The Cycle of a Toxic Relationship

“Some people bring out the worst in you, others bring out the best, and then there are those remarkably rare, addictive ones who just bring out the most. Of everything.

They make you feel so alive that you’d follow them straight into hell, just to keep getting your fix.”


They say if you do something over and over again expecting a different outcome it’s insanity. In relationships, we call it toxicity. I think we all know someone or are the someone who we’ve seen circle the same drain too many times.
If you’ve never been in it, then from an outsider’s perspective falling into a toxic relationship seems like something you can just opt out of, something you can expect and reject just in time before it consumes you. It looks like two people who just can’t get away from each other, but should. It looks like an easy “just don’t respond” or “just end it” but in reality there’s so much more than what meets the eye. There’s so much more than what everyone else sees.
I’m not here to glamorize something that isn’t glamorous. I’m not here to justify behavior that has no justification, but I can sit here and tell you what it feels like and why it’s just not as easy to cut the cord as people think it is.
You ever drive somewhere and then realize you don’t remember thinking about where to turn or how you got there? That’s my best metaphor for what falling into a toxic cycle feels like. It’s on autopilot, it’s on go and you never know you’re headed to the final destination, the breaking point, until you’re there once again.
Toxicity can begin at all phases of the game, and that’s exactly what it is – a game. But I’ll paint a picture for you. You have everything in front of you, your relationship seems idealistic. You have everything on paper that sounds good. A nice person, one who understands you, loves you, makes you laugh, knows your favorite things and with everything you do they think the sun shines out of your ass, and you feel the same about them.
When this person hurts you the first time, you’ll think you know what to do. You’ll know that you should let them go, protect your own heart and soul. You think it’s all good, you think you have it together but somewhere in your strength, you have a moment of weakness and let it all come back. This person must be sorry, you tell yourself. This person who is so great couldn’t have meant to hurt you, but they did, and it was an accident right? They never meant it, they never wanted to do this, we’re all human, right?


And even though you want to defend yourself, you convince yourself that you’d be doing yourself a disservice by letting them go. You’re the one who will lose in the end while they move on, missing what was. So guess what? You let them come back. You let them stay a while, all while holding your breath, praying that it was all just a mistake.


Now it’s been a few days? Weeks? Months? You’ve lost track of time since the last time something went wrong so you tell yourself it was worth it. So, so worth it. The pain might not have completely gone away – but you can ignore it for now. So far, so good, you say to yourself. This will be worth it. Couples fight, couples make up.
So now you’re sitting there and some bad feelings are starting to come back from the past and you’re trying everything in your power to suppress them. Why can’t you just let it go? You’ll ask yourself. But the truth remains, you can’t. So you’ll bring up those feelings in other ways. You’ll get mad about something small and turn it into something huge. You’ll start to believe they owe you rather than that you owe yourself to get out of this.
But there you go… you’ll try. You’ll try to leave, only to guilt yourself into being the reason that something so great doesn’t exist anymore. They might have made mistakes but why weren’t you forgiving? Why weren’t you more accepting of who this person was? Why couldn’t you just believe them when they said sorry. And there it comes, the beginning of another cycle.
You’ll tell them it’s okay, and when you hurt them in return they’ll say it’s okay too. You deserved it – they deserved it. It’s all even now right? Your move cancelled theirs out and now your slate is clean. Two wrongs make you both wrong and now you can sit there and not think either of you is better than the other. Perfect.
But wait, does this person resent me? Do I resent them? Maybe I don’t, but maybe I should. Okay, time to break up. That’s it, you know what you deserve. This is perfect, they’ll fight for me and I’ll feel loved again.
And don’t I deserve this control since they stripped me of mine over my own heart and mind? Yes, that’s right. I’ll gain my sense of self this way.


No one understands what we’ve gone through, no one knows how much we love each other. We did this because we love each other right? We want the other person to realize how good we are for them. Yes, good that’s right. Just in time for the holidays. Wow this is amazing, you tell yourself. How could I have ever let this go? Family, love, food, genuine happiness? This is what life is about.


But wait did I just catch you in a few lies again? Don’t tell me you had to lie to make sure I didn’t find out so we wouldn’t fight. Just don’t do something you’d  have to lie about. Good. Bye.


You start thinking – Don’t you realize what we have can be perfect we just keep getting in each other’s way. Why can’t we both stop? Why can’t we see what we have can be great? It might not be right now. But think about what we could be. That’s what we need to remember. We’ve gotten through so many fights now, right? So many big things and we made it! We still look in each others eyes and say we love each other.


But now it’s over – we’re both seeing other people. You go back to each other to find comfort in your discomfort. None of these people have made you feel what this person has, none of these people mean anything. They are all disposable. They are just another name to jot down.


But a few months will pass. You have a new girlfriend? That’s great I’ll still meet you later. I’m seeing someone too, but that’s okay I’ll come “talk” to you. We’ll tell everyone we hate each other because that’s what we always do. Don’t worry, I wont tell anyone, I know you won’t either. We’re doing this because we love each other still, right?


If you’re lucky, one day this will end.


Some people spend their whole lives in this cycle. But some people have the strength and other people don’t. Some people are self-aware, other people aren’t. Some people don’t want to fight something they’re going to go back to anyway, so they spare themselves the drama.


So no, no one opts into a toxic cycle. No one sits there and says they’re going to lose all sense of self in search for happiness with someone else. It happens in an almost selfless way. You want the best with each other.


But the loneliness that comes with it is real too. The way the people you love look at you in confusion and disappointment is real. And sometimes we blame them too. But there’s no one to blame, there’s no one who can switch up the cycle or cut it loose for good but you two.


And I know it’s hard, I know it seems like it can’t be done. I know it seems like what you see is love, and maybe once it was. Maybe once it could have been, but maybe this is all you’ve got left.

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