Toxic Relationships

We’re Meant for Connection, but Some Relationships Aren’t Healthy

As humans we were made for emotional and physical connection. While it’s perfectly natural to seek out closeness with others, some pairings turn out to be harmful rather than healthy.

What Makes a Relationship Toxic?

“A healthy boundary creates controlled vulnerability.”

Meadows Senior Fellow Pia Mellody

Toxic relationships are, by definition, harmful to the participants. Unresolved trauma can make having healthy relationships difficult. Many patients experienced an attachment disruption from really early on. When we look at their family of origin, there’s a disconnection in their attachment with mom and dad. It starts there, then we typically see some type of sexual abuse or sexual assault. By the time our patients are in their teens, they are already using substances to cope with the pain.

By contrast, a healthy relationship is one where there is a shared desire for each other’s happiness. Both partners feel safe and secure. No one remains in the partnership out of fear — either physical fear or the fear of being alone or unworthy of love. Toxic relationships are dysfunctional at their core and won’t give those involved the kind of connection that they are seeking.

Warning signs of a toxic relationship:

  • Belittling
  • Anger, uncontrollable temper
  • Guilt
  • Over-dependence
  • Controlling behavior
  • Possessiveness
  • Domineering behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Emotional or physical abuse
  • Lack of mutual caring, respect, or compassion

If someone isn’t getting what they want out of a relationship, why would they stay? It’s easy for outsiders to see toxic behavior for what it is, but from the inside it can look very different. In cases of physical abuse, terminating the relationship can seem like a no-brainer, but this may be complicated if there are children involved. There are other real-life factors that might influence a woman to stay in a relationship. In some toxic or abusive relationships, there can be a certain level of traumatic bonding based on the need for survival.

Even if none of those external elements exist to stay in a relationship, predators are skilled at zeroing in on a woman’s vulnerability. They convince their partner, “I’m the source of all your needs.” Then when their mask begins to slip and selfish or toxic behaviors are revealed, the victim feels so dependent on the relationship that she isn’t able to leave without help.

Healing for Toxic Relationships

Relationships that have turned toxic aren’t necessarily doomed, but in addition to a willingness to change, both partners will likely need professional help to understand where their unhealthy patterns come from and how to transform the dynamic into something healthy and mutually satisfying. It’s important to focus on strength-based recovery in order to move toward healthy attachment. Our treatment experts can work with the couple to expose what doesn’t work in the relationship so that both partners can clearly see the problems and how to move through them.

The ultimate goal isn’t a perfect relationship. Instead, we want to get to a point where there are two partners who are open and willing to look at their issues. Even if a relationship can’t or shouldn’t be saved, our female patients gain the courage to face difficult issues, including grief and loss, so they can heal from emotional trauma, becoming accountable for their own feelings, behaviors, and recovery.

Reach Out

Caring Professionals

A Serene Setting

Experiential Treatment Options