What exactly does a toxic relationship look like? How do you know you’re in one? And why do women and men often return to the dynamics of a toxic relationship again and again? We’ve got all the answers this week, as we break down the five different types of toxic relationships and all the behaviours you should be on the look out for.
Welcome to our series, The Love Diaries – a space for you to share your experiences, advice, fairy-tale endings, setbacks and heartbreaks. We’ll be hearing from industry experts giving practical advice alongside Capsule readers (You!) sharing your firsthand experiences with love – from the woman who cheated on her husband with a work colleague, one woman’s temptation now the love of her life is finally single (although she’s not), and the woman who forced her husband to choose between her and his girlfriend.
This week we check in with a story from 9Honey about toxic relationships and the five behaviours to be on the lookout for
While life is better shared – we all know humans are wired to be emotionally and physically connected – sometimes our relationships can do more harm than good.
Here are five types of romantic – and, at times, familial or platonic – that can drain our energy, impact wellbeing and steal our self-esteem.
Think Jerry Maguire’s famous quote: “You complete me.”
Fairy tales have a lot to answer for. They often portray glorified relationships – love at first sight and happily ever after.
But, did you know the addictive whirlwind romances we see in rom-coms and read in fairy tales are more often than not, love bombing? A manipulative technique used by a suitor to gain trust quickly and get what they want: for you to make them feel good about themselves!
Love bombing is often at the hands of a narcissistic-type personality to gain power and control. So how do you tell the difference between a healthy courtship and love bombing?
A normal courtship is slower to evolve. It moves through stages such as attraction, reality, mutual communication, compromise and then trust. On the other hand, love bombing is a grooming technique used to lure someone quickly by intensifying the emotional attachment.
Narcissists will ask questions to ascertain your emotional needs, but they won’t share much themselves. So what’s the problem with love bombing? It’s usually quickly followed by the devaluation phase – designed to render you powerless by covertly putting you down.
Red flags: grandiose affection; lavish gifts, things moving too fast, Hollywood-esque statements like, “You take my breath away”.
Think Fontella Bass’ lyrics: ”Rescue me / I want your tender charm / ‘Cause I’m lonely.”
If you feel like your life might fall apart without your partner, you might be in a codependent relationship.
Codependency is an imbalanced relationship where one person feels an extreme amount of dependence on the other. Codependency integrates anxious attachment patterns developed in childhood.
Someone will often end up codependent on someone else if they have poor self-worth, porous boundaries and the inability to say ‘no’. Codependent personalities might have experienced emotional abuse, abandonment or neglect. It’s a circular, give and take relationship where one person needs their partner, and the partner thrives on being needed.
Red flags: excusing bad behaviour, feeling suffocated, engaging in pleasing people, or not aligning to your values.
Think Martin’s quote from Sleeping with the Enemy: “I know your every thought, Laura.”
Have you ever got out of one toxic relationship, only to jump straight into another? This kind of cycle can often be linked back to an unhealthy attachment we had with a primary caregiver in childhood.
Perhaps we had a parent who was often absent, and so as an adult, we may subconsciously seek partners who also make us feel abandoned.
When we continue to stay in unhealthy relationships like this, despite the pain they cause, we may be experiencing trauma bonding – a detrimental relationship where an abused partner is tightly attached to an abusive partner due to the cyclical pattern of abuse. A trauma bond is forged because abusive behaviour is followed by a grandiose apology and statements like “I love you, it will never happen again” or “Why would you make me do this to you?”
Not only does it destroy the abused partner’s self-esteem, but they attach emotionally to their abuser and minimise the original abuse. Loving someone who hurts you is extremely confusing, as is continually getting into relationships with people who hurt you. Often the abuser is kind from time to time, just enough to keep the bond.
Red flags: power imbalance, financial dependency, isolation, blame, extreme jealousy and broken promises.
Think Ally Maine’s line from A Star is Born: “I hope it’s okay if I love you forever, Jack.”
An addiction to love is also known as pathological love and is propelled by an obsession with romance underpinned by an irrational fear of abandonment. Love addicts tend to always be in a relationship, even if it isn’t healthy for them. If you are always trying to fill a void with relationships, you might be a love addict.
A love addict will often morph into someone else to suit their partner’s particular needs. Love addiction is characterised by intense craving, insecurity, pathological jealousy and obsession with one’s love interest.
Childhood trauma such as abandonment or neglect, can play a role in love addiction. Our early attachment experiences might make a person feel unlovable or unworthy in adulthood, and the thrills of intense love soothe them.
Red flags: feeling anxious about your partner leaving (as though you physically cannot live without them), intense jealousy, always in a relationship to fill a void, changing hopes and dreams to match your partner’s.
The cheating relationship
Think Paul Martel’s quite in Unfaithful: “There is no such thing as a mistake. There are things you do, and things you don’t do.”
When your partner cheats on you, it can blindside you and be extremely traumatic.
Trust is the core to any relationship, and once it’s obliterated, it’s tricky to rebuild and can result in the cheated-on individual experiencing ‘betrayal trauma’. Betrayal trauma can interfere with our self-esteem and trigger feelings of insecurity and abandonment.
On the other hand, childhood trauma can increase the chances of being a cheater later in life. Emotional, physical or sexual abuse in childhood can instil a fear of commitment and cause someone to choose the adulation of an affair to heal old wounds. Also, If someone grew up with parents who cheated on each other, it might give someone the belief that infidelity is acceptable.
Red flags: your partner paying more attention to their appearance; not spending quality time with you, hiding their phone, adding passwords to devices.
A cheating partner may also begin to gaslight the betrayed partner – making them feel crazy or stupid for feeling suspicious of their behaviour.
It is important to remember that our childhood experiences can have a significant impact and role in how we relate to others as adults.
Toxic relationship cycles can be complex and difficult to identify and break free from, so it’s important to seek support from a professional if you are struggling.
When you work through the impacts of childhood trauma with a trusted professional in a safe space, they can help identify the patterns or behaviours that may be impacting your mental health and develop healthier coping strategies.