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I’m sure people have often asked you ‘So why did you stay in a toxic relationship for so long’? You’re left feeling a little awkward scrambling for an answer that sounds plausible and makes sense.
For people who have never experienced toxic behavior, it is very difficult to understand why you would stay in a toxic relationship.
So we often feel judged by their lack of understanding. But to be fair, abusive relationships are complex and how we manage them is foreign to someone who has never experienced abuse of any kind.
Toxic relationships start off like any relationship, with you feeling amazing and that life is just perfect. The abuse within the relationship happens slowly and what started off as normal and perfect slowly becomes abnormal and you often don’t notice the manipulation, your boundaries being ignored and the relationship eroding.
Understanding this complexity is important for your healing process so that you don’t feel ashamed and that you wasted years of your life in an unhealthy relationship.
You can rather let go of the past and all the regrets, forgive yourself, and move forward stronger and wiser.
Maybe you’re the type of person who runs when things get tough. Maybe you’re the kind of person who sticks around to help when things get rough. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between.
Either way, you might find yourself asking the following questions:
- Why am I still with this person?
- Why do I continue to put up with this?
- I don’t deserve this or that…
- Why did I stay in a toxic relationship for so long?
Even though you’re asking yourself these questions, you know that you are not happy and that the relationship should be different. But for some reason you don’t leave and instead blame yourself, spending more time and energy on trying to make someone else happy.
Understanding Abusive Relationships
1. Types of Abuse
Abusive relationships can take many forms, and it’s essential to recognize the different types of abuse.
Physical abuse involves any physical harm, such as hitting, slapping, or pushing.
Emotional abuse can be just as damaging and may involve manipulation, isolation, and verbal attacks.
Sexual abuse is another type of abuse that can occur in a relationship and involves any unwanted sexual activity.
Financial abuse is when your partner controls all the finances, making it difficult for you to leave the relationship.
2. Signs of a Toxic Relationship
Abusive relationships often have warning signs that can help you recognize when you’re in one. Some red flags include:
- A partner who is overly controlling,
- A partner who puts you down or belittles you
- A toxic partner who is emotionally unavailable
- No respect for your boundaries
3. Common Reasons people stay in a toxic Relationship
There are many reasons someone may stay in an abusive relationship, and it’s important to understand them.
- Low self-esteem
- Fear of abandonment
- Having no boundaries
- People pleasing behaviors
- Trauma Bond
- Shame and guilt
These are some of the common reasons people stay in a toxic relationship. Social pressures and mental health issues can also play a role.
4. Effects of Abusive Relationships
- Physical Effects:
- Physical injuries, including bruises, cuts, broken bones, and head injuries.
- Chronic pain, often resulting from physical abuse.
- Emotional and Psychological Effects:
- Low self-esteem and self-worth, as a result of constant criticism and belittling.
- Anxiety and chronic stress, lead to physical symptoms like headaches, digestive problems, and insomnia.
- Depression, with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities that you previously enjoyed.
- Flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety triggered by traumatic memories.
- Increased risk of substance abuse or addiction as a coping mechanism.
- Dissociation is where you mentally detach from reality to cope with the abuse.
- Cognitive Effects:
- Impaired decision-making and judgment, often result from ongoing manipulation and gaslighting.
- Difficulty concentrating and memory problems due to chronic stress and anxiety.
- Hypervigilance, where you are constantly on edge, expecting further abuse or harm.
- Social and Interpersonal Effects:
- Isolation from friends and family, as abusers often try to control your social connections.
- Difficulty trusting others in future relationships, making it difficult to form healthy connections.
- Impact on parenting abilities and relationships with children if they are exposed to the abuse.
- Financial Effects:
- Financial abuse, where victims are financially controlled or isolated from financial resources, leads to economic instability.
- Loss of employment or job opportunities due to absenteeism or performance issues related to the abuse.
Reasons why People stay in Toxic Relationships
Here are 9 reasons why people tend to stay in a toxic relationship:
1. You’re still in love with your partner.
You might be in love with your toxic partner and feel like you can’t leave them, no matter what. You might have a strong urge to stay with them, even if the relationship isn’t healthy.
Keep in mind that you can love someone and still acknowledge that the relationship is an unhealthy relationship.
When you meet someone new, you fall in love considering them to be your perfect mate. Slowly with time your toxic partner’s behaviors change, the way they treat you is different and the relationship becomes rocky.
This is when your partner’s mask starts to crack and fall off, and they begin to display their true self.
The beginning of the relationship moved very quickly and seemed so perfect which is called the ‘love bombing phase’ of abusive relationships.
For the remainder of the relationship and long after the relationship has finally ended you will be in love with the person that you first met.
The problem here is that the person you first met does not really exist.
You continue to hang on to the relationship hoping that your soul mate and the person that you fell in love with will reappear.
You try harder to be the perfect partner in the hope that you will be able to reconnect with the person you fell in love with. Months and years go by as you patiently wait and search for the reconnection.
The person that you say you love never existed.
Toxic people have the ability to mirror your needs and pretend to be everything that you would want in a partner. They hide behind a mask until they have you completely under their spell and in love with the person they pretended to be.
The question you have to ask yourself is how do you love someone that now hurts you?
2. You feel responsible for the abusive behavior
Normalization of abuse can happen when you find yourself accustomed to and, at times, accepting toxic behavior.
In such situations, you might gradually internalize the toxic behavior, convincing yourself that it is your fault.
You will downplay or excuse your partner’s harmful behaviors, believing that enduring the familiar pain is preferable to facing the uncertainty of leaving. You may also believe that you can fix the relationship.
If you grew up in a household where you were always the person to blame for things going wrong, you might stay in a toxic relationship because you blame yourself for the relationship issues. This is your habitual behavioral pattern.
This is where you need to take the time to look back at your life and have the courage to call it for what it is. It’s your life after all.
It’s time to dump toxic habitual patterns learned in childhood and find the true voice that serves you.
Accept that toxic partners will project their faults and misdeeds onto you and they will gaslight you. You will be blamed for everything that goes wrong in the relationship and in their lives.
They will rewrite the past, twist your words, and question your sanity. These insidious forms of abuse will leave you confused and doubting yourself.
When you blame yourself for relationship problems, you might find it difficult to leave your toxic partner because you think that you are the cause of all the issues.
If you blame yourself for relationship problems, it will allow your partner to get away with their toxic behavior.
It will also cause you to stay in a toxic relationship because you’ll feel like you have to fix the problems you have caused and then you will be able to reconnect with the person you first met.
3. you stay for the sake of your children.
If you have children with your toxic partner, you might want to stay together for the sake of your children.
You might feel like you’re obligated to stay in a toxic relationship because your partner is a good parent.
You should never stay in a toxic relationship because of your children.
By staying in a toxic relationship because of the children, you will be giving your children a message that the way your toxic partner behaves is Okay.
You may think that you are helping your children, but instead, you are providing them with a bad role model to follow. This is not a healthy thing to do.
You should leave the relationship, if possible, for your sake and for the sake of your children.
4. Financial and social Dependency
Financial and social dependency can be significant factors contributing to why you might stay in a toxic relationship.
Financial dependency occurs when you rely on your toxic partner for financial support, making the prospect of leaving daunting due to concerns about financial stability, housing, and basic needs.
Toxic partners like to control the relationships and so they will also often control the family’s financial affairs, including how you spend your time and what you do with any money that you may earn.
If you have money they will create situations where the family has to use your money, while they are building a nest egg of savings for themselves.
On the other hand, social dependency arises when your toxic partner isolates you from friends and family. This decreases your support network and makes it difficult to reach out for help.
Toxic partners will find many different excuses why your friends are a bad influence and your family are against them. Over time you will become socially isolated from your friends and family
Both forms of dependency can leave you feeling trapped, making it challenging for you to envision a life outside the toxic relationship.
Financial dependency and social isolation, along with emotional manipulation and fear tactics used by your abusive partner, contribute to a feeling of powerlessness and a reluctance to leave, prolonging the cycle of abuse.
You are now reliant on your toxic partner financially and socially and leaving the relationship is now more difficult.
5. Poor self-esteem
If you have poor self-esteem, you might stay in a toxic relationship because you don’t think you deserve better.
You may not see a way out to a better future.
How did you arrive at a place where your self-esteem is at such a low point that you feel that you deserve to be treated badly?
A toxic partner will assassinate your character by:
- Calling you lazy and claiming that you are not good enough
- They will create situations of triangulation where they use other people to make you feel jealous and insecure
- They will lie and manipulate and call you possessive and crazy when you question them
Your self-esteem will plummet until you reach a point where you believe that you actually deserve the abuse and that nobody else would be interested in you.
If you have low self-esteem, it is important to work on improving your self-esteem. You can get help with your low self-esteem by seeing a therapist, joining a support group, or journaling.
Alternatively, you can make a list of all your good qualities and focus on those good qualities.
Affirmations are another useful tool to help you boost your low self-esteem.
6. Fear of your toxic partner
If your partner is controlling and abusive, you might stay in an unhealthy relationship because you’re afraid of what they might do if you leave them.
You might have a hard time leaving the relationship because your toxic partner has threatened you and your loved ones. You are afraid they will carry out their threats if you leave.
This treatment from your toxic partner will over time teach you to fall in line, not to question them, and behave in a way that ultimately gives them total control over you.
Fear of retribution results in you accepting the toxic behavior that you once could not even have imagined accepting.
If you’re afraid of your partner, you will tend to stay in a toxic relationship. It will be important to get help from a therapist or law enforcement if you have a controlling or abusive partner.
Your therapist or law enforcement can help you get the resources you need to leave the relationship safely.
7. Lack of Awareness
Sometimes, it’s hard to recognize the toxic behavior when you’re immersed in them.
You might downplay or rationalize the abuse, thinking it’s just a rough patch or that all relationships have their problems.
This lack of awareness can make it difficult to take the necessary steps to seek help or make a change.
Acknowledging the abusive situation is often the first step towards breaking free from abusive relationships and finding a path to healing and safety.
If your partner controls how you spend your time, you might stay in the relationship because you don’t have time to work on yourself, create a plan to leave, establish an income, and rekindle friendships and connections with family.
Your time and energy will be consumed by satisfying their needs.
Understand that they will never be satisfied and will never change.
So, do what is necessary, but conserve time and energy to prepare yourself for the day that you are able to leave the toxic relationship.
8. Toxic Hope
Toxic hope is where you might hope that your partner will change and become a better person for you. You will end up staying in the toxic relationship hoping for this change.
It is important to let go of all hope that your toxic partner will change.
They are toxic because they will never change.
They will either not accept responsibility for their actions and blame you or they will make false promises of change that they will never carry through.
If you have toxic hope for your relationship, you might stay in the relationship when you really should leave.
It is important to let go of your toxic hope so that you can see your toxic partner for who they are.
You might want to seek help to let go of your toxic hope.
Journaling is a great way to overcome toxic hope as the patterns of abuse will become more obvious to you through journaling. You will be able to look back in your journal and will see that over time things have not changed.
In abusive relationships, we tend to forget how badly we are treated. The journal will be a point of reference for you to remember and realize that you are living in toxic hope of something that will never happen.
9. Trauma bonded
When you are trauma-bonded to your partner, it means that you have an addiction to the feelings your partner gives you. It means that you can’t easily leave your partner because you need their abusive and toxic behavior.
Sounds crazy right?
But your body releases hormones to help you survive the toxic behavior and your body becomes addicted to these hormones.
A toxic partner will treat you badly causing you emotional and maybe even physical pain. They will then turn on the charm.
This push-pull type of toxic behavior is where your partner, who is supposed to be your primary source of comfort is also the same person that is hurting you.
This push-pull type of relationship results in a trauma bond developing between you and your toxic partner.
You end up believing that life would be unbearable without them and that you would not cope without them.
Attachment theory, a psychological framework, sheds light on why you may remain in abusive relationships for an extended period of time, particularly when dealing with an anxious attachment style.
Attachment styles, developed in early childhood based on interactions with caregivers, significantly influence your adult relationships and behaviors.
- Secure Attachment Style: Those with a secure attachment style tend to gravitate toward healthy, supportive relationships. They comfortably navigate intimacy and independence, boasting higher self-esteem. However, even secure individuals might find themselves trapped in toxic relationships due to manipulative partners or external pressures.
- Anxious Attachment Style: People with an anxious attachment style often fret over their partner’s feelings and crave constant reassurance. If you exhibit this attachment style, you may be more prone to remaining in abusive relationships because of an overwhelming fear of abandonment, coupled with a belief that your actions can change your partner’s behavior.
- Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style: Having a dismissive-avoidant attachment style might cause you to downplay your need for emotional closeness and independence. This tendency could lead you to tolerate toxic behavior, as you may convince yourself that you neither require emotional intimacy nor assistance in dealing with the toxicity.
- Fearful-Avoidant (Disorganized) Attachment Style: Individuals with a fearful-avoidant attachment style grapple with intense fear regarding both intimacy and abandonment. This inner conflict may keep you ensnared in toxic relationships, as you oscillate between the desire for connection and the dread of getting hurt.
In toxic relationships, these attachment styles tend to intensify. Anxious individuals might cling to the hope of changing their partner, while avoidant individuals resist seeking help or support.
Those with a fearful-avoidant attachment style might feel trapped in a whirlwind of conflicting emotions, vacillating between wanting to leave and fearing the repercussions.
Even secure individuals can struggle to exit toxic relationships due to manipulation, isolation, or a lack of awareness regarding the extent of the toxic behavior.
Understanding your attachment style is a critical first step in comprehending why you stay in a toxic relationship.
It enables you to identify recurring behavioral patterns and emotions contributing to your decision to stay.
Dealing with Abusive Relationships
1. Recognizing the Situation
The first step in dealing with abusive relationships is recognizing that you are in an abusive situation. Abuse can take many forms, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
It is important to understand that abuse is never your fault and you do not deserve to be treated with disrespect and manipulation.
Some signs of an unhealthy relationship include:
- Your partner is controlling and possessive
- Your partner constantly criticizes and belittles you
- Your partner is physically or sexually abusive
- Your partner threatens you or your loved ones
- You feel like you are walking on eggshells around your partner
If you are experiencing any of these signs, it is important to seek help.
2. Seeking Professional Help
Seek professional help when dealing with an abusive situation. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great resource for finding local support and counseling.
A professional can help you understand the cycle of abuse and provide you with the tools to break free from an abusive situation.
3. Building a Support Network
Building a support network is crucial when dealing with abusive relationships. Reach out to trusted family members, friends, or a support group.
A good friend or family member can provide emotional support and help you create a safety plan.
Social media can also be a helpful tool for finding support groups and connecting with others who have experienced similar situations.
4. Coping Mechanisms
Coping mechanisms can help you deal with the emotional dependence that often comes with abusive relationships. Some healthy coping mechanisms include:
- Writing in a journal
- Practicing meditation or yoga
- Engaging in physical activity
- Seeking professional counseling
- Talking to a trusted friend or family member
5. Set Boundaries
- Clearly communicate your boundaries to your toxic partner in a calm and assertive manner.
- Be prepared to enforce your boundaries by following through with consequences if they are repeatedly violated.
- Understand that setting boundaries may provoke resistance or anger from your toxic partner, but they are crucial for your well-being.
6. Focus on Self-Care
- Prioritize self-care routines that promote mental and emotional health, such as regular exercise, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in creative outlets.
- Practice self-compassion and self-kindness to counteract the negative self-perception that toxic relationships can foster.
- Establish a healthy daily routine to maintain stability and structure in your life.
7. Set Realistic Expectations
- Accept that you cannot control or change the toxic behavior or personality.
- Focus on what you can control: your own reactions, boundaries, and choices.
- Manage your expectations to reduce frustration and disappointment.
8. Limit Contact
- If it’s safe to do so, reduce or limit contact with the toxic person, especially when their presence leads to emotional distress or harm.
- Create physical and emotional distance to protect your well-being.
9. Practice Assertiveness
- Learn assertiveness skills to communicate your needs, thoughts, and feelings effectively.
- Assertive communication can help you maintain your boundaries and resist manipulation tactics.
10. Document Incidents
- Keep a detailed record of toxic incidents, including dates, times, locations, and descriptions of what occurred.
- Document any communication (text messages, emails, voicemails) that may be relevant.
11. Safety First
- If you are in a physically abusive relationship or fear for your safety, prioritize your safety above all else.
- Reach out to a domestic violence hotline, shelter, or law enforcement for immediate assistance and safety planning.
12. Plan Your Exit
- If you decide to leave the toxic relationship, create a safety plan that includes finding a safe place to stay, packing essential belongings, and identifying sources of support.
13. Seek Legal Advice
- In cases involving legal issues such as divorce, child custody, or restraining orders, consult with an attorney who specializes in family law for guidance and protection.
14. Stay Connected
- Maintain connections with supportive friends and family members who can provide emotional support and a sense of belonging.
- Avoid isolation, which is often a tactic used in toxic relationships.
15. Focus on Healing
- After leaving a toxic relationship, prioritize your healing and recovery.
- Engage in therapy, support groups, or self-help resources to address the emotional scars and trauma from the toxic relationship.
16. Learn from the Experience
- Reflect on the relationship to identify lessons learned.
- Use the experience as an opportunity for personal growth, self-discovery, and the development of healthier relationship skills.
You are not alone and there is help available. Take the necessary steps to ensure your safety and well-being.
If you have recently left an abusive relationship, it is important to focus on moving forward and healing.
Here are some key steps you can take to start rebuilding your life.
1. Self-reflection and Acceptance
- Begin by reflecting on the toxic relationship and the lessons learned. Acknowledge the patterns and behaviors that contributed to the toxic behavior.
- Practice self-compassion and forgive yourself for any perceived mistakes or shortcomings during the relationship.
2. Seek Professional Help
- Consider therapy or counseling to address the emotional wounds and trauma from the unhealthy relationship.
- A therapist can help you work through feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem while providing strategies for coping and personal growth.
3. Reconnect with Your Support System
- Reach out to friends and family who provide emotional support and understanding.
- Reconnecting with loved ones can help you rebuild your social connections and strengthen your emotional resilience.
4. Re-establish Boundaries
- Learn from the toxic relationship and use that knowledge to set healthy boundaries in your future relationships.
- Clearly communicate your needs and expectations to others, and be prepared to enforce your boundaries if necessary.
5. Self-Care and Healing
- Prioritize self-care practices that nurture your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
- Engage in activities you enjoy, such as hobbies, exercise, meditation, or creative pursuits, to regain a sense of purpose and happiness.
6. Positive Self-Talk:
- Challenge negative self-talk and replace it with positive affirmations and thoughts about your worth and capabilities.
- Focus on rebuilding your self-esteem and self-confidence.
7. Set New Goals
- Define new personal and life goals that align with your values and aspirations.
- These goals can provide motivation and a sense of direction as you move forward.
8. Reconnect with Your Interests
- Rekindle your passions and interests that may have been neglected during the toxic relationship.
- Rediscovering your individuality can be empowering and fulfilling.
9. Establish a Support Network
- Join support groups or online communities of people who have experienced similar abusive relationships.
- Sharing your experiences and hearing from others can be validating and provide valuable insights.
10. Legal and Financial Considerations:
- If the toxic relationship involves legal or financial entanglements, consult with professionals (e.g., attorneys, and financial advisors) to resolve these matters.
11. Dating and Future Relationships
- Take time for self-discovery and personal growth before entering into new relationships.
- Reflect on the qualities you desire in a healthy partner and the boundaries you need to maintain.
12. Self-Trust and Independence
- Rebuild trust in yourself and your judgment. Trust your instincts and intuition in future relationships.
- Cultivate a sense of independence and self-sufficiency to avoid becoming overly reliant on others.
13. Forgiveness and Letting Go
- Consider forgiveness as a means of releasing the emotional burden associated with the toxic relationship.
- Understand that forgiveness does not excuse the toxic behavior but allows you to move forward without carrying resentment.
14. Professional Growth
- Focus on your career or education to further your personal development and financial stability.
- Professional growth can boost your self-esteem and provide a sense of accomplishment.
15. Safety and Security
- Ensure your physical and emotional safety. If you ever feel threatened or unsafe, seek help from authorities or support services.
Understanding Healthy Love
Take the time to reflect on what healthy love looks like. This can help you avoid falling into the same patterns in future relationships.
Healthy relationships involve mutual respect, trust, open communication, and support. It is important to remember that love should never involve violence or abuse.
Rebuilding low Self-Esteem
Abusive relationships can take a toll on your self-confidence and overall self-perception. Take time to rebuild your self-esteem.
This might involve spending time doing things that make you feel good about yourself, such as hobbies or spending time with supportive friends and family.
Remind yourself of your own worth and that you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How do I know if I was in a toxic relationship?
Toxic relationships are characterized by patterns of emotional, verbal, or physical abuse, manipulation, control, and a general sense of negativity. If you felt consistently unsafe, unhappy, or drained in the relationship, it likely had toxic elements.
2. Is it normal to still have strong emotions after leaving a toxic relationship?
Yes, it’s entirely normal to have lingering emotions such as sadness, anger, fear, or confusion. Healing takes time, and these emotions are part of the process. Seek support and professional help to navigate them.
3. Can I ever trust again after a toxic relationship?
Yes, you can rebuild trust in yourself and others over time. Start by learning from your past experiences and establishing healthy boundaries. Trust may take longer to rebuild, but it’s possible with self-awareness and self-care.
4. How do I avoid getting into another toxic relationship?
Reflect on your past relationship, identify red flags and warning signs, and use this knowledge to set clearer boundaries and recognize unhealthy dynamics early on. Take your time when considering new relationships and prioritize self-care.
5. Should I maintain any contact with my toxic ex-partner?
In most cases, it’s advisable to minimize or cut contact with a toxic ex-partner, especially if it’s detrimental to your well-being. Exceptions may include situations involving co-parenting, where communication is necessary but can be managed with boundaries and safeguards.
6. How long does it take to fully recover from a toxic relationship?
The healing process varies from person to person and depends on various factors, including the severity of the abusive behavior and the support you receive. Recovery can take months to years, but with time, self-care, and professional help, you can regain your emotional strength and move forward in a healthier way.
We all want to find a healthy relationship. But some relationships are just toxic and will ultimately break you down emotionally and physically.
Once you understand why you might be staying in a toxic relationship, it will become easier to identify the toxic behaviors, address them, and end the relationship.
If you’re in a toxic relationship, don’t give up hope of escaping. You will be able to leave with a better understanding of your situation, your toxic partner, and why you seem to be just accepting the situation and taking no action to get out.
Life is too short to accept being treated badly. You do deserve better.
Yes, it does take courage and you will have to dig deep but your freedom and personal growth will be worth it.