Toxic relationship

4 toxic relationship types to avoid

by Eharmony Editorial Team - May 16, 2012

It is all well and good looking for a new relationship but there are some relationships which it would be better to avoid than get enmeshed in.

Do you think you might be stuck in a toxic relationship? Here are the four warning signs to look out for – and what you can do about them

A dysfunctional relationship is defined as one that causes more emotional turmoil than satisfaction. People often don’t know that they’re involved in a dysfunctional or toxic relationship until it’s too late and they’re struggling to escape. To help you avoid finding yourself stuck in a toxic relationship, here are the four most common types and the warning signs to look out for.

1. Codependent

The term ‘codependent’ is used to describe anyone who focuses on another person in order to gain some kind of control over them. Codependency can look a lot like love as it’s a mental obsession with someone else – virtually all love songs talk of this kind of sentiment: ‘I can’t get you off my mind’ or ‘I can’t live if living is without you.’ Being completely absorbed with another person becomes toxic when it starts to cause painful emotional turmoil and stops you from living your own life.

Warning signs – look out for people whose moods are dictated by yours, seek to control your mood and behaviour, and have little or no life of their own outside of your relationship.

2. Bullying or abusive

There are often lots of little warning signs that a relationship has the potential to become abusive. Abuse doesn’t just mean physical violence; people can be verbally and emotionally abusive too, gradually undermining their victim’s self-esteem. You might not spot the signs on your first few dates and it’s often not until a conflict arises that the bully reveals themselves. It might be a sharp comment, a put down or a temper tantrum that leaves you feeling guilty and confused about what you did wrong. This is key – they make you feel responsible for their bad behaviour. When things have calmed down, this will often be reinforced by the abuser. They might even force you to give them an apology, even though, in your heart, you know you didn’t do anything wrong.

Warning signs – watch for violent displays of temper; an inability to see what they did wrong; a history of previous abuse (as perpetrator or victim), and the feeling that you can’t be emotionally honest without triggering their anger.

3. Parental mirroring

Parental mirroring is a very common problem. This is when one or both people in a relationship have unresolved issues with a parent and ‘act out’ dysfunctional patterns with their new partner. We mirror the primary relationships that we witnessed as a child unconsciously. That’s all well and good when the relationship was healthy and our parents were good role models. However, what often happens is that dysfunctional upbringings are recreated – sometimes with startling accuracy, for example, a woman with an alcoholic father ends up in a relationship with an alcohol despite the pain it caused in her childhood. People are often drawn to partners who are strikingly similar in looks, manner and characteristics as their parent of the opposite sex.

There are various psychological explanations as to why this happens. Those involved are often aware that it’s not healthy but they feel a magnetic pull to stick with it because it feels so familiar.

Warning signs –take note if your partner shares characteristics with your dysfunctional parent, if you feel young and childlike in the relationship, if your feelings are out of control, or your partner treats you like their parent, acting out by being rebellious, defiant and immature.

4. Lack of intimacy

Physical and emotional intimacy separates friends from lovers. Sexual intimacy is a natural and healthy part of adult life. Unfortunately, sex can also be dysfunctional, especially when it comes to emotional development, as it’s associated with our moral, religious and social education.

Every couple will have times when they have little or no sex, that’s natural. And intimacy isn’t just about the physical act. This area becomes dysfunctional when one or both partners aren’t getting their needs – sex, warmth or affection – fulfilled within the relationship and start to feel frustrated.

Warning signs –look out for an existing problem in this area that hasn’t been addressed or if you feel you’re not getting as much affection and warmth as you’d like at the beginning of the relationship.

If you relationship falls into any one of these categories it doesn’t mean that it’s doomed to failure. Being aware of the problem is half the battle. Talk to your partner, get professional help if needed, and remember that most relationships have a level of dysfunction within them, it’s what you do with it that counts.