Toxic relationship advice: Love shouldn’t hurt

When it comes to a toxic relationship, some people don’t know exactly what that is. However, they are very common, in fact, studies show as many as one out of three relationships can be in the toxic spectrum. 

“A healthy relationship is where two people have a strong sense of their own identity, but they connect well also,” said Caris Thetford, the Assistant Director for the Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention Program. “They support each other, they support one another’s interests, one another’s goals and there is good communication. Where one or both partners do not support the other, belittles the other and where one is exhorting power and control in the relationship.” 

Even when the partners embarrass one another or use things against each other, even when one is not supportive toward the other, Thetford explained that this can also be a toxic relationship.

The signs of a toxic relationship can be hidden from the view of friends and family. 

“Sometimes those toxic and unhealthy things start suddenly,” Thetford said. “It might be one person beginning to kind of gradually just sort of pick at the other person, starting to say things that are hurtful, that belittle that person’s abilities and accomplishments.”  

In addition, exhorting more control in the relationship, isolating the other away from family and friends and when they initially act excited for an accomplishment but then start minimizing it. 

“Other warning signs are when one feels more discomfort or more anxiety in their relationship rather than feeling like it is a safe haven,” Thetford said. “An ongoing dynamic of dismissiveness, belittlement and disrespect. What we know is that, in those kinds of relationships, often those controlling and manipulative behaviors start early but they start again really subtly and things escalate over time and kind of the longer that that relationship is in place, the more potentially dangerous things become.” 

However, an unhealthy relationship may be verbally abusive, but it might never escalate to the point of physical violence; but the potential is still there. 

“Certainly, we know that sometimes things begin to escalate to beyond insults, belittling and controlling into some physical behaviors,” Thetford said. “Grabbing, pushing, things that a person might kind of minimize; ‘oh he didn’t hit me, she didn’t hit me, its not a big deal’, likely once anything physical begins its likely only to escalate.” 

The risk for danger can increase over time and with the severity of behavior. 

“We know with those violent relationships that when the partner who is being abused leaves that relationship, kind of that two-week period, right around the time that they leave is the greatest risk for a fatality,” Thetford said. “For the partner who is the abusive partner, to kill the partner if they kind find them.” 

For someone who knows that they are in a toxic relationship, Thetford says if you can recognize it then that is very powerful and to seek support immediately. 

“The worst thing you can do is suffer in silence and alone,” Thetford said. “Reach out to a friend, reach out to a family member, our students can access support through the counseling center.” 

The counseling center, located in Traditions North Residence Hall has the resources to help any individual who may come in and ask for assistance. The counseling center will work with individuals for their safety, like changing a class schedule, living situation and contacting law enforcement if needed. However, if you see that your friend is in one you need to reach out to them quickly but gently. 

“Do everything you can to maintain a friendship, your friend may not recognize that they are being abused or they may be very protective of their abuser,” Thetford said. “If you, as friend, if you shame them for that, they are just going to stop talking to you and then when they really do need help they are not going to come to you because they are going to feel ashamed.” 

 “It doesn’t matter what is happening in a relationship, it doesn’t matter what anybody has done nobody deserves to be mistreated or abused, ”Thetford said. “ It is not your fault, I am glad you know that you are in a bad situation, the next step is you deserve support. I think that someone who’s been able to do that is a great example to the people around them, of recognizing when your relationship isn’t healthy and making yourself a priority and doing what is right for you.”

Keep your eyes open for these signs for either your health or a friend’s health, below are some websites with the differences of healthy, unhealthy and abusive relationships. Additional information can be found at the counseling center website or in person at Traditions North between 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.