Toxic Relationships: How to Handle Them

David: Here are a few audience comments on what has been said so far tonight.

babygirl62: We have separated several times. He then comes back saying he will change, and he doesn't. However, I can't lay all the blame on him because I like to control things also.

Ginger1: My husband has to have his own way. I have to ask permission to hang a picture.

Dr. Brewer: Don't kid yourself, because if your husband is such a controlling person that you need to ask permission to hang a picture, you are not the one in control. You describe the typical cycle of violence:

  • a blow up
  • then the honeymoon period in which the abuser is contrite
  • and then the abuse begins to escalate
  • and then the explosion
  • and then the honeymoon period

CalypsoSun: I grew up in a dysfunctional and abusive home, then had two abusive marriages. I had to totally disconnect with my siblings to regain healthiness. I am in a healthy relationship now, but miss my siblings. I fear reconnection because of the toxicity. Any comments?

Dr. Brewer: If you have done work on yourself, and it sounds like you have, you may be stronger and in a better position to tolerate interaction with your siblings. However, remember that you have choices, and if they have not done work for themselves, you must limit your interaction with them. This is for your own emotional well-being and that is a very good thing to do!

cap1010: What if your relationship is not meant to be harmful, but you are just really bad at talking to people. Is that a toxic relationship? Can my toxic relationship just be me not being able to communicate with "friends"?

Dr. Brewer: Cap, I need an example of what you mean.

cap1010: Sometimes I feel I just cannot get my feelings out to people, or they just misconstrue what I say.

Dr. Brewer: Setting limits means that you too, have to pay attention to the limits you set. Cap, it sounds like working in a therapy group or support group, might be helpful for you to get some practice and learning how to say what you mean to. I can sense your sadness and frustration and you owe it to yourself to practice hearing your own voice.

David: For those in the audience, I'm interested in knowing what is it about you that got you involved in a toxic relationship?

Journeywoman_2000: I simply saw something better and thought it was healthy.

vioyoung: I came from a very dysfunctional family, with an alcoholic and emotionally abusive step-dad and a mom with serious emotional problems. They always made me feel unimportant, so that carried over.

michaelangelo37: The difficulty in my situation is that my parents do not respect the limits my wife and I have set. I was raised by toxic parents and had many unhealthy relationships, but I now have a healthy marriage.

Ginger1: My husband was charming before we were married.

David: Referring back to what causes someone to get into a toxic relationship, here's another question, Dr. Brewer:

vger2400: How are depression and self-esteem factors in toxic relationships? Does that mean that the person does not have a clear sense of their own boundaries and a fear of being out of control of their lives, or out of control of other people?

Dr. Brewer: When you are feeling depressed, it is hard to have clarity about your life and what is reasonable, appropriate, or respectful. Depression saps emotional and physical strength, both of which are critical in relationships. Low self-esteem tells one that they do not have rights or options, which is again, an energy drainer. And yes, depression can inhibit your sense of your own boundaries and your need and right to set boundaries with others.

vioyoung: I'm getting out of a toxic relationship (he has Narcissistic Personality Disorder), but I find myself feeling sorry for him because now he's being so nice. I know he's just trying to woo me back and nothing has changed. So, do you have any tips on how to not feel sorry for him?

Dr. Brewer: It's okay to feel sorry for him, as long as you don't feel responsible for him. You also have to remember that you have the right to a happy life!

vioyoung: Thanks, I keep telling myself that!

Dr. Brewer: As you should! :-)

David: That seemed to have hit a chord with some others in the audience:

babygirl62: Ouch! You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned feeling responsible for him. That is how I feel....:(

joe rose: Eric Fromm said that in order to be related to another person in a healthy productive way, one must first be properly related to oneself. Assuming you agree with that statement, how would you describe being properly related to oneself?

Dr. Brewer: The good news about recognizing that you are not responsible for your partner is that it frees you up for being responsible for yourself, and remember, as long as you accept responsibility for your partner, you are telling you and your partner that they don't have to change. Furthermore, that they are not responsible, that instead you are! Now, that is not the message you want to give!

I wrote a book, Relationships In Progress, about just that idea! The way you begin to relate to yourself, is to work at knowing yourself and then paying attention to the things you know, which means, not allowing your core values to fall by the wayside in a relationship.

Last Updated: 08 September 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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