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What To Do When Your Spouse Is Toxic

Evaluating your situation can bring clarity.

Concern and confusion about your relationship are completely understandable. On the one hand, people say things like: No marriage is perfect. Marriage requires work and self-sacrifice. Every marriage experiences ups and downs. On the other hand, you might be wondering: Are my spouse and I an explosive combination? Is my spouse toxic? What do I do now?

This marriage is draining the life out of me. 

Sure, no marriage is perfect… but your overall marital experience should be positive, nurturing, and safe. Your marriage should be a positive, fulfilling part of your life, even with ups and downs.🚦Certain aspects of marriage may be hard, but simply being married shouldn’t be hard. Being married shouldn’t threaten your well-being.

A relationship is toxic when painful dysfunction is the norm.

  • You’re hurting and feeling drained daily because of your spouse.
  • Your sense of self is spiraling down because of your spouse.
  • You aren’t receiving the support or encouragement found in marriage. 
  • Your marriage isn’t a refuge or a safe place. It’s an explosive minefield. 
  • Your marital day-to-day with your spouse is a drama-filled act of survival.

I want you to repeat after me: 

My marriage is not meant to feel like this.

Before we talk about your options as the spouse of a toxic partner, you first have to make some crucial distinctions. You must evaluate your welfare and safety. (This is non-negotiable.) How are you?

1. You have to reclaim yourself.

It’s not uncommon for people in toxic relationships to literally abandon and lose themselves. They’re busy focusing on navigating the minefield of their marriage. 

Here’s how to reclaim yourself. Here’s info on the value of mindfulness and meditation.

  • Affirm yourself daily. Your “inner voice” may have become your spouse’s critical, demeaning voice. Tell yourself the truth each day. Listen to your own voice. Here’s a clear explanation of affirming yourself with practical tips and suggestions. 

2. You need to understand abuse in its various forms.

  • Toxic relationships are definitely unhealthy. They aren’t necessarily abusive but frequently have abusive elements in them. Get help making any distinctions between unhealthy and abusive. Often, the individual enduring abuse is the last one to realize it. Victims frequently make excuses for their abuser, downplay abusive behavior, or blame themselves. This is the time for some reality-based honesty. 
  • Let the experts on abuse help you sort it out. Commit to call, text, or chat online with a specialist. It’s anonymous. You’re worth it. Believe what they tell you. Call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. Chat securely with an expert on abuse online here.

3. You need a dependable support system.

  • Take some time to consider and write down your immediate needs. When was the last time you had a health check-up? Be clear about any physical or emotional symptoms you’re experiencing. You should also seek care from a qualified therapist or counselor. 
  • You need people in your life who:
    • Believe in you, not people who blame or shame you.
    • Let you safely vent, and will empathize with you.
    • Can get you out of the house and help you recharge.
    • Will join you in your journey and help you reach your goals.

DO NOT LET MONEY MAKE YOU FEEL HELPLESS.

Yes, money can be a thing. It’s a hard reality. And finances can be entangled with your spouse’s toxicity. Think of your time as a valuable currency. Invest it in the search for resources. Use this guide to therapy for every budget and the resources at the end of this blog.

Internet time! (Delete your browsing history if it helps you feel safe.) What low-cost or no-cost physical and mental health services are available in your area? (Check here and here.) Are support groups available locally or online? What apps can meet critical needs? Hotlines, like the ones at the end of this blog, can steer you toward local resources. Give yourself permission to ask for and receive help.

Is your marriage hopeless? What options should you explore?

Hope? Find a mirror. Take a long look. You’re looking at the face of the person who is your best hope. Let this empower you to create a future characterized by hope and not hurt

Facts! There isn’t an option on the table that isn’t challenging. Nobody knows your situation better than you… but this blog has some important things to consider.

More Facts! Research has identified two significant “at-risk” periods for marriage. The first at-risk period is the first two years of marriage, which obviously makes sense. The second at-risk period is roughly years five through 10. 

Catch This: The average length of a first marriage that ends in divorce is eight years. The divorce process takes about a year. On average, an individual takes two years to consider divorce before taking action. Crunch those numbers. It’s clear marital troubles frequently hit couples about five years into marriage. This makes so much sense.

About five years into marriage, there’s a good chance that:

  • Marriage has become less fun and more difficult.
  • Circumstances like demanding careers or raising children have caused relationship drift & disconnection.
  • Unhealthy relationship habits have hardened into an unhealthy marriage. Poor communication, poor conflict management. Not being proactive & intentional about strengthening intimacy & connection. It’s all finally caught up with the marriage. 
  • Someone has inflicted significant personal hurt, often fueling bitterness, resentment, and contempt. (Left undealt with, those feelings are marriage-killers.)

Press pause if your marriage is in that window, generally between years five through 10. Barring abuse in any form, there are many reasons to hope that change is possible in your spouse and marriage. Research also indicates that couples who work through years five to 10 experience a “second honeymoon” period from years 10 to 15. 

Hear & Know This: You are not responsible for your spouse’s toxic or abusive behavior. Period. Full Stop. You are one-half of your marriage. 

This Is Critical: Was your spouse always a toxic person? Or is this something they have become? Can you see a possibility where you, your spouse, and a therapist might do the hard work to sort your relationship out? It wouldn’t be easy, and it wouldn’t happen overnight. But if your spouse was willing and actually did the work, could they (and your marriage) get back on track?

Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author, explains the critical factor in whether a toxic relationship is doomed. “If only one partner is invested in creating healthy patterns, there is, unfortunately, little likelihood that change will occur.” Put another way, WE can move toward a healthier marriage. But a willing ME stands little chance of experiencing change with an unwilling ME.

Can you and your spouse work toward a WE? 

As in, WE are:

  • Responsible for choosing to be the best versions of ourselves.
  • Open to seeking whatever individual and marital help we need.
  • Willing to prioritize and invest in our relationship and each other.
  • Committed to doing less blaming and more team building.
  • Agreeing to learn from the past and leave it there. 

REMEMBER: These are commitments to foundational principles for a healthy marriage. The way these principles translate to specific behaviors depends on your particular situation. Ideally, a counselor or therapist would help you and your spouse identify the behaviors, routines, and habits that honor these principles in your marriage.

★ If you’re married to a toxic spouse, RELATIONSHIP EXPERTS consider these principles a fundamental shared “minimum requirement” for BOTH spouses to work toward a healthier marriage. The proof these principles have become integrated into a spouse’s life is when their behavior moves from hurtful to helpful. NOTE: This is more than promises to change. This is change.

★ MARITAL HEALTH cannot begin to be addressed unless you are first in a place of PERSONAL SAFETY.

If abuse in any form is present in your relationship, your personal safety is your TOP PRIORITY. The appropriate professionals must address this. Don’t wonder if you’re experiencing abuse – reach out. 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. 

If your spouse is abusive, you need to safely remove yourself from the situation. Do that as soon as possible. 

As much as YOU might be committed to WE, your spouse must meet you there. You can’t make them move from ME to WE. Regrettably, some spouses can’t or won’t move to WE. 

After professionals have helped you determine you’re not in danger of abuse, you need to decide if you can be healthy with a spouse who is unwilling to function as your marriage partner. This is a critical decision to consider carefully. Please: Allow professionals to walk with you through your options. I wish you all the best in this challenging situation.


TAKE THE GUESSWORK OUT OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

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Relationship Resources

Mental Health Care

The Importance of Self-Care 

The 13 Best Meditation Apps of 2022

Calm: App for Sleep, Meditation, Relaxation

Headspace: App for Stress, Anxiety, Mindfulness

5 Powerful Self-Care Tips for Abuse and Trauma Survivors

Hotlines & Helplines

National Domestic Violence Hotline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

National Sexual Assault Hotline

Support Groups & Group Therapy

What Is Online Group Therapy? How To Find It

Find Support Groups | Mental Health America

The 6 Best Online PTSD Support Groups of 2022

6 Best Online Depression Support Groups for 2022

7 Best Anxiety Support Groups of 2022

DomesticShelters.org

Free & Affordable Therapists and Counseling Services

8 Affordable Therapy Options

FindTreatment.gov

MentalHealth.gov

Online Therapist and Counseling Services

10 Top Online Therapy Picks for 2022

7 Best Free and Affordable Online Therapists, 2022

Best 8 Online Psychiatry Services in 2022

Reviews of 4 Mental Health Chatbots

TalkSpace Online Services: Individual & Couples

BetterHelp Online Services: Individual & Couples

Sources

Meditation: In-Depth | NCCIH

Everything To Know About Stress: Causes & Prevention

The Effects of Stress on Your Body

Stable Negative Social Exchanges And Health

4 Negative Behaviors That May Be Making You Sick

Dispositional Contempt: A First Look At The Contemptuous Person

The Dark Core Of Personality

19 Signs Of A Toxic Relationship & What To Do If You’re In One

10 Necessary Steps To Fix A Toxic Relationship

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional Abuse Test

The Problem With Online Toxic Relationship Quizzes

**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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When You Don’t Like Your Friend’s Friend

A good relationship is worth the risk you may have to take.

What do you do when you don’t like your friend’s friend? This is a tricky but common situation.

And for the record, we aren’t talking about someone in your friend’s life who just rubs you the wrong way. This goes considerably deeper than personality. Still, let’s leave no room for misunderstanding.

First, let’s ask some clarifying questions.

  1. Could it be you? Are you the jealous type? Prone to overreacting? (Sorry. Had to ask.)
  2. Could this person be awful at first impressions? How much have you been around them? (Without being all gossipy, is anyone else in your friend circle picking up on this?)
  3. Is this person truly toxic? A bad influence on your friend? Are you legitimately worried about your friend?

Okay, so number three is on the table. You’re worried about your friend. They seem to have a blind spot about this person, and this “friend” negatively influences them. This obviously isn’t cool.

Second, let’s wrap our heads around what’s going on.

  • This person may be in a bad season of life, and their negativity is affecting your friend.
  • This person may be making lifestyle choices that you know go against your friend’s values, and you see your friend heading that way.
  • He or she may be in a bad relationship, divorcing, or divorced, and they are poisoning your friend’s relationship or view of marriage.
  • This person might be vocal about their views on sex, faithfulness, integrity, and they’re encouraging your friend to move outside their boundaries and character.
  • Your friend may be in a vulnerable position and highly susceptible to influence.
  • You may have already seen changes in your friend that concern you.

If you see any of these things, or something similar, a conversation with your friend is in order.

Research shows that we are wired to catch and spread emotions and behaviors just like we catch and spread a cold or virus. 

Psychologists use the term “social contagion” to describe how individuals or groups influence us. Simple examples include yawns and smiles, but they can also include infidelity and divorce. As much as we want to think we’re our own person, we are all susceptible to the influence of others — both positive and negative. It’s not uncommon to see it happening to our friends while they’re oblivious to it. We have blind spots. 

What do you do when your friend has a toxic friend who is a bad influence on them?

Friends help friends see their blindspots. Sometimes our friend’s immediate response is gratitude. Sometimes it can be anger or resentment. Often, it depends on the rapport you have with your friend and the trust you’ve developed in that relationship. 

Bottom line: You have to use your judgment. Do you have “relationship capital” built up with your friend to call them out on how they’re changing or being influenced? Has the “threat” risen to the level that you are willing to risk your friendship?

You’re a quality friend for caring. You gotta do something about this because that’s what quality friends do. But you’re also aware that this sort of thing can go sideways and, worst-case scenario, you could lose a friend over it.

Know this. Believe this. You’re responsible for bringing your concerns to your friend. 

Be tactful, respectful, and direct. Your friend is responsible for how they respond. Truth. You have to know that you’re doing what good friends do. Your friend is responsible for their reaction, which is entirely out of your control. Are you prepared to lose a friend because of your sense of duty, responsibility, loyalty, and being a quality friend? 

Sadly, this is what it often comes down to in the short term. Sometimes your friend will be grateful after they’ve processed what you’ve said, heard similar things from other friends, or experienced some negativity. But it’s hard on you to lose some standing with a friend or have to watch them learn something the hard way.

Keep your concern about your friend front and center rather than negativity about your friend’s friend who has you concerned. You won’t regret speaking the truth from a caring heart.

Other helpful blogs:

7 Signs You’re a Good Friend

3 Keys to Deeper Friendships

Valuable Relationships Make You a Better Person

My Friends Are Getting Divorced and It’s Affecting My Marriage

You and your spouse are arguing constantly. Maybe there’s a never-ending tension-filled silence at home when you’re around your partner. Or you feel like you can’t ever believe anything your significant other says. 

You’ve heard that marriages can be hard work. But you’re not sure if this is “good” hard work, if you just have problems to work through, or if your marriage is truly a toxic marriage

Here are 10 signs that are often present in a toxic marriage and what you can do about it… 

Destructive communication.

You react to each other most often with criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or withdrawal/stonewalling. Dr. John Gottman, marriage researcher and therapist, calls these The 4 Horsemen. Each of these communication styles do a lot more to drive you apart than they do to bring you together. Healthy couples respond to each other as equals and approach conflict with respect for one another. They also take responsibility for their role in a conflict. 

Conflict is never resolved or managed. It just grows.

It’s true that there are some things the two of you will never totally agree on. In fact, Dr. Gottman has identified 10 common differences within marriage that couples may not agree on for the duration of their marriage. Issues surrounding parenting, family and in-laws, work/life balance, and sex are all areas you may never see the same way. A marriage isn’t toxic because of these differences. When the relationship is unable to manage the differences and learn how to respect and work with one another, resentment and bitterness creeps in and creates high levels of toxicity. Being different doesn’t mean one of you is deficient. The world and your family needs the differences you both exhibit. 

Intimacy is non-existent.

There’s little to no connection physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It breaks my heart to hear a spouse say, “I’m lonely.” Living with someone you love and feeling unable to feel seen, heard, or valued can leave one feeling lonely. Sharing intimate moments, whether they are times of deep, relational, and emotional connection or sexual experiences may be difficult when the marriage is toxic. 

Secrecy.

It’s not that you should share every detail and every interaction you have with your spouse. However, purposely withholding information, financial information, or heavily censoring interactions you have with other people is a sign that there’s some potentially serious disconnect within your marriage. This can destroy trust and lead to betrayal. A healthy marriage works to build trust. It also works to understand why you’d risk the trust of your spouse for self-gratification. 

Constant criticism.

We can always find something wrong with our spouse. But, if you are constantly criticizing or constantly being criticized, your relationship is not in a good place. The tone of voice and nonverbal communication are significant indicators as to how you communicate and how it will be received.

You consistently seem to bring out the worst in each other.

Whether enabling negative behaviors or provoking one another, a toxic relationship encourages you to be your worst self. You may constantly react to one another with anger, hostility, jealousy or any number of emotions. You may find yourself being manipulative, deceitful, or controlling. In healthy relationships, people look for ways to humbly help one another be their best selves, not from a place of superiority, but one of love and care.

Never fighting the right fight.

This isn’t about being physical. Sometimes couples argue so much they never actually discuss the real issue. She’s frustrated he won’t help with the dishes after eating. He’s always complaining that the family is rushing to this and that event. She wants more sex. He wants more peace and quiet. They’ve argued about the same thing for years and never actually talked about the real issue. The issue may be about valuing family time or lack of intimacy. Sometimes digging into the roots and understanding the real issue takes time and the help of a professional counselor. You want to fight the right fight, the right issue, the real issue.

Control and isolation.

Controlling or being controlled can have severe consequences to one’s mental and emotional health. Dictating where the other goes, what they do, how much money they can spend, what they say and who they spend time with are strong indicators of a toxic marriage or relationship. This is unhealthy behavior. Seek professional help. 

Disrespect and disregard for each other.

This may look like a total lack of care or interest in one another. Dismissing and neglecting one another’s being in the marriage is a deep sign of trouble. Stepping back and appreciating the strengths of your spouse and their contributions to both you as a person and the marriage is a sign of a vibrant relationship.

Neither of you is becoming a better version of yourself.

The relationship is having a negative impact on your character. You’re becoming deceitful, manipulative, or more self-centered. While this may not always be attributed to the marriage, it’s important to look at marriage and determine what type of character the marriage is feeding

★ So, What Can You Do?

Self-Care.

You’re not expected to be perfect, but you can work to take care of yourself, mentally, physically and emotionally. Eating well, getting plenty of rest, setting aside time to meditate/pray and be mindful are all proven ways to help you think better. These things can also help you respond to stress in a productive way. Research by The Institute for Family Studies indicates couples who cultivate mindfulness through activities such as meditation “may experience a feeling of greater connection within their romantic and sexual relationships.” 

Focusing on the friendship within the marriage is focusing on the marriage.

Separating the marital expectations from the growth of a friendship can help the two of you focus on getting to know one another again. Friends talk, listen, support and share. When the marriage itself feels toxic, focus on being a good friend to one another. You’ll be strengthening your marriage.

Communicate.

Numerous studies confirm the number one issue couples experience in marriage is poor communication. Have honest, non-judgmental conversation with your spouse about your concerns. Don’t blame. Don’t speak to your partner with contempt as though you have all the answers. There’s no guarantee your spouse will receive it well or even reciprocate. We can hope, but not expect. Part of being a healthy you is sharing your honest thoughts and emotions.

Schedule your fights.

Many toxic relationships are characterized by incessant arguing. Your mind has become trained to only communicate conflict, disagreement and strong, negative emotions. Set aside a time where you will discuss your disagreements and conflicts. This may give one spouse the security of knowing that issues will not be avoided while giving the other person the space to get their thoughts together. As you develop a pattern of dealing with your issues in a healthy, productive way at a given time, it will become easier to coexist. It will also be easier for you enjoy one another at other times because there’s no fear that you’re ignoring your issues.

Seek Counseling.

As stated earlier, sometimes counseling is necessary. If your spouse isn’t willing, you may choose to seek counseling on your own to help understand the root issues of the toxicity. You may also find out what, if any, contributions you have made to the relationship’s toxic nature. 

Find ways to express gratitude.

There’s something good about your spouse. Otherwise, you would have never been attracted to them. Relationship expert Dr. Jack Ito says, “little acts of love and kindness go a long way (in marriage).” Help your brain see the good in your spouse by showing and expressing gratitude for the good, regardless of how big or small it is.

Talk with healthy couples. Limit interaction with toxic couples.

You can expect to be contaminated with more poison when you continually interact with other toxic couples. During this season when you’re trying to eliminate toxicity, it’s crucial that you interact with couples who are relatively healthy—not perfect, but healthy. You won’t find any perfect couples.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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How To Deal With Toxic Family Members

These tips can help you keep the damage to a minimum.

Have you ever noticed that every time you leave a certain family member’s presence, you feel worse than you did before you saw them?

Have you ever noticed that your aunt gossips all the time? 

Or that your in-laws criticize your every move?

Or that your own parents are more controlling now than ever?

And what about that uncle who doesn’t care what you’re doing—he thinks it’s okay to show up whenever he wants.

Toxic family members make your head hurt. They are poisonous to your health. They can drain you emotionally every time they are around.

How do you recognize toxic family members?

  • When you leave their presence, you often feel worse than you did before. 
  • They want to control your life. They tell you the decisions you should make, how you should spend your money, and the people you should be friends with.
  • You feel that they seem to always criticize you—your parenting, your cooking, your house management, anything and everything.
  • They may be physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive.
  • They always “need” you to come to their rescue.

Totally removing a toxic family member from your life may not be an option. However, you can manage the relationship to minimize its negative effects on you.

  • Overcome any fear you have of hurting your family member’s feelings. Your mental and emotional health comes first. Sometimes we’ve not addressed the situation directly because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. So instead, we end up hurt, frustrated, or angry every time we have to see them.
  • Set clear boundaries. People will often treat you the way you allow them to treat you. Toxic family members will often become accustomed to treating you in a certain kind of way. Until you set boundaries, it may not change. (And even then, there may be resistance because change is hard.) Standing firm on those boundaries says that you will not tolerate not being respected, valued, and treated with the dignity you deserve.
  • Learn to disengage. There are some conversations you may learn not to have with certain family members. Other times, you will learn to limit the amount of time you spend with them. The key is learning how to end interactions with toxic family members when you begin to feel your emotions triggered and when to avoid interactions altogether.
  • Seek help for support. Toxic family members can lead to stress, trauma, and mental health issues that may be best discussed with a counselor. 

It’s important to deal with the toxicity. Your mental and emotional health—and maybe even your physical health—can depend on it. Most importantly though, you’re worth it. Your very being is worth being treated with respect. You’re the one who should have control of your life.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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YOUR STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS

5 PROVEN STEPS TO TRANSFORM YOUR CONNECTION WITH OTHERS

RELATIONSHIPS CAN BE TOUGH.

Whether you’re dating, engaged, married, a parent, an empty-nester, or a co-worker, relationships are everywhere. And they’re not easy! But here are 5 research-proven steps you can take to strengthen your relationships and transform your life!

What do you do when your friend is in a toxic relationship? Can you spot it? But what about you? Do you know when you’re in a toxic relationship? Most people want to be in healthy and satisfying partnerships, but sometimes we settle for less just so we can feel wanted, appreciated, or loved.

We ignore the red flags an individual reveals and we pretend like we don’t notice their toxic traits. We might straight up just not see them because, let’s be real: love has the ability to make us blind to all of the negative qualities a person might possess.

When you’re in a healthy relationship, there is healthy communication.

You are energized by being together. You feel comfortable around one another. There is trust. You all have a clear understanding of the expectations and boundaries you have set in place, so you feel secure. Most of all, they build you up and you feel respected.

In a toxic relationship, you don’t feel some or any of those things.

You constantly worry if you’re being lied to, feel distraught and tired just being with this other person, and feel drained when you are together. It breaks you down and contaminates your self-esteem, and makes you second guess your worth at times. There is constant tension and you feel like you have to walk on eggshells. Happiness doesn’t always come naturally, all the time, but it doesn’t come often when you are with one another.

A toxic relationship not only puts a strain on your relationship, but it also puts a strain on the other relationships you have in your life – friends, family, even co-workers wonder if you are ok. If you still aren’t sure about the “toxicity status” of your relationship, let me give you some clear examples.

Maybe this will help you out a little bit…

  1. You stop communicating your needs because there is no point. We all have needs when it comes to a relationship. If you feel uncomfortable expressing yours, or you simply just don’t see the point of it because you know they will be ignored, then that is a big red flag. Healthy people should always be able to ask for what they need.
  2. It’s a one-sided relationship. If you are the only one showing effort and affection then cut it. Endearment and work are supposed to come from both parties. Also, both people should feel empowered in a relationship – not just one.
  3. There is never any compromise. It is normal to argue and disagree. In a toxic relationship, you will argue and disagree, but you either always lose or disagreements NEVER get settled. (Then you can look forward to a big explosion soon. All of those unspoken feelings and expectations will express themselves one day, but it won’t be very pretty.)
  4. Physical or Verbal Abuse. No one, and I mean, NO ONE should ever make you feel inferior by physically intimidating you or screaming and yelling at you. If someone needs to do those things to you to get their point across, then that is not the person for you! (Or anyone for that matter.)
  5. There’s no such thing as privacy. If your partner is constantly asking for your passwords, asking you where you’re going, and is always asking who you are texting & talking to, then get away, fast! Being in a relationship should not mean that you lose your right to privacy. Trust is important for a reason.
  6. They continually lie to you. It’s really hard to regain trust once you have lost it, but how can you trust someone who always lies to you? Well, if you have to ask yourself that question, maybe that’s not the person you should trust.

Now I need to be clear…

You are not a weak individual if you find yourself in a toxic relationship. It happens to the best of us, and it can be a real learning experience. You may not have known what you were in for with someone at first. It happens.

Sometimes people don’t show us their true colors for months, then some external factors reveal who they really are. Sometimes conflict in the relationship reveals the real “them.”

Whether it started out toxic or it became toxic, it is just important to recognize toxicity when it begins so you can take care of yourself. Some relationships are worth fighting for, but others are best left exactly where we found them. Love and respect yourself enough so you don’t have to go through toxicity a minute longer than needed. You don’t deserve the stress or heartache.

Looking for more relationship resources? Click here!

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In 2014, there was enormous outcry over video footage of pro football player Ray Rice knocking his wife Janay unconscious, then dragging her off an elevator. In the midst of the coverage, the Rices appeared together at a press conference. She clearly seemed to have no intention of leaving him. This set off a whole new barrage on social media asking why in the world she would stay.

In the U.S., it’s estimated that every nine seconds a woman is beaten. Moreover, research indicates that 85 percent of reported cases of domestic violence are by men against women. These relationships usually involve intense jealousy, controlling behavior, denial and blame, intimidation, coercion and threats, and isolation.

  • Approximately 50 percent of men who assault their partners also assault their children.
  • As many as 10 million children witness domestic violence annually.
  • Men and women engage in comparable levels of abuse and control, though women are more likely to use emotional manipulation. In contrast, men are more likely to use sexual coercion and physical dominance. (Statistics from Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)

Dr. David M. Allen, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, says it’s important to realize that not all abusers were abused as children. And, that many—if not most—people who are abused do not become abusers. However, child abuse is most likely the single largest risk factor—biological, psychological or sociocultural—for later adult abusive behavior.

According to Allen, significant family dysfunction is almost always present in a repetitive abuser’s background. Unfortunately, these dysfunctional patterns rarely stop when abused children grow up.

Why do people stay in abusive relationships?

Fear, reliance on the abusive partner, pressure and conflicting emotions are all reasons why someone would stay in an abusive relationship.

“The reason many of these victims stay is because they are brainwashed to believe that the violence is their fault. They may think they cannot survive without their abuser and that they are too stupid, too ugly or too unfit to be a good employee, wife, friend or mother,” says Dr. Charlotte Boatwright, President of the Chattanooga Area Domestic Violence Coalition.

So, what can you do if you have a friend who is in an abusive situation?

  • Recognize the abuse. Help your friend see that what is happening is not normal. Healthy relationships revolve around mutual respect, trust and consideration for the other person. Intense jealousy and controlling behavior, which could include physical, emotional or sexual abuse, all indicate an unhealthy relationship.
  • Support your friend’s strength. Acknowledge the things she does to take care of herself.
  • Help your friend with a safety plan. There are resources available in our community to help victims of domestic violence. Express your concern for your friend’s safety and the safety of her children. Encourage her to get help as soon as possible. Give her the phone number to the National Domestic Violence hotline, 1-800-799-7233. Assure her that when she is ready to leave, you’ll be there for her.
  • Be a good listener. Empower her through listening. Be nonjudgmental.

“Never underestimate the power and encouragement of a friend,” Boatwright says. “Sometimes all a victim needs is permission to seek help.”