Relationships can be hard, most people will admit to that. But how hard is normal? And what is the line between the usual relationship ups and downs and a full on toxic relationship? You’d think it should be easy to distinguish between the two, but toxic relationships can be sneaky and menacing, and by the time you realise that you’re in one, you are probably in too deep and unable to pull yourself out.
Linda Uwase met her now ex-fiancée two years back, they dated for some months and then she realised that her soon-to-be marriage was going to be toxic. She gave it time, but the more she was around him, the more his actions confirmed her fears.
“My fiancé was spiteful; I got to know this because every time he talked about others, it was always something negative. And at times, when I shared something good with him, let’s say a promotion at work, he always had negative energy just to bring my morale down. It was exhausting being with him,” Uwase says.
On top of being a pessimist, her fiancé was also a narcissist. She says, “When it came to our relationship, he always preferred to be on the receiving end of everything and never made an effort to make me happy.”
Uwase ended the relationship because she did not see how it was going to work.
For some, a toxic relationship goes as far as physical abuse, and psychologists believe that people should look out for the signs, like feeling anxious and scared in a relationship.
What is a toxic relationship?
A toxic relationship is defined any relationship that is unfavourable to you or others. The foundations of any relationship, healthy or not, are most commonly established upon mutual admiration and respect, but can, in time, become remarkably unhealthy.
Psychologist and stress management coach, Jean Pierre Ndagijimana, describes a toxic relationship as merely putting in more than what you get out of it.
“You know you are in a toxic relationship when you are wholeheartedly engaging in a relationship and yet you are emotionally and physically harvesting far less than you invested in it, which can be stressful, disappointing, and frustrating,” he says.
In such a relationship, Ndagijimana says, one feels like it is one-sided love. You “give your heart to your toxic partner and never receive anything in return.” Meanwhile, the partner enjoys being the receiver who never gives.
People in a healthy relationship are expected to engage in mutual admiration and compassion. They engage in authentic conversations and communicate with none of them monopolising the power. Ndagijimana, however, says for toxic people, this is not the case.
“Toxic people are likely to intimidate their partners as a way to manipulate their feelings, such that they don’t challenge them in decision making. They are also self-centred, wanting the relationship to serve their own interests,” he says.
Ndagijimana goes on to explain that a toxic partner is usually good at manipulating his or her significant other’s feelings, making sure the victim internalises them.
“They act like they own the truth. When the partner does not agree on an issue, the victim is always the one to give up their point of view in the process of finding common ground and peace.
“When the toxic partner hurts the victim, the toxic partner manipulates the victim’s feelings, especially anger, as an effective way for the victim to accept owning to faults committed by his/her toxic partner,” Ndagijimana says.
Knowing when to let go
Counsellor Jessica Kayitesi says there are many warning signs that indicate that you are involved with a toxic partner, and that one shouldn’t ignore the signs.
“If you feel emotionally drained when you are with your partner, or they are manipulative and conniving, these are signs of a toxic relationship,” she cautions.
Kayitesi says that at times, people invest too much in a relationship, and because of this, it can be hard to remember who you are or what you wanted out of life as an individual.
“You end up compromising and this is what paves way for such behaviour, mostly because you are afraid of the pain of letting go of the person you love,” Kayitesi says.
Ndagijimana notes that if you are constantly apologising for faults you did not make, whether it is out of fear or for the sake of protecting the relationship, it is a sign you are in a toxic relationship.
“It is also a sure sign if you have ever packed your bags, or typed a text to say no to the abuse, convinced that it is time to let go of the partner or end the relationship, but never actually left the house or even sent the text.
“One may be convinced that he or she should give up on the relationship but still does not want to let it go. Attraction is no longer part of what holds them together. For instance, one may not want to quit a relationship because he/she is scared about what would happen to him/her if they give up,” he says.
Kayitesi advises couples to always discuss such issues head on and if the conditions don’t change, it is safe to end the relationship for it can be detrimental to one’s health, physically and emotionally.
Why you need to let go
In her article Reasons Why You Should Let Go of a Toxic Relationship, psychology and spirituality student Luminita D. Saviuc, says when you let go of a toxic relationship, you make room for healthy relationships.
“You deny yourself the right to be with someone who will respect and appreciate you for who you are. You deprive yourself of the gift of love and happiness if you hold on to such relationships,” she writes.
She also highlights that holding onto a toxic relationship keeps you from growing.
“If a relationship is hard, stressful and takes a lot of energy and effort to try to make it work, you have to let it go, for the sake of both parties. I came to the conclusion that if a relationship doesn’t make you a better person, if it doesn’t challenge you to grow and evolve into a happier and more loving human being, it is not worth holding on to. If a relationship makes you bitter, but not better, then you are in the wrong one.”
Saviuc notes that people need to understand this simple truth: Who you are is enough!
Way too many people cling on to toxic and unhealthy relationships just because they think that without the other person they will be nothing and their life will be worthless. This is not right, she adds.
“Detach, let go and learn to love yourself for who you are and not for who others want you to be.”
What’s your take on toxic relationships?
First of all, toxic relationships are of no benefit to anyone because in most cases, people end up hurting each other. It’s hard to have proper communication or even come up with helpful solutions, so staying in such a relationship is not a good idea. For example, if I was in a toxic relationship, I wouldn’t be able to explore different things. There are people who are not cut out for this kind of thing, and some go to extreme measures.
Diane Mahoro, Software developer
I wouldn’t tolerate a toxic relationship because it doesn’t only affect me, but my partner and society. Toxic people often hide their true character and such a person can only have ill intentions. I wouldn’t tolerate it at all.
Sam Asiimwe Ruhindi, Poet
I would not give up on a relationship the minute I realise that my partner has toxic behaviours. I would first talk to him and let him know how it makes me feel and ask him to change. If I see no change at all then I would quit the relationship.
Penina Umutesi, Administrator
If a relationship is not healthy I would get out of it immediately, because the more you insist on being in it, the higher the chances you’ll be affected and even find it harder to leave.
Rogers Ndemezo, Sales Manager.