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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