With few exceptions, human beings want to be emotionally and physically close to each other. Life seems better shared. And yet no area of human endeavor seems more fraught with challenges and difficulties than our relationships with others. Relationships, like most things in life worth having, require effort.
Think of it this way: Even good relationships take work. After all, our significant other, our close friends, and even our parents aren’t perfect (and, oddly enough, they may not see us as perfect either). We have to learn how to accommodate and adapt to their idiosyncrasies, their faults, their moods, etc., just as they must learn how to do the same with us. And it’s worth it.
Some relationships, however, are more difficult and require proportionately more work. We are not clones but individuals, and some individuals in relationships are going to have more difficulties, more disagreements. But because we value these relationships we’re willing to make the effort it takes to keep them. This can be because of Obsessive Love Disorder.
And then there are toxic relationships. These relationships have mutated themselves into something that has the potential, if not corrected, to be extremely harmful to our well being. These relationships are not necessarily hopeless, but they require substantial and difficult work if they are to be changed into something healthy. The paradox is that in order to have a reasonable chance to turn a toxic relationship into a healthy relationship, we have to be prepared to leave it (more about this later).
The importance of understanding what defines a toxic relationship is elevated in a global pandemic. Pandemic precautions have us spending more time at home. Many of us have lost the outlets that bring balance to our social, physical, and mental health–work, friends, the gym, school. Isolation at home can shed new light on the indicators that a relationship is toxic, meaning recent months have been key in identifying unhealthy patterns in our relationships. In April 2020, the Journal of Clinical Nursing reported that “home can be a place where dynamics of power can be distorted and subverted . . . often without scrutiny from anyone ‘outside’ the couple or the family unit. In the COVID‐19 crisis, the exhortation to ‘stay at home’ therefore has major implications for those adults and children already living with someone who is abusive or controlling.”³