The Addictive Cycle Of Toxic Couples

I don’t know if whoever reading this is a God person, but if you can, for a second, think of the way God likely looks at us humans: running around, fixating on all of the wrong things, getting caught up in issues that shouldn’t take our attention, wasting energy on futile pursuits, and generally oblivious to the bigger picture. Now, if you can picture that, that’s pretty much how people who aren’t in a toxic relationship look at people who are in one. I know that’s how I see those in toxic relationships.

Every time a friend in a toxic relationship calls me to talk to me about the fact that her boyfriend misinterpreted her tone on a text so then he cancelled their plans and so she, as a response, hung out with an ex to make him jealous and he, as a response, keyed her car and now nobody knows who did what wrong or how to fix things, I just feel like I’m watching a hamster run on a wheel. I want to grab my friend, shake her, and say, “Listen! You’re focusing on the wrong issue here! You’re trying to figure out how to keep this wheel turning but you just need to get off the damn wheel.”

But that’s how toxic relationships go: they are cyclical. One thing leads to another thing which leads to another predictable bad pattern that triggers the usual response and everyone is back to where they started. It is so clear to outsiders that the answer is just to end this relationship. But when you’re the one stuck in the cycle, you can’t see that. Toxic relationships suck you into their vortex and you don’t even realize you’re spinning around in circles. Here’s a look at the addictive cycle toxic couples get in.

Focusing on just today’s problem

It’s easy for toxic couples to get swept up in the problem of today. Whatever that may be (and it usually makes sense to no one but the couple). Maybe it’s the tone of voice one used or how long one took to call the other back or how “touchy” one was with a friend of the opposite sex. The couple becomes fixated on getting to the bottom of that issue and determining the winner of the fight.

And not the major problem

I bring up the last issue to point out that the couple is too focused on the small issue at hand to ever recognize the bigger issue at play, namely, that they fight too much. They’re too focused on dealing with today’s micro fight to recognize that they fight all of the time, and it isn’t healthy. They’re so used to things not being peaceful that that’s become the new “normal” for them.

Toxic couples often become so twisted up in their complex but a pointless web of arguments that, on top of fighting about whatever the issue is at hand, they then also fight about how they fight. It’s true that there are healthy and unhealthy ways to fight. Toxic couples fight in unhealthy ways (storming out, slamming doors, hanging up) and then they have to fight about that, before they can even get back to whatever they were originally fighting about.

Toxic relationships and on-again-off-again relationships tend to be one and the same. Toxic couples love to call it quits… “For good this time,” they’ll say…and then be back together within a day or even an hour. So very quickly, “Calling it quits” holds no power. It’s about as meaningful as saying the sky is green. It’s hogwash, really. Empty words.

Feeling like, “I already put so much into this”

This is very common and I hear it all of the time from my friends in toxic relationships: the feeling that they’ve already put so much time and energy into this that they have to see it through. I want to argue, “The very fact that you’ve had to put so much energy into making this even barely functional should be a reason to walk away…not to keep going.”

Getting addicted to the drama

The drama can be addicting. I don’t want to say that anybody wants a toxic relationship, but I will say that everyone wants to feel some excitement and some purpose in life. And when we lack that, a toxic relationship can provide a nice (but not so nice) distraction from the fact that we haven’t got much else exciting going on.

An all-out screaming/smashing things match

The slamming of doors. The throwing of plates. The smashing of laptops. The throwing of phones down toilets. The screaming. The saying nasty things one can’t take back. Experiencing this level of volatility I think just draws the toxic couple in even more. They think the way to happiness is to make this dynamic with this person calm again. They don’t realize it’s just to…walk away. If somebody has smashed a laptop, it’s probably time to walk away. And prepare to pay for that laptop.

Then cooling down, but never discussed it

“Things are fine.” That’s what my friend says after her and her boyfriend in their toxic relationship have another screaming match of claiming it’s all over and they’re leaving each other. Then they just…don’t leave. Don’t talk about it for a few days. And start having sex again as if nothing ever happened. It’s very unhealthy.

Believing “not fighting” means “things are good”

Toxic couples make the mistake of believing that just because they aren’t currently, outwardly fighting, that things are good. They aren’t good they’re just…less terrible than usual. It’s just the calm before the next storm though. They haven’t really addressed their issues or discussed, in detail, a plan for avoiding the problem in the future. So it will come up again. It’s just a matter of time.

Believing if you could just fix one thing…

I hear it constantly: “If we could just get around this one thing…” But it’s never really just the one thing. Toxic couples always think it’s just the one thing standing in their way of being happy together. They manage to forget the fact that, no matter who they go out and meet, there will always be some challenges. When you meet the wrong person then trying to overcome those challenges means behaving in a destructive, dangerous, unhealthy, and toxic manner. The problem isn’t the problem at hand—it’s how this particular pair of individuals handle problems.

Neglecting friends for the relationship

A toxic relationship will steal all of your time. It will have you cancelling on friends. It will have you texting your friend, frantically, begging to come over to have a shoulder to cry on. She’ll cancel her plans to be there for you and then…you’ll call and say, “Never mind I’m not coming over. I have to go talk to my boyfriend.” So your friends get pissed because they don’t like bending over backwards to accommodate your messed up situation. They pull away.

Then feeling they have no friends

As the friends pull away, the person in the toxic relationship feels she has nobody else in her life but her toxic partner. So she goes even closer to him. She clings on harder. She believes everyone but this partner abandons her, not realizing she brought this situation upon herself by screwing over her friends.

Neglecting career for the relationship

Toxic relationships will mess with your career, too. You’ll blow off everything you said you’d do to further your career, in order to tend to whatever fight comes up with your partner. You say you’ll update your website/get drinks with that new contact/attend an event but then…you blow it all off because you have to fight with your partner.

Then feeling they have nothing at all

More and more, the toxic relationship pulls the person in it away from every other area of her life. And instead of seeing that as a problem that reflects on her relationship, she sees it as a reason to stay in the relationship. Because now she has nobody else in her life. Toxic relationships are isolating like this.

Failing to realize how it looks to outsiders

All along, the people in the relationship continue to lose touch with reality. Their vision is becoming narrower. They pay more and more attention to trying to put out the constant fire that is their relationship (not a good fire—but the type that burns everything to the ground) that they don’t realize nobody is forcing them to do this. They completely forget that they always have the option to just walk away.


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3 Lessons I Learned from Ending My Toxic Relationship

Here’s one from one of my female readers. I thought it was worth sharing.

Take it away, Serena.

My mother always told me I’d have to kiss a few frogs before I found my prince. What she didn’t tell me was that one of the said frogs would humiliate, manipulate and otherwise crush me through a years-long cycle of lying and cheating. At the time (my junior year of college, when I was still a half-formed shell of a person), it seemed inconceivable that any good would come out of that experience. But looking back on the toxicity of the relationship now, I realize I learned some valuable lessons that have given me a unique perspective on which red flags to look out for. I’m sharing them here in the hopes that you leave sooner than I did.

Listen to Your Gut—It’s Probably Right

When we first started dating, it was slow and measured rather than hot and heavy—it took months of him wooing me and wearing me down before I was receptive to his advances. Why the hesitation? For starters, a faint whiff of misogyny hung over him like a cloud. (His bedroom wall was collaged with Sports Illustrated models, ugh.) I knew from the way he talked about his upbringing that we had different values long before we got into it. From the very beginning, there was a tiny voice in my head saying this isn’t right; this isn’t the person for you. But I was 20 years old: I was flattered, I wanted to be wanted and I wanted to throw caution to the wind. Eventually, I caved. But in the back of my mind, I knew there was darkness going into the situation. I think we all do—in our gut—when placed in those scenarios, and it’s not something to brush off as I did.

Fool Me Once, Shame On You. Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me

I took him back twice. Or was it three times? He was a master manipulator, always knowing what to say to make me feel like I was the one in the wrong. For example, we had been seeing each other for six months (and had swapped “I love you’s,” mind you) when I found out that he had slept with someone else on the same night I had been with him and left early to study. His excuse? We had never had a clear exclusivity discussion. (As if that excuses that kind of grade-A jerk behavior.) This set a precedent that still makes me wince: When he lied or said cruel things, I rationalized them as being my fault, too. The fact that he treated me so badly became this embarrassing hurdle to overcome; I wanted to make him happy to prove to myself that I could do it. (I’m not proud of this.) By the second time we blew up (cheating, again) I knew better than to take him back. Second chances are a part of life—but you should never have to offer a third.

The Only Way Out Is Cold Turkey

The official end came on the heels of my semester abroad. He’d called me every night I was away, guilting me about my absence…but when I got home, I found out that he’d simultaneously been having a relationship with a second girlfriend. At this point, none of his behavior surprised me—and it became painfully clear that the only way out was out. After fleeing campus and returning home, I called him, with my best friend holding my hand, and let him have it. Despite his pleading and many, many moments of weakness where I almost reached out to see how he was doing after the breakup, I held my ground. As a result, I got over him in just a few months’ time. For anyone leaving a toxic relationship, I cannot stress this enough: There has to be a clean, full break. There’s too much room for error otherwise.


What Makes Men Fall in Love Hard With the Wrong Girl

It’s called “Shadow Side Attachment.”

Do opposites attract? We’ve all seen at least one couple that just didn’t make sense, especially when you’d learn more about the two of them. For me, the first time I saw it was with a casual acquaintance. He was a high-earning, super-conservative banker who had just divorced his kind, sweet, emotionally stable wife of 20 years.

He was now dating a woman who had no degree, a serious drug issue, and a history of getting on the wrong side of the law. Everyone, including his own wife, was left in disbelief that he was falling in love with this woman.

What I later found out was that this story was far from unique. This is, in fact, a pretty common occurrence — or, at the least, more common than I thought it’d be. And, after doing some research, I realized there’s actually a lot of psychology at play in these kinds of relationships.

According to relationship guru Dr. J. Cookerly, much of this has to do with something called “Shadow Side Attachment.”

As the name suggests, many of us have an interest in things that we don’t normally show other people. This is what one might call our “Shadow Side.”

For some of us, that shadow side could be an interest in dating someone who is unusually conservative for our tastes. For others, it could be the desire to do wild and crazy things with people we really shouldn’t be interested in. This is the basis behind the old adage “Opposites attract.”

The funny thing about Shadow Side Attachment is that it often manifests when we’re trying to repress the way we feel.

The good girl wants to escape her “good girl” image for a while and ends up with a “bad boy” who does all sorts of crazy things involving sex, drugs, and maybe a motorcycle.

The bad girl wants to date a good boy who can give her the stability her lifestyle can’t afford her. She wants to have moments where she can bake cookies and just be a normal person. You get the picture.

People who get Shadow Side Attachment don’t necessarily fall in love with the person as much as they fall in love with the fact that the person represents their ability to explore a side to them that they don’t normally get to explore. This is why Dr. Cookerly calls it a form of “false love.”

For the most part, it’s not really sustainable. After all, the thing about people who are polar opposites is that they generally have clashing lifestyles and goals — and that’s usually a dealbreaker in the long run.

While the forbidden nature of a shadow side love may be sexy at the start, it often dissolves into bickering and quarreling about every little thing. As a result, these relationships are typically short-lived, but highly passionate flings.

In the case of the acquaintance and his mistress, it lasted a good two months before he tried to return to his wife, tail between his legs.

However, once in a blue moon, you’ll see a couple that is based on Shadow Side Attachment that actually does turn into a serious, stable, and loving relationship.

I’ve personally seen wild girls end up with conservative guys who never even drank liquor before he met her. However, they tend to be the exception to the rule rather than the rule itself.

So, do opposites attract? Absolutely. There’s just no saying that they’ll stay together.

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Exactly What Happens When You Leave A Toxic Relationship

A much better life is waiting for you.

A toxic relationship really brings you down.

You might find it hard to believe that unhealthy relationships can lead to anything good. The truth is that the relationship problems you encounter when you’re with a toxic person might make you feel helpless at the moment. But once you leave a toxic relationship, you will reap the benefits.

Here are eight surprising upsides of leaving your toxic relationship.

1. You rediscover your passions.

Toxic relationships kill your enthusiasm.

When you’re in a draining relationship, you only focus on fixing what is actually hopeless, instead of pursuing what you want.

When you finally breakthrough, you rediscover your favorite pastimes and passion projects.

This, in turn, provides an emotional outlet and helps you move on from your relationship more quickly.

2. You reconnect with family and friends who really love you.

Unhealthy relationships cause us to disconnect from others.

But when your relationship ends, you run to family and friends and realize that they were waiting for you.

They’ve been with you all along, so don’t take them for granted.

3. You appreciate the little things even more.

Whether you’re celebrating a treat from a colleague or a text message from your best friend, you find yourself cherishing every moment of the day.

After you’ve spent so much time suffering and in pain, you now know what true gratitude means.

4. You regain your mental and physical health.

Your toxic relationship most likely affected your health.

So, as your post-relationship self-care, you focus on your mental, physical, and spiritual health.

You find yourself fighting to regain the wellness that your ex deprived you of.

Maybe you head to the gym and eat more healthily.

Perhaps you simply put yourself first and enjoy relaxing again.

Regardless, you find that as you focus on your health and wellness, you start to feel whole again.

5. You enjoy your newfound independence.

You once saw the single life as lonely, but now you view it as an independent.

What’s more, you see your newfound independence as a sign of bravery, wholeness, strength, and wisdom.

You revel in it because you no longer attach your happiness to someone else.

You’re proud to be self-sufficient because it takes a lot to master the art of freeing yourself from others.

6. You gain the ability to empathize with people who are hurting.

Now that you understand heartache firsthand, you sincerely care about the pain of others.

You become more sensitive and empathetic.

You are not afraid to share your story in order to give people hope.

7. You thrive more fruitfully in your career.

You realize that investing your energy in your work provides more rewards than any other person can.

A fulfilling career gives you the home and the life you want and it doesn’t require that you depend on anyone else.

Therefore, you prioritize your career aspirations over any potential love interests.

8. You reinvent yourself.

You try out new things because you can.

Maybe you cut your hair, try higher stilettos, travel more often, cook complicated dishes, or enjoy risky adventures.

As you change, you discover that reinventing yourself is the best way to heal.

Instead of giving up on yourself, you reinvent yourself and find that better things lie ahead.

If you’re coming out of a toxic relationship and life feels overwhelming, never fear.

Life may be difficult now, but the benefits you’ll take from your healing process will be worth the struggle.


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If Your Partner Says They Don’t Love You, Here’s What It Really Means

People can say things they don’t mean when they’re angry, hurt, or stressed. Sometimes you can be understanding and just let it slide. But if you’re in the middle of a fight and your partner says something hurtful like, “I don’t love you,” that’s not something you can easily shake off. Chances are, their words will linger in the back of your mind long after they’ve apologized. So what does it actually mean if your partner says they don’t love you when they’re angry?

“This is something that comes up quite often,” Linda Stiles, LSCSW, a counselor who specializes in marriage and relationships, tells us. “People do say things they don’t mean when they’re triggered, emotional, or upset. While it’s not something to write off, it’s likely that the hurtful words are not just what they seem.”

For instance, when one partner says hurtful things in the heat of the moment, they may be trying to get the other to understand their feelings. They could be feeling hurt, sad, lonely, or powerless. While it’s really not a good reason to say mean things, that’s just their way of expressing themselves.

According to Stiles, think of it like a child saying “I hate you” to their parents. “The child doesn’t really mean that; it’s just a way of expressing strong emotions in the moment,” she says. “Sometimes this reflects behavior and emotional coping patterns that were modeled in our family of origin. But there are many other factors to consider.”

So here are some other things it could mean if your partner says they don’t love you when they’re angry, according to experts.

1. They’re Hurt By Something You Did

WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

“When people say things such as ‘I don’t love you’ that could be a way to unleash the hurt that they are experiencing in the moment and say it as a way to get back at their partner so that they can also hurt,” Candice Cooper-Lovett, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist, and owner of A New Creation Psychotherapy Services, LLC, tells us.

According to her, it’s a method of fighting that’s ineffective and unhealthy. More often than not, you end up coming out of it more wounded than you were before. The best thing to do in this situation is to take a break from the argument and gather your thoughts. When you’re both cooled off, Cooper-Lovett says it’s important to have a conversation about what they really meant when they said they didn’t love you.

2. They’re Frustrated By Something In The Relationship

It’s painful to hear that your partner doesn’t love you, even in a moment of anger. But as Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, licensed clinical professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship Therapist, tells Bustle, try as much as you can to take it with a grain of salt. “When we’re angry or reactive, we leave our rational brain and are in survival mode,” Slatkin says. “Even though we may be extremely frustrated with the relationship, it may come out harsher than we intend.” It’s important to remember that feelings come and go. There may be some moments when you don’t even like your partner. But as Slatkin says, “That doesn’t necessarily define our true feelings.” When things are calmer, tell your partner how their comment made you feel. If they look genuinely remorseful and they appologize, accept it. Chances are, they mean it.

3. They’re Emotionally Immature


When your partner says they don’t love you, it can be a sign that they’re emotionally immature. As Lesli Doares, couples consultant and coach, tells us, “They don’t know how to handle their emotions, so they give themselves permission to lash out. This is true of name calling and any other hurtful things they express when upset.”

If this is the case, they likely developed a pattern and do this consistently. The reality is, you can only be understanding for so long. As Doares says, “It’s perfectly acceptable to request that your partner alter how they act when they’re upset.”

It’s also helpful to learn their triggers and try to avoid “emotionally charged interactions” as much as you can. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid arguing at all. You just need to be more mindful when you’re in the middle of a fight. If you feel like it’s becoming too intense, it’s OK to take a step back, cool off, and then finish your discussion later.

4. They May Be Toxic

If your partner says mean things to you when they’re angry, take note of how often this happens. As Christine Scott-Hudson, marriage and family therapist and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells us, you may be dealing with a toxic situation. “Verbal abuse is a repeating pattern of verbal attacks towards another person, including criticisms, insults, derogatory comments, sarcasm, and put-downs that systematically harms the recipient,” she says.

Your partner repeatedly telling you that they don’t love you, may be a form of emotional abuse. An emotional manipulator may even use this phrase as a way to control you and get you to do what they want. So it’s important to be very aware of what you’re dealing with. “The red flags you ignore in the beginning of your relationship will be the reasons for your relationship’s downfall,” Scott-Hudson says. “If your partner is verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive, do not ignore the signs. You can’t love them hard enough to change them.” You may want to consider looking for help.

5. They Really Don’t Love You Anymore

conflict and emotional stress in young people couple relationship outdoors


“A lot of times anger can be dangerous in relationships because we’re acting on impulse,” Cooper-Lovett says. So if your partner says they no longer love you or they want to break up during every bad fight, that should be cause for concern.

At this point it’s become a pattern and it’s hard to believe that there isn’t any truth to it. Your partner may be afraid to say it, so they bottle it up and only let it out when they’re mad. If this is the case, you have to make a decision about what you want to do. As Cooper-Lovett says, “If the person you’re with doesn’t love you or says it in moments of anger, my belief is that in anger we speak the truth and it’s hard to take words back.”

If you’ve talked about it before and nothing has changed, you may want to consider asking for help. A couples therapist can help your partner deal with their feelings in a healthy way or help you figure out where the “I don’t love you” actually comes from.

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit



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