Partnership: When is a relationship toxic?

When is a relationship toxic?

A toxic relationship harms mental health over time.

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When is love between two people toxic? Psychologist Christian Heimsheimer explains the signs in an interview.

Love is not always characterized by positive feelings and affection. If there is frequent alternation between highs and lows instead, it could be a toxic relationship. Psychologist Christian Heimsheimer, author of The New Dimension of Love (Arcana), explains in an interview with The Associated Press on the news site when one can talk about a toxic partnership and its consequences for those involved.

What is a toxic relationship anyway?

Christian Hemschemeier: The term is somewhat unclear today. By that I mean relationships in which there is a selfish or otherwise sloppy partner and a dependent partner. The dependent partner then develops what is called a love addiction, a condition in which one only suffers and cannot sleep, eat, or function properly. However, not every unhappy or unbalanced relationship is automatically toxic.

Where did the term “toxic” come from?

Hemschemeier: The term originally comes from a specialized American magazine from 1972. It describes the relationship between two partners who stay together only to escape their loneliness. A toxic relationship is the lesser of two evils in this case. In America, the term “toxic” has been in use ever since. He describes these drug-like and unhealthy relationships.

At what point can one talk about a toxic relationship?

Hemschemeier: In relationships that really deserve the name, there’s the “lovebombing phase” first. In this one you are floating on cloud nine and believing with every fiber of your body that you have found the right person. Usually, after about three months, there is a burglary (detection of cheating, crossing borders, lies). From then on, the relationship oscillates between shorter and shorter “highs” and more and more “lows”.

However, nearly all those affected reported inconsistencies from the start. Obsessive thinking is often the first symptom. So relationships are toxic when they are accompanied by a lot of imbalances and manipulations – consciously or unconsciously – and you still stay in them, even though they greatly harm you. Again, you can see the similarities with addiction.

Are toxic relationships becoming more common?

Hemschemeier: No, I don’t think so. The public focus is often on such relationships, and today’s society allows for more freedom. This raises some questions in the first place, plus today we’re dating a lot more different people than we used to.

What happens to the psyche of people involved in a toxic relationship?

Hemschemeier: Participation in a toxic relationship is ultimately not a satisfying experience for either of them. However, in most relationships, it is the dependent partner who suffers first. This leads to an increasing loss of self-confidence and control, which can lead to a variety of symptoms: fears, substance abuse, turmoil, physical symptoms and much more.

Can a toxic relationship be treated therapeutically?

Hemschemeier: If this means couples therapy: usually not. Usually one partner is not interested at all or even tries to manipulate the couple’s therapist. Individually, of course, you can work on self-love, norms, and an insecure attachment style. However, most often, one tries to “save” the other, but this does not help at all. You can only work on yourself in the long term if you leave a toxic relationship and do not resume it.


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