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Patterns of a Toxic Relationship: How Do I Know When It’s Time To Leave?

When The Damage Becomes Toxic

When we struggle in relationships, our first thought isn’t to give up. Most of the time when we see the beams begin to bend, it appears as an opportunity to communicate, grow, and navigate the situation as two working parts.

Under these circumstances, struggling relationships have the capacity to bounce back, rebuild, and start fresh. However sometimes, the struggling relationships become unhealthy, unbearable, and unfixable.

Struggling vs. Toxicity

Although painful, uncomfortable, and overall exhausting, toxic relationships are the hardest ones to part from. From an outside perspective it seems preposterous, but with toxic relationships comes

  • Manipulation

  • Low self-esteem

  • Fear of loneliness

  • Guilt

There are times where we are present enough to see the problem for what it is, but generally, the ones who are struggling are reluctant to make any changes for reasons out of their control, and that is normal.

The difference between a struggling relationship and a toxic relationship is the idea of working as a team.

If both you and your partner are aware of the problem and are willing to sit down, discuss, and work together to fix it, then your relationship is just hitting a rough patch. But if you feel that you are pulling most of the weight and putting the pressure to fix it all on yourself, then the problem is much deeper and irreparable.

How Do I Know If My Relationship Is Toxic?

Toxic and unhealthy behavior can manifest through multiple consecutive patterns in a relationship. Sometimes they’re extremely obvious, like physical or verbal, and other times they’re subtle, like psychological manipulation. But no matter how big, how small, how extreme, or how vague the behavior may be, they are equal in destruction.

The toxicity of relationships is a lingering fixation regardless of how the harm is inflicted, but at times, what we think is just a series of arguments, harmless mistakes, or an accident, can eventually become accepted toxic behavior. If you’re having trouble identifying toxic behavior, check out the list below.

Lack of Support

Lack of support is vague at the forefront, often disguised as a “bad day” or a “mood swing.”

If the time spent with your partner no longer feels: positive, valuable, or enjoyable for more than a few days, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate what you want.

With lack of support you may begin to feel a lack of encouragement, where your partner seems to have lost all interest in anything and everything you amount to and accomplish. You may also find yourself losing interest and focus on things you once held at a high standard.

Poor Communication

One of the most obvious patterns in a toxic relationship is poor communication– which can manifest in multiple ways at different stages of your relationship. It can be as simple as constant criticism or as complex as hateful sarcasm, but either end of that spectrum is not ideal.

After the continuous push and pull, hot and cold, and up and down bursts of toxicity, you may find yourself resorting to the silent treatment, where you avoid speaking to one another altogether, in an effort to avoid the inevitable, but ignoring the problem will only make it worse.

Breaking Connections With Family

One of the worst patterns that manifests through toxic relationships is cutting ties with your loved ones. This often surfaces when concerns are raised and questions are asked. “We are worried about you,” can sound like “we don’t approve” and “we don’t trust their intentions” can sound like “we don’t trust you.”

Breaking connections with family and friends is the ultimate defense mechanism used to justify why you’re staying in the toxicity. Maybe you truly believe you can change your partner or maybe you’re afraid of being proven wrong– either way, stubborness is a lonely place and your partner will never fill the void.


Far removed from the universal understanding of jealousy is the jealousy and resentment that manifests through toxic relationships. If you’re in a healthy relationship and find yourself envying the promotion your partner received at work, but still find it in your heart to celebrate their joy, then you’re just living and breathing like any other human being. However, if you or your partner are consumed by these feelings, to the point where feeling happy, feeling proud, and feeling love for one another is no longer an option, the red flag has been raised.

The difference between general jealousy and toxic jealousy is the notion of its progression. In toxic relationships jealousy becomes a shapeshifter. What begins as a small feeling of resentment can become large feelings of suspicion, mistrust, fear, and hatred.

Why Do We Stay?

There are many reasons why toxic relationships can feel addicting. Whether it’s a marriage, a fling, or a long-term relationship, regardless of any outside factors, the “Stockholm Syndrome” we feel while determining whether or not to stay is rooted in our own mental wellness. Here are some of the reasons why letting go feels so impossible:

Your Partner is Manipulative

Also known as “hot and cold” or “push and pull,” when your partner is manipulative, they often push your sanity to the edge and then show a glimmer of hope in a small gesture, like a fake apology, making the bed, or even washing the dishes.

These tactics are strategic and persuasive as they make you feel like your partner is changing. It’s confusing to those on the receiving end as just when you feel like you’re gonna break, they pull you back in.

Low Self-Esteem

Toxic and abusive relationships are usually bound together by insecurity and control. If you have low self-esteem and feel you are not good enough, your relationship will be a direct reflection of your beliefs. With low self-esteem comes low expectations, meaning the experience, the affection, the intimacy you are anticipating won’t be beneficial, rather detrimental, because your brain is wired to believe that.

Being unaware of your worth, power, and sense of self gives your abuser that power to manipulate those insecurities for their own benefit. When energies like this collide it makes leaving this type of partnership that much harder, it may even seem impossible, because you aren’t aware of what you could have.

Fear of Being Alone

One of the most common reasons for staying in a toxic relationship, contingent on the strength of your self-esteem, is the idea that this person is the only one for you– this person is your only chance to be in a relationship.

Those who possess this quality tend to believe that a bad relationship is better than no relationship or anything is better than the alternative. The “fear of being alone” impairs your judgment, skews your sense of self, and deprives you of opportunities to live a healthy and safe life.


Similar to manipulation, the impending guilt of leaving a toxic relationship holds great strength to those who can’t seem to break free. It’s not in your head and it’s not made up, it is real and it is harmful. One of the most harmful phenomenons born from toxic relationships is the idea of “victim blaming.”

When your partner uses this tactic, essentially they are putting forth the notion that all the feelings, thoughts, and actions committed have been a byproduct of something you said, did, or felt. They are blaming you for the way they made you feel– and that’s not fair. By doing this, your partner guilt trips you into staying with them, because in the end you feel bad.

You Are A Fixer

Like children living with mentally or physically ill parents, feeling the need to help/fix your toxic partner’s behavior can sometimes feel natural or obligatory. If you are a natural caregiver, you look at the glass as half full and you look at people with a compassionate eye and endless hope. Sometimes, it may even bring you satisfaction to see one of your people do a 180 for the better.

But in toxic relationships, the only real person capable of change/being changed is you. Just like your reason for being stuck in this cycle, your toxic partner has a reason for their behavior too, and only they can understand it and put in the work to fix it.

When You Should Leave

When you’re in a toxic relationship, it may seem difficult to comprehend that the harm being done to you is wrong, which leads most of us to stay entangled in the mess that much longer. Our behavior, actions, and decisions are synonymous with our beliefs and the narratives we play in our heads.

The most frequent phrases spearheading toxic relationships are:

  • All relationships will eventually become toxic

  • Love isn’t supposed to feel like a fantasy

  • I am the damaged one

  • People show love in different ways

  • I don’t deserve to be loved like others are

If you have made the strides to realize you are unsatisfied in your relationship– good news! You’re already heading in the right direction. But in an effort to ensure you avoid toxicity in the future, remember the Five A’s:

Attention, Affection, Appreciation, Acceptance, and Allowance

Attention: Is the attention I am given producing positive results?

Affection: Am I receiving affection in a natural and consensual way? Is affection being used as an incentive?

Appreciation: Are my good deeds and acts of love being noticed? Do I need to remind my partner to appreciate the things I do for them?

Acceptance: Does my partner try to change me? Do I have to become someone else in order for my partner to approve of me?

Allowance: Does my partner try to control what I do, who I see, how I act, or where I go?

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