Four Ways Healthy Love Can Turn Toxic

Coupling up and committing can bring enormous joy and wellbeing. When done poorly however, what once felt like closeness and intimacy can easily turn toxic. Here are four ways the fruit of a relationship can sour. 

1. Desexualizing Your Partner:

The passage of time, the stress of life, the demands of children and work, and other influences can eventually make what was once a close couple distant. What begins as an emotionally connected and sexually intriguing union may all too easily become a roommate or brother/sister type connection. This is because when life is difficult (as it invariably becomes at different points of time) people may treat each other like just one more problem to manage. Why? Because they erroneously think it takes too much energy to keep up their emotional and sexual connection with their partner. When overwhelmed with work, kids, or life, people may look for shortcuts and romantic relationships often take the toll. In those circumstances, eventually you look into your partner’s eyes and only see what tasks need to be discussed. You stop emotionally confiding in them; romance goes out the window. Desexualizing your partner can be insidious. At first it may seem harmless—“we are just busy right now” or “he travels a lot for work, we can catch up when he returns.” But over time, the distance apart begins to re-double until you realize one day that you are sleeping with a stranger. Avoid the entrenchment of this pattern by prioritizing your romantic relationship over everything else. If you feel you don’t have the time, you are overestimating what it takes to connect with your partner. A few sincere and thoughtful remarks can draw the bond tighter.  One romantic dinner a week where you focus on each other, not tasks or children or what plans need to be made, can make all the difference.

2. Secrets and Lies:

It may be the most obvious of points, but always hold in mind that as soon as one member of a union starts lying or keeping secrets the fruit of the relationship sours. If you are lying to your partner, there is only one way to possibly make it better–fess up and do it quickly. Lying begets lying and before you know it your partner will be an anxious mess, second-guessing and questioning your every move. If this is you, the typical next step will be you blaming your partner for being ‘crazy’, thus making your partner all the more paranoid. Don’t do this to your partner, or to yourself. If you feel the need to evade or lie, reflect. Ask yourself, why is this particular thing hard to share with your partner? Then work up your courage, and express it to them. You may say, “I noticed I stopped off at the bar on the way home from work today and didn’t want to tell you, I am not sure what that’s about, maybe missing my single days a bit.” Whatever it is, it is better to say it than lie and keep secrets. Being truthful with one another, even with the more difficult revelations, increases intimacy and closeness. You start to feel as if you can share anything with your partner, and they will still love you–unconditionally.

3. Disrespectful Treatment: 

It is astounding how much some have accepted and dole out disrespectful speech and actions toward one another. Each time you say something mean to your partner, you are putting abusive energy into the air. This only makes people feel smaller and worse about themselves and then you likely end up feeling guilty or like a “bad person.” Arguments can quickly turn into character assassinations, cursing and name calling when two people have not built up the skills for how to argue while respecting one another. When this happens, you end up arguing about how you are arguing (“I can’t believe you called me the c-word, I am so done with this!”), vs. discussing what the real conflict is between you. As a result, areas of discontent go unresolved and unhappiness grows. Arguing and getting angry at each other is normal when people are close. However, hold one another to a decent human standard–no name-calling, no disrespectful treatment, and no abusive actions, ever.

4. Overly Relying on Outside Influence:

The strength of a romantic bond is diminished when one member of the union begins to consistently rely on someone else for their needs. Everyone solicits opinions and everyone needs an emotional support system outside of their romantic relationship. However, if you or your partner are consistently relying on someone else to make decisions or to do the heavy lifting of life for you, then your romance will evaporate. After all, a huge part of romantic love is feeling as if someone knows everything about us and always has our back— 100 percent. If you outsource this to a third party, that kind of closeness and intimacy will dissipate or never develop in your relationship. Even if you do not wish it, you will feel the distance grow when there is a third person in your marriage.  If a pattern of toxic love describes your relationship, there is a way out of the spiral. In my workbook, Toxic Love: 5 Steps, I describe specific strategies for how to overcome this pattern, and to start attaching with healthy romantic partners.

Jill Weber, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and the author of The Relationship Formula Workbook Series, including Toxic Love — 5 Steps: How to Identify Toxic Love Patterns and Find Fulfilling AttachmentsBreaking Up and Divorce — 5 Steps: How to Heal and be Comfortable Alone and Building Self-Esteem — 5 Steps: How to Feel ‘Good Enough.’ Follow her on Twitter @DrJillWeber and on Facebook, or visit


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