugs or alcohol. When you stopped drinking, you still wanted and craved the drink—maybe you even believed you could never feel normal without it—but you knew how damaging it was. Eventually you come to a point where you want to be in recovery more than you want to drink.
It is like that with toxic relationships. You already know the other person isn’t good for you. You just don’t think you can live without them.
You wouldn’t be the first person who did a first step that might sound like this: I’m powerless over (insert name) and my life has become unmanageable!
Psychcentral.com offers some steps to ending a toxic relationship:
Get help from your family, friends or a therapist (add your sponsor to that list). Tell them you think you should end the relationship.
Express your feelings to the person you are in a toxic relationship with. Avoid phrases like, “You make me feel…” Instead, focus on your own emotions: “I feel very sad or angry when I hear you say…”
Make a decision. After you have talked to your partner, decide whether the relationship is worth fighting for, or if you might be better off without this person.
Surround yourself with positivity. Practice self-care. Spend time with people who make you feel good, treat yourself to your favorite meal…do whatever brings you joy.
Stick with your decision. It’s normal to miss the person after you end the relationship, and to be tempted to have them back in your life. But remember that you came to this decision after a long, thoughtful process, and you made it so that you would be happier.
Be accountable to someone. When you feel the urge to allow the toxic person to come back into your life, reach out to your support system. Stay strong and stick to your decision.
Ending an addiction to a harmful substance or person is difficult. But it clears the way for you to let positive people and activities into your life, and for you to start living the life of joy that is possible in recovery.