If I were to crystalize what a toxic relationship is, I would highlight a couple featured in a Comedy Central show with Key and Peele, featuring the couple Meegan and Andre. I’m not sure if you are a Key and Peele fan, but they are two comedians who use to have a show on Comedy Central called Key & Peele. They would often do a skit of a couple, Meegan, and Andre who had one of the unhealthiest relationships ever. If you saw the skit, and were or are in a toxic relationship, you would relate to them.
Because it is a comedy, the skit about this couple was a bit over the top. But, you could easily see how Meegan reels in Andre each time he tries to leave her, and the signs of the dysfunction and toxicity of this relationship are evident from the very beginning. Even though Andre tries to break up with Meegan repeatedly, he ends up succumbing and staying with her over and over much like any standard toxic relationship. Why? It’s because toxic relationships are addictive and one of the most difficult to leave.
The skit of Meegan and Andre has been viewed over 1.5 million times. And the reason why is two-fold. It’s funny to watch, but also relatable. Most of us can relate and have been or may be in a relationship that you knew isn’t the best for you. But, sometimes no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get enough from this person no matter how hard you try to leave.
If you are wondering why it’s so tricky, you’re not alone. When you are in a toxic relationship, there is so much working against you that keeps you tied to the other person. It’s a mix of physical, emotional and psychological things happening simultaneously in the relationship which deepen the connection of you to the toxic person.
Let’s break it down into 11 specific reasons why we love toxic relationships and unavailable partners:
1. Toxic relationships make you feel good.
Well initially anyway. Narcissistic and emotionally unavailable people are good at doing the things to make you feel like they care and love you in limited doses. They typically have a lot of experience in doing enough to make you feel secure and are capable of misleading even the smartest among us.
They often start off the relationship very strong. There is a term for it. It’s called love bombing. They love bomb the shit out of you. Pun fully intended. Wikipedia even has a page breaking love bombing down in great detail. You are showered with affection and attention, something that feels very good and is difficult to resist. But, the difference in a toxic relationship is that the other person uses affection and love to manipulate you psychologically.
Love bombing is not only abundant in toxic relationships, but in cults too. And it’s powerful. Two early signs you are love-bombed include constant attention and pressure for you to commit to their terms in your relationship quickly. The attention they give you is inconsistent and intermittent. And it’s usually on their terms.
2. It’s highly inconsistent, and for some reason, you can never quite get the assurance you need.
There give many excuses as to why they can’t commit or why they disappear then reappear. It can be so convincing, and they are so persuasive that some of these reasons may seem justifiable. The other person uses this attention, affection, and physical interaction with you to get what they want from you when they want you. If this is happening in your relationship, you are more than likely being love bombed.
3. They play on your securities and insecurities which can confuse the heck out of you.
Bad boys/girls, emotionally unavailable boys/girls are so good at playing the role that they often give you immediate clues they are no good for you. They are ambiguous about commitment, next steps and shift the blame to you when things go wrong.
And what does this make you want to do? Instead of leaving, you instead think you can change them, be the one to break them of this habit, and your desire for them grows even more. Men are often pegged as hunters because it’s said they enjoy the chase of pursuing a woman. But, humans, both men, and women tend to find interest in people who are more a challenge, mysterious, or aloof. It’s human nature to be interested in someone who is a little harder to get. However, swings of interest, then disinterest, are not indicative of a healthy relationship.
It’s confusing emotionally, because in your logical mind you know it’s nonsense. But the person in your toxic relationship is so convincing and persuasive, that when it is all said and done, they have you second guessing yourself so much that you barely recognize who you have become after being in a relationship with them.
Because toxic people are experts at playing on your insecurities and securities, simultaneously to keep you off balance, it’s easy to feel like you have to have them in your life. The goal is to keep you on a short leash with false hopes of availability, but the reality is that they never plan to commit to you. Controlling and manipulating you is a space in which they are most comfortable.
If you have attachment issues, you may be especially vulnerable. If you have a history of mistrust, you may struggle to bond or form a natural attachment to another person. Realize that if you have emotional attachment issues, you need to be especially careful of toxic relationships. Being with someone like this will only deepen your emotional trauma.
4. It’s freakin challenging to leave a toxic relationship.
It is human nature to play up the person’s positive qualities versus paying attention to the glaringly disturbing ones especially when you develop feelings for them.
Here are some ways you can determine if you are rationalizing a relationship that is toxic. You harp on non-substantial factors which make up this person’s personality. Your focus is on your physical compatibility, how they look, make you feel, or that you have a good time with them. In a non-toxic relationship, where you are building something of substance, what you like about your partner will be much more in-depth. Consistency, consideration of your feelings, and mutual respect will also be a part of this list.
Questions to do a reality check of whether you are in a toxic relationship include:
How do they make you feel most of the time, not just in the limited interactions you have with them?
Are they there for you in a real and meaningful way?
If you are struggling to find their positive traits, it is likely there is not enough substance to hang on to in your relationship.
5. Sometimes dysfunction becomes functional.
Toxic relationships start innocently enough. They push your buttons; you push theirs. This dynamic can create some intense physical chemistry. And at first, you may shake off what could be emotionally or psychological abuse. In fact, if the person is good at doing other things in your relationship, which people who are emotionally unavailable or abuse usually are, it can wreak havoc on your mind.
6. Toxic relationships are addictive.
Dopamine, which controls your pleasure center, is ignited when you are in a toxic relationship and the addiction can be similar to the one you would have to drugs. Scary, huh? The frustration-attraction you feel is very real, and each time you have any interaction with this person, it strengthens your connection to them versus wanting you to leave them.
Oxytocin is released each time you physically connect with them which further strengthens your connection to them. Dysfunction looks like dysfunction at the outset, but like anything the more you are exposed to something outside your norm, it becomes your norm. Hence, dysfunction becomes functional.
7. It’s all you know.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you are in a toxic relationship especially if this is all you know. Unfortunately, no one teaches you to learn to cultivate a healthy and loving relationship. We get our examples via our parents or others we observe who are in relationships. It takes real effort and self-education to determine what constitutes a healthy relationship. But, if you are reading and researching to figure this out, you know something isn’t quite right. And that is ok and a good thing because you are taking the first step of informing yourself of what healthy versus a toxic relationship looks like in reality.
8. You feel like you don’t deserve more.
It’s true that we teach others what we will accept from them. There is a lot of research out there as to why people stay in bad relationships. One of the single most significant determinants of whether you will stay or leave a relationship is what you perceive your options or what you think you deserve. Self-esteem plays a considerable part.
If you think you deserve less, you will settle for less. If you feel like some of your expectations are being met, you may hang in there even though you should leave.
9. What you see you often repeat.
If you have an abusive history in your family, it makes it even more difficult for you to leave because subconsciously this may be all you know from previous experience.
When you are not exhibiting or have enough self-love, you may downgrade and justify what you think you deserve to match the traits of the person who is present in your life. The other thing you may do is play up their positive characteristics to offset or justify the bad aspects of who they are as an individual.
Know this; you can change this narrative of how you perceive yourself and what you expect from someone who loves you. We’ll address that later on.
10. You have a fear of the unknown.
There is a saying that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. I understand the context behind this saying, but I dislike this saying so much. This expression is often used to justify staying within our comfort zones.
And it really can come into play when you are in a toxic relationship. If you are in a relationship with a devil, why hang out with the devil at all? Get out, walk away, run, leave or whatever it is you have to do to keep your sanity.
If something feels toxic, even if you think you can control it or deal with it, it’s still toxic and isn’t healthy for you.
11. You get some level of intimacy and temporary from this person.
While the effects of a toxic relationship may be justifiable because at times it offers temporary happiness, it cripples you and permits you from being in a relationship that is better suited for you.
I understand it can be hard to leave something that feels good. And I know you may have a fear of loneliness. You may even yearn for some level of a feeling of intimacy which a toxic relationship may temporarily satisfy. But realize that these temporary feelings are only that, temporary. Leaving now and staying out of a toxic relationship can save you years of heartache and disappointment.
If you are in a toxic relationship in which you feel you can’t get out, there are sources of help out there. Find a local mental health counselor, or call a hotline if you need some help. If you have a friend or family member, who may be able to help, seek out that help. And if you have experienced or are in a toxic relationship, you will be stronger on the other side knowing what it looks like and also in preventing it from occurring again.