A toxic relationship as “any relationship [between people who] don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness.” While every relationship goes through ups and downs, a toxic relationship is consistently unpleasant and draining for the people in it, to the point that negative moments outweigh and outnumber the positive ones. Toxic relationships are mentally, emotionally and possibly even physically damaging to one or both participants. And these relationships don’t have to be romantic, friendly, familial and professional relationships can all be toxic as well. people who consistently undermine or cause harm to a partner — whether intentionally or not — often have a reason for their behavior, even if it’s subconscious. “Maybe they were in a toxic relationship, either romantically or as a child. Maybe they didn’t have the most supportive, loving upbringing.” “They could have been bullied in school. They could be suffering from an undiagnosed mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, any form of trauma.”

Even good relationships take work. After all, our significant other, our close friends, and even our parents aren’t perfect (and, oddly enough, they may not see us as perfect either). We have to learn how to accommodate and adapt to their idiosyncrasies, their faults, their moods, etc., just as they must learn how to do the same with us. And it’s worth it. Some relationships, however, are more difficult and require proportionately more work. We are not clones but individuals, and some individuals in relationships are going to have more difficulties, more disagreements. But because we value these relationships we’re willing to make the effort it takes to keep them. And then there are toxic relationships. These relationships have mutated themselves into something that has the potential, if not corrected, to be extremely harmful to our well being. These relationships are not necessarily hopeless, but they require substantial and difficult work if they are to be changed into something healthy. The paradox is that in order to have a reasonable chance to turn a toxic relationship into a healthy relationship, we have to be prepared to leave it (more about this later). The importance of understanding what defines a toxic relationship is elevated in a global pandemic.

Pandemic precautions have us spending more time at home. Many of us have lost the outlets that bring balance to our social, physical, and mental health–work, friends, the gym, school. Isolation at home can shed new light on the indicators that a relationship is toxic, meaning recent months have been key in identifying unhealthy patterns in our relationships. In April 2020, the Journal of Clinical Nursing reported that “home can be a place where dynamics of power can be distorted and subverted. Often without scrutiny from anyone ‘outside’ the couple or the family unit. In the COVID‐19 crisis, the exhortation to ‘stay at home’ therefore has major implications for those adults and children already living with someone who is abusive or controlling.”

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