How to Recognize a Toxic Relationship

By Nicole Charky

I am not a relationship expert. I don’t have a degree in love.

I can barely make it past date No. 3, let alone a three-year relationship. But I have survived a degrading and humiliating toxic relationship.

That’s actually the first step: admitting or acknowledging you are in a toxic relationship.

A toxic person makes you feel drained, judged, manipulated, or defensive. Oftentimes, when you’re in a toxic relationship, you don’t think your life could improve much more. You can’t see the bigger picture. You’re convinced the status quo is OK. Sometimes you still care deeply for that person.

Pronounced stress is a factor and reason why some people leave toxic relationships. And the University of Michigan’s unique study of more than 300 couples shows that it can lead to divorce.

For me, I landed my lifelong dream job, and I was only 25. This particular man had been in my life throughout those years and had watched my journalism career grow from age 16 on. We both had similar cultural backgrounds, were from the same part of California. It made sense. But I also wasn’t telling my friends and family everything. And that was on purpose: I started to pull away.

Toxic relationships can convince you that a life without that person isn’t possible. You withdraw. Your family and friends start hearing from you less.

It’s not always so easy to recognize your relationship isn’t healthy. Once, he argued with me because he thought I had dated someone I ran into at a party at our friend’s house. After explaining to him that it wasn’t the case, he pushed me in front of a bunch of people near a curb.

It was embarrassing. I was so disgusted. People who saw him do it were asking if I wanted them to call the cops. He was really drunk. I asked them not to. Eventually, he got in my car. Right when we were about to get on the freeway, he tried to jump out of the backseat and onto the freeway.

I was driving. My friend in the front seat grabbed him and held him down. He passed out. I left him in the back of the car. It was around 3 a.m. when he woke up. He fell down hard walking down a small driveway trying to get to my house. He fell so badly that he had to get stitches the next day. He still has the scar. So do I.

But then one day I didn’t want to feel so drained anymore. I made a choice and started to open up to friends and family about what was really happening.

Toxic relationships can often make you feel like you only seek approval from the toxic person in your life. That can be isolating. So, after leaving a toxic relationship, it is recommended to turn to the people who care about you, make a list if you need to (I did), and start reaching out. They want to hear from you, too. They want to know why you aren’t there, and they want to help you move forward. So don’t do it alone.

Go on a real detox.

You don’t have to call him or her. I always asked myself this question: How much more time are you going to give the guy who hurt you?

His name isn’t important. And I choose to forgive him every single day—after a lot of work, therapy, meditation, prayer, and time. The people who stuck by me during that time know my story and how hard it was to actually walk away. I was stepping away from a guy I knew; it was stepping away from a lifelong friend, someone I respected and adored.   

Now, I’m sharing my story with you because I had to heal my body throughout the process, and you, too, might have to do the same someday. Talk to a doctor. Talk to a therapist. Find a friend, call someone, walk to a coffee shop and write down how you’re feeling. Talk to anyone you trust and tell them what’s going on with you and your body.

In my case, my boyfriend had assumed that I was overweight for eating or lifestyle reasons. But I actually was showing signs of hormonal imbalances, PCOS and hypothyroid. I just hadn’t been diagnosed yet, and I was still on the way to finding out. It would take me about four years after when I did. It’s normal. Many women with PCOS don’t get diagnosed. A 2010 study examined 728 women and found that 70 percent had no pre-existing diagnosis—but had PCOS—according to The Atlantic.

It’s important to take a step back, examine what’s going on in your life. Check-in with yourself.  

Toxic relationships can occur in the bedroom or in your office. Sometimes they can even be both. Accept the reality that it is hard and difficult to overcome a toxic relationship. Now know you have the wisdom and compassion to show that person mercy, and don’t talk to them when you’re angry. Be chill. Be calm.

Work toward finding a solution: Is it walking away? Is it working it out? What steps toward positive action can you take?

Accept that you are now uncomfortable and it’s time to pursue self-growth.

It’s painful. It might feel abrupt. But you recognized it. You can’t melt your feelings away. That’d be cool, and probably a movie, buut this is real life. And you can heal from a toxic relationship.

Here’s my advice, and what I learned: Hold on tight to the people you love. Stay humble and loyal to the people who were with you through it. Know where you’re from, and where you’re going next. Set a few goals.  

One way to respond to a toxic relationship is to show that person compassion and move forward.

Get help and verbalize it.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.