Toxic unions wreck lives
If communication does not work, then it is best to leave
LIVING with a toxic partner is akin to living a fractured and hopeless existence. A toxic partner can destroy your self-esteem, your self-worth and even threaten your sanity.
Asiphe Ndlela, a psychologist based in Illovo, Johannesburg, says a toxic relationship can be described as a vivid sign of your existing relationship losing its previous beauty.
"A toxic relationship has a very clear cycle to it. First, there is the honeymoon phase, followed by a major fallout, followed by reconciliation and then 'rinse and repeat'," Ndlela says.
"In many cases, the abuser or manipulator will usually choose an individual who is vulnerable and who can be controlled.
"At first the person, whom you thought loved you, will be someone who appears to be very protective, caring, honest and understanding.
"This is the same reason why people have difficulty to spot the abuse because they thought and felt that they were being loved by the very person who is also the abuser," she says.
Ndlela says danger lies in the fact that when a person first meets a new partner they are always in the honeymoon stage.
"It's not until they have sucked you into their world sufficiently that you realise you are dealing with a toxic relationship.
"At this point it's much more difficult to get out," she says.
Ndlela adds that people often stay in relationships because they do not understand that they have rights and options.
"Sometimes people stay because the toxic relationship so much mirrors their lives as children, that they truly might not have a sense that it is a toxic relationship and that life can be better," she says.
"Sometimes a person becomes so accustomed to the abuse in a toxic relationship that they become numb to its effects."
She says another cause of toxic relationships is that many middle-aged men start thinking that their partner is not as beautiful as they were when they were young.
"The man might start criticising his partner openly and not care about her feelings," she says.
Ndlela says low self-esteem as well as depression, fear of being alone, or threats from the hurtful partner are all reasons why a person continues to stay in a toxic relationship.
"Though low self-esteem can be a very complex experience, the bottom line is that the person does not have a good and clear sense of themselves, so it is almost impossible without clinical intervention for that person to understand that there is a better, healthier way to be.
"Part of why the toxic person hurts, in addition to having to do with their own low sense of self, is the fear of being out of control and the fear of what exposing the true self would mean," Ndlela says.
- According to Zimasa Galada of Masibambane Family Group, a family support group in Cape Town, one reason for toxic relationships in South Africa is that many people grow up in similar homes.
"They simply mimic what has been deeply rooted in their being without even knowing it. Other people believe they do not deserve happiness, so no one does.
"Often people stay in relationships because they do not understand that they have rights and options.
"Depression, the fear of being alone or threats from the hurtful partner can be factors. Sometimes, people stay because the toxic relationship mirrors their own lives as children to such an extent that they truly might not have a sense that it is a toxic relationship and that life can be better," Galada says.
What's the solution?
Galada says communication is the key to almost every relationship problem.
"If you are in a toxic relationship, try talking to your partner. Be gentle and try not to hold that person responsible for everything, even if he is. Make it clear that you will only continue the relationship if he is ready to accept your space and your individuality," Galada says.
She adds that in such a relationship the toxic person generally does not admit to his behaviour and tries to blame everything on the other person. But he should be given a second chance.
If things do not change after giving him a second chance it is better to end the relationship because the person might pretend to be kind and respectful, but it won't last long and this can lead to a vicious cycle, making it more difficult to come out of later, Galada says.