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People who fall into dysfunctional romantic dynamics tend to go in and out of denial. Sometimes, they make excuses for their behavior or for the behavior of their partners. At other times, they become so upset about the union that they can barely function or cope with the demands of daily life. This back-and-forth seesaw sets the stage for the confusion and self-doubt that keep a person stuck in a toxic love cycle.

The first step in overcoming the pattern is to wholeheartedly accept that you are, in fact, in a toxic union. Here are four signs that suggest your relationship very well may be toxic:

1. There are momentary highs, but they are short lived. 

Toxic love feels like a roller coaster, with excitement and intrigue followed by insecurity and anxiety. If this is your world, you live for the highs, but you mostly experience the lows. You keep hope alive during those lows with glimmering expectations for what could happen when the next brush of attention comes. In a perverse way, it is the unpredictability of intense emotions that keeps a person stuck, like an unsuccessful gambler hoping that the next card will turn everything around. Recognizing this will help you step off the ride and stop the spinning in your head. 

2. When you're apart, you feel anxious. 

When you're together, it feels enthralling and intoxicating: You desire nothing else than to be with your toxic partner. However, you experience a crushing anxiety when every outing is over. You are left feeling insecure because you are so invested in a person who never gives you definite dates or follows through with plans for your next date. You are left with self-doubt, second-guessing your appearance, your personality, and your actions. You question the status of the relationship and become jealous of others whom your toxic partner may see. It's important to recognize that you are never truly at peace or able to feel at ease and consistently secure with your partner.

3. When you confront your partner about your upset, he or she turns the tables and blames you. 

Every now and again, you freak out and give your toxic partner a piece of your mind. Or you let them know how insecure and anxious you feel, and demand answers about whether they are really committed to your relationship. But no matter what you say, how you say it, or when you say it, your partner turns the tables on you and tells you all that you are doing wrong in the relationship. By the end of the conversation, you feel as if you are the bad partner, or that you have done things to cause your partner to mistreat you. Recognize that turning the tables in this way is a strategy your toxic partner uses in order to never have to take responsibility for how his or her behavior impacts you.

4. You are consumed with this relationship. 

All you think about — well, almost all — is your toxic love relationship. You think about when you will see your partner next, how you can be more alluring, what you can say or wear to keep your toxic partner desiring you. You also spend a great amount of time filled with worry and self-doubt about whether the relationship is healthy, and if you will ever get what you need form your partner. If you are not with the person, you are lonely, and you have few other deep relationships to fill the void, because you have compartmentalized your life so as to not let friends or family know about your toxic union. You actually fear that your loved ones will tell you to end the relationship, and so you avoid getting deep with other people. You need to recognize that this relationship is taking over your entire identity.

If your relationship is a toxic one, rationalizing or denying it will only perpetuate the problem and make it impossible to grow into a healthier pattern of loving. Your capacity for joy and fulfillment and your ability to reach your full potential increase when you are with a healthy partner.

  • Even if a pattern of toxic love describes your relationship, there is a way out of the spiral. I describe in my workbook, Toxic Love: 5 Steps, specific strategies for both how to overcome this pattern, and also how 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.' For more, follow her on Twitter @DrJillWeber and on Facebook, or visit drjillweber.com

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