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Breaking Free From the Toxic Relationship Cycle

A woman tired of the toxic relationship cycle.
It’s difficult to break free from the toxic relationship cycle, but it’s not impossible.

Here you go again—finding yourself caught in a cycle of conflict with your partner.

It’s a familiar pattern: you argue, you make up, and then you do it all over again. You’re all too familiar with this scenario. But this time, you’re feeling more tired than usual.

You’re not sure if you can keep going like this.

However, you’ve been in this relationship for a long time, and you’ve come to rely on your partner. You’re used to the way they make you feel, and you’re not sure how you would cope without them. But you also know that the fighting is taking a toll on your mental and physical health.

Dr. Lillian Glass, a body language expert and communication consultant, published the book Toxic People. Here, she defined 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.”

A toxic relationship cycle involves a pattern of destructive behaviors and negative emotions. It can trap an individual in a seemingly endless loop and happiness and turmoil. Despite its impact on one’s mental well-being, many people are still unable to break free from this toxic cycle.

Do you find yourself uncertain about being in a toxic relationship? Do you question yourself why you can’t leave your toxic partner? Or are you yearning to leave but unsure how? Then read on as we try to answer these questions.

The Cycle of Toxic Relationships

Toxic cycles in relationships can be characterized by unhealthy patterns of behavior, emotional manipulation, and a lack of respect or support between individuals. Learn the stages of the cycle to understand how they impact your well-being.

  1. Honeymoon Phase

    In this phase, everything will seem perfect. There is a sense of excitement, infatuation, and intense attraction between you and your partner. You may idealize each other and overlook any potential red flags or issues.

  2. Tension Building

    Here, the idealized image starts to crumble. The toxic partner will begin to focus on your flaws, shortcomings, and mistakes. Small arguments and disagreements may start to rise. They may belittle, demean, or invalidate your feelings and needs.

  3. A man crying because of his toxic relationship.
    A toxic relationship will take a toll on your mental and physical health.
  4. Explosion or Incident

    The tension reaches a boiling point, and a major conflict or incident occurs. This can involve verbal, emotional, or even physical abuse. Take note that not all toxic relationships involve physical violence, but any form of abuse is unacceptable.

  5. Reconciliation

    After the explosion, the toxic partner may try to make amends or reconcile. The abusive partner may apologize, promise to change, or offer temporary displays of affection or remorse. You, as the victim, may feel hopeful that things will improve and may forgive the abuser.

  6. Calm

    Following the reconciliation, the storm seems to be over. There is a period of calm and harmony. You may both go back to the honeymoon phase. However, this calm is often temporary and may not address the underlying issues.

  7. Repeat

    History repeats itself. There will be tension building again over time until another explosion occurs. The frequency and intensity of the cycle may vary, but the toxic pattern persists unless one of you actively seeks to break it.

Signs of a Toxic Relationship

So what makes a relationship toxic? There are common traits that contribute to the never-ending cycle of toxic relationships. It can be characterized by several factors, that include:

  1. Verbal or Physical Abuse

    This includes name-calling, insults, threats, intimidation, or physical violence. Your partner may be critical, judgmental, and emotionally abusive toward you.

  2. Controlling Behavior

    Your partner will try to control your thoughts, feelings, or actions. This may include isolating you from friends and family or monitoring your phone calls, emails, or social media activity.

  3. Jealousy and Possessiveness

    This includes being overly jealous of the other person’s friends, family, or activities. It can also include trying to control who the other person sees or talks to.

  4. Lack of Trust

    Your partner may constantly accuse you of cheating or lying or refusing to believe anything they say. They may blame you for everything that’s happening to your relationship.

  5. Gaslighting

    This is a form of manipulation in which your toxic partner tries to make you doubt your sanity. They may do this by denying things that happened, making you feel like you are overreacting, or telling you that you are crazy.

Factors that Make People Stay in Toxic Relationships

According to some surveys, there are a substantial number of individuals who choose to stay despite the obvious toxic relationship patterns. Here are some common reasons people stick to their toxic partner:

  1. Fear of Loneliness

    If you are used to the person being around, it’s hard to break that cycle. The familiarity of the routine of the toxic relationship can create a sense of security, even if it is detrimental to your well-being.

  2. Emotional Dependency

    You may be emotionally dependent on your toxic partner. You may believe you cannot live without their love or approval, even if it comes at the expense of your happiness and well-being.

  3. Financial Constraints

    Financial dependence, shared assets, or cohabitation can create practical obstacles to leaving a toxic relationship. Concerns about financial stability, housing, or childcare may make it challenging for individuals to take the necessary steps to leave.

  4. Belief in Change

    In a toxic relationship, the victim may hold onto the hope that their partner will change or improve. You may believe that if you love your partner enough or if you try harder, the relationship will become healthier. This optimism can keep you trapped in an unhealthy dynamic.

A woman in a destructive mode of toxic relationship patterns.
Toxic relationship patterns are characterized by repeated and destructive modes in the relationship.

How to Break the Cycle of a Toxic Relationship

Breaking the cycle of toxic relationships is not an easy road. It will require courage, perseverance, and self-love. Here are the things that you can do to start breaking free from this emotional turmoil.

  1. Recognize the toxicity.

    Your healing starts with you. You have to learn how to acknowledge that you are in a toxic relationship. Take time to reflect on the signs of toxicity, such as consistent emotional or physical abuse, manipulation, constant criticism, lack of respect, or control issues. A healthy relationship should make you feel safe, valued, and supported.

  2. Set boundaries.

    Let your partner know what you will and will not tolerate. For example, you might say something like, “I will not be called names.” Stand firm and protect your well-being.

  3. Communicate assertively.

    Express your needs and wants clearly and directly. For example, you might say something like, “I need you to stop yelling at me.” It’s time to end your partner’s power and control over your thoughts and emotions.

  4. Seek support.

    Seek support from your friends, family, or a mental health professional. Go out and have fun. Now is the time to take care of yourself and value your mental health. You can also attend beneficial therapy for toxic relationships for a professional approach to the matter.

  5. Leave if you must.

    You have the power to end the cycle of a toxic relationship. Build the courage to pack your bag and leave. If the toxic behavior is a constant occurrence in your relationship, there’s less likely a chance that your partner will change.

“The moment you start to wonder if you deserve better, you do.” – Unknown

The best way to end the toxic relationship cycle is to accept the fact that you are in one. Then let go and focus on your healing. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from a trusted person. If you leave but don’t heal, chances are you might experience the same toxicity—the same behavior but in a different person.

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