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'I thought I was the problem,' Why some people find it difficult to end a toxic relationship


Updated on: 10 February,2024 07:30 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Aakanksha Ahire |

Matters of love and dating are always complex. Despite being treated badly, some people choose to be in a toxic relationship even though they know they shouldn’t. We explore why

'I thought I was the problem,' Why some people find it difficult to end a toxic relationship

If you’re in a relationship that’s making you feel bad about yourself, it might be a sign that your relationship is starting to get toxic. Photo Courtesy: iStock.

Key Highlights

  1. Many find it difficult to walk out of a toxic relationship despite knowing they should
  2. Some common reasons behind this includes fear of being alone and increased dependency
  3. Common causes of toxic relationship are jealousy, insecurities, unresolved conflicts

“We started dating when I was in college. He is two years older than me. I was completely dependent on him emotionally. He had become a habit. The thought of not having him around scared me. I believed that despite all his toxic traits, he would always stand up for me. I justified his toxic behaviour towards me thinking he was doing it all to help me get better,” says a 24-year-old independent woman who was once in a toxic relationship.  
Shruti Bajaj (name changed for privacy reasons) instructional designer from Pune, recalls her unpleasant five-year long relationship that ended in February 2022. “I don’t remember a time when I was happy in that relationship. Yet, it was difficult for me to call it off”.
From being pushed down to the floor in a fit of anger, being gaslighted, made to feel inferior, being called a drama queen and also being subjected to mockery, Shruti endured it all only to realise it was all futile and would never be better.
Shruti isn’t alone. Another 25-year-old PR professional, Carol Rodriguez (name changed for privacy reasons) who started dating at the age of 18 says, “It was not easy for me to end things with my partner because of the level of intimacy I had established with him. There was a promise of forever in there which kept me from walking away. It was this that forced me to focus on the good more than the bad as there was a constant hope for change, so much so that even after a trial separation of two months, I welcomed him back into my life before finally breaking up”. 
A toxic relationship is defined by an unhealthy balance of power and control within the relationship. It is characterised by behaviours that are damaging, verbally or emotionally abusive, and even physically violent towards one person. At the core of a toxic relationship is the presence of an abuser. This abuser often uses tactics such as manipulation, degradation, aggression or belittling to gain control or maintain it over the other person. 
In most toxic relationships, the one on the receiving end of toxicity often feels that they are the problem. This happens because they are made to feel that way by their partner. Many find it difficult to walk out of a toxic relationship in spite of knowing that they should. Mid-day Online explores the reasons behind this and suggests ways to address toxicity in relationships as shared by experts.  
“There are multiple reasons why many find it difficult to end a toxic relationship. These reasons include the fear of being alone, the fear of not knowing what the next potential relationship might have in store for them and complete dependency on the person or the relationship to feel happy, cared or belonged,” says Shahzeen Shivdasani, relationship expert and millennial author of the book Love, Lust and Lemons.  
Seconding that, Dr Rohan Jahagirdar MD psychiatry, consultant psychiatrist, Jehangir Hospital says, “People who become a part of a toxic relationship often become habituated to their partner and can exhibit behaviours of being emotionally dependent on the other person. Being reliant on someone on an emotional level can keep people from leaving a toxic relationship, even when they know that it is bad for them. People in toxic relationships may cling to the other person even as the bad habits and behaviours worsen over time”. 
He further states that it is also possible that people choose to stay in a toxic relationship due to a lack of self-esteem or a feeling that they don't deserve better. This can make them feel trapped and unable to break out of the toxic cycle. 
Common signs of toxicity
According to Shivdasani, the most common causes that lead to a relationship turning toxic are jealousy, deep-rooted insecurities, unresolved conflicts turning into resentment and lack of accountability.
For Shruti, her relationship was not toxic initially when they started out. She believes it all began when she chose to apply to colleges for her higher studies that were not located in the same city where her partner was pursuing his higher studies too. To avoid any conflicts and damage to the relationship, Shruti ended up taking admission into a college situated in the same city as her partner. She now feels it robbed her of an opportunity to study someplace better. To add to the disappointment, her relationship kept getting ugly by the day. That’s when she realised her dating life was starting to get toxic.
Similarly, Carol began identifying signs of toxicity in her relationship when she noticed a difference in her partner’s behaviour when they were in the company of his friends and when they were alone. “He exuded a nonchalant attitude in front of his friends that portrayed me, as his partner, in a very different light. The smaller things that played a pivotal role in building the relationship no longer mattered. I constantly thought of ways to make it work, to reduce conflicts but to no avail”. 
According to Jahagirdar, if you’re in a relationship that’s making you feel bad about yourself, it could indicate a sign of toxicity. 
Some common signs of toxicity include:
1. Criticism and cheating
Persistent criticism from one partner is a sign of toxicity. This can be verbal, emotional or even physical in nature. Moreover, some partners may even cross the line and resort to cheating or infidelity, leading to further deterioration of the relationship.
2. Lack of respect
A fundamental requirement of any healthy relationship is respect. If one partner continually disrespects the other, it’s an indication that the relationship is in deep trouble. 
3. Unhealthy communication
Good communication is essential for any relationship to thrive. In a toxic relationship, communication is often littered with insults, put-downs and tension. This can often become an endless cycle of misunderstandings and hurt feelings, which spiral out of control and damage the relationship.
4. Gaslighting
This is a subtly manipulative tactic wherein one partner tries to make the other doubt their thoughts and feelings. This will involve questioning their memory, accusing them of being paranoid or having a mental health issue and probably lying to them in order to undermine their sense of reality.
5. Feeling of being ignored
Little or no attention can be just as damaging as constant criticism, although it can be much harder to detect. A partner neglecting their partner’s needs can leave them feeling unwanted and invisible, creating an even deeper emotional hole that can be impossible to fill.
Impact of toxicity
Jahagirdar says, “A toxic relationship can be emotionally draining, confusing and painful”. More often than not, those being subjected to toxicity end up blaming themselves. 
Shruti sought therapy after her break-up. “Every time he gaslighted me, I ended up believing I was the problem. He made me feel guilty for wanting basic things like love, care, respect and understanding, which anyone would expect in a loving relationship. Moreover, due to his anger issues, I started fearing him and what he would do to me if I ended up making a mistake or doing something he didn’t like. As a result, I lost most of my friends too. Not just this, due to his aggressive behaviour towards me, I also battled body dysmorphia and low self-esteem”. 
Speaking about how her toxic relationship affected her, Carol says, “There was a point in time where I completely closed myself off from my friends and family. That phase of my life was extremely depressing”.  
Finding a way out
Although toxicity might move towards the death of a romantic relationship in many cases, experts say, it is possible to fix it. When trying to repair a toxic relationship, it is important to identify the source of the issue. Partners need to work through a specific problem or series of problems ranging from communication issues to disagreements in expectations. 
Once the source of the problem is identified, it is important to find workable solutions. This is best done through open and honest communication with each other, expressing feelings openly and respectfully. 
To fix a toxic relationship, it is important to rebuild the lost respect and trust. This can be done through actively listening to one another and being respectful of one another’s needs. If the challenges are affecting the relationship, consider couples therapy. 
For those who are looking to get rid of a toxic romantic relationship but are struggling to do so, it is first important to separate yourself emotionally from the relationship and recognise that it’s not a healthy choice for you. 
Jahagirdar suggests some helpful steps 

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