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Young women report the highest levels of emotional abuse, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Some underestimate the power of emotional abuse, stating, “Well, at least it isn’t physical.” But, the psychology community might argue emotional abuse has longer-lasting effects than physical abuse. Women who are emotionally abused are more likely to report feeling isolation and despair and even more likely to develop chronic illnesses than those in physically abusive relationships. That means that ultimately, emotional abuse can become a physical problem even if no one ever lays hands on you.

If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, you may have come to call it something a little more trendy – something that sounds a little lighter. Toxic. It’s a popular word used to describe what are, ultimately, emotionally abusive relationships. Toxic relationships are still not to be taken lightly.

If you’ve been in a toxic relationship for a while, you’ll likely reach the point of delusion that a lot of toxic couples do: the we can fix this point. They want to go to therapy – individual and couples. They think they can both enter love and sex anonymous groups and get into meditation. They think they can make this toxic relationship healthy, while in it. But here’s why that doesn’t work.

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You need a new foundation

If this is a truly toxic relationship – the kind where you’ve yelled at each other, called each other nasty names, slammed doors, thrown plates and broken up/gotten back together a hundred times – the foundation is crumbling. Actually, there is no foundation. Some couples have many happy years together and hit a rough patch, but the long, healthy years before provided a foundation. They could make it through the rough patch, because they had that foundation. Toxic couples are often fighting from day one. The relationship is built on toxic, abusive behaviors. Foundation is everything, and a relationship can’t survive on one that’s built on name-calling, yelling, and overall abuse. That would be like trying to build a house on an active earthquake.

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Real healing takes time

When toxic couples decide to try to “be better,” the idea behind it might be that they’re going to try to heal their wounds. There can be all sorts of wounds that make someone attracted to a toxic relationship. BMC Public Health reports that negative childhood experiences correlate with unhealthy adult relationships. The number of ways one can have negative childhood experiences and how those manifest in adulthood are limitless. Most importantly, that trauma takes a long time to truly heal. It can take years of consistent therapy. Toxic couples often think, “We’ll each go into therapy and…we’ll be good in a couple of months.” The patience for the real time this healing will take is typically not there.

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Real personal work can’t be rushed

Trying to heal deep, long-standings wounds for the sake of another person can be problematic too. There can’t be pressure around the timeline of this healing. The pressure of, “I have to get better soon so my relationship can function” or “I need to fix myself quickly so my partner stays,” does not create a proper environment for healing. Healing has to be done for you, on your timeline. Sensing that a clock is ticking and that if you don’t heal fast enough to keep a partner will affect (read: damage) the healing process. A good therapist won’t give into pressures to fix you fast so you can save your relationship. It doesn’t work that way.

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Some acts cannot be forgiven

There are some things that go on in a toxic relationship that can be impossible to overcome. Infidelity. Stealing. Sabotage. If you or your partner did things in the relationship that had long-lasting and devastating effects on the other’s life – such as their finances, career, family, health, or home – that is very hard to leave in the past. You may want to leave it in the past, but the consequences might be very much in the present, and long-lasting. For example, if, during a fight, you did something to sabotage your partner’s employment that got him fired, and now he’s unemployed, unable to find new work…the effects of that will follow you both every day. The reminders of what you did (or he did) will be constantly in your faces. He may struggle to pay rent. He may have to give up his car. There’s a butterfly effect of the old abuse.

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Some acts cannot be forgotten

There are also all of the small, toxic acts that go on in these types of relationships that are hard to forget. There might have been years of score-keeping, getting revenge, spying on each other, lying to each other, and betraying each other. You can both say you’d like to wipe the slate clean, but you’ll always have that knee-jerk reaction when your partner does anything that resembles that old behavior. If there was infidelity, you may freak out when he simply takes a phone call in another room. If you withheld sex as a power move, he may think you’re doing that again on the nights you’re genuinely not in the mood. It’s hard to just forget years of unhealthy behavior.

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Your community won’t accept it

In the incredibly unlikely event that you were able to turn this toxic relationship around, your community wouldn’t accept it. They will never forget all of the times they picked you up when you were crying on a curb after a fight and needed a place to sleep for the week. They will never forget the terrifying messages he sent you (that you read to them). They won’t forget the awful acts he did. They won’t forget the way the relationship changed you and made you a bad friend (as toxic relationships tend to do). It’s very hard to carry on a relationship that nobody in your life wants anything to do with. You can’t go to parties with him. You can’t do double dates. No couples vacations. It’s lonely.

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If you heal, you won’t be interested

The truth is that, if you do heal the real wounds that make you act up, you’ll no longer want to be in this relationship. Those are the same wounds that drew you into this relationship. Your toxicity was attracted to his. So if you heal that, you’ll find that you no longer want to be with this person. You only work together (or “work” together, because it doesn’t really work) when you’re broken. When you heal the cracks in yourself, suddenly the problems with another person, or relationship, will stick out like a sore thumb and you won’t tolerate it anymore.

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The drive to fix it is linked to codependency

The desire to fix yourself in order to keep a relationship is inherently linked to codependency. Where was this drive before? If the only motivation to get better is so you can remain in a relationship, the process of healing is flawed from the start. You should heal for you. You should heal so walking through this life feels more peaceful – all elements of life, and not just a relationship. If it’s only done for the “reward” of keeping a partner, the reward is another malfunction. The reward is enabling codependency. True healing only happens when you are okay with it if that healing sends certain people out of your life.

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