Relationship Advice

4 toxic relationship types to avoid


The definition of a dysfunctional relationship is commonly agreed to be a relationship that causes more emotional turmoil than satisfaction. Often people don’t know they have got involved in a dysfunctional relationship until they are well and truly in it and struggling to get out. To help you avoid finding yourself in one here are the four most common dysfunctional relationship types and their warning signs.

1. Codependent

The term “co-dependent” generally means any person who focuses on another person in order to gain some kind of control over them. Co-dependency can look very much like love because it is a mental obsession with someone else’s business – all the love songs are full of this kind of sentiment ‘I can’t get you off my mind’ or ‘I can’t live, if living is without you’. This complete absorption with the object of our affection only becomes dysfunctional when it starts causing painful emotional turmoil and stops you from getting on and living your own life.

Warning sign – a person who is happy when you are, sad when you are and wants to do all they can to control your moods, behaviour and has little or no life of their own outside of the relationship.

2. Bullying or abusive

There are usually lots of little warning signs that a relationship has the potential to become abusive. Abuse isn’t just about physical violence, people can be verbally and emotionally abusive too undermining their victim’s self-esteem gradually over time. You may not spot the signs on the first few dates, it’s often not until a conflict arises that the bully or abuser shows themselves and most often it is through a sharp comment, put down or what looks like a temper tantrum leaving you feeling guilty and confused as to what you did to prompt such a violent response. This is the key – you feel responsible for provoking their bad behavior. When things have calmed down this will often be reinforced by the abuser, they may be the one who gets the apology even though in your heart you are sure you didn’t do anything wrong.

Warning signs – violent displays of temper; an inability to see what they did wrong (often pointing it out will lead to another outburst); a history of previous abuse either as a victim or a perpetrator; the feeling that you can’t be emotionally honest for fear of triggering their anger.

3. Parental mirroring

This is a very common problem – either one or both parties have unresolved issues with a parent and are ‘acting out’ the old dysfunctional pattern with a new partner. Unconsciously we mirror the primary relationships we witnessed as a child. If the relationship was healthy and functioning that is all well and good – our parents were good role models. What is often the case is that a dysfunctional upbringing is recreated – sometimes with startling accuracy, like when a woman with an alcoholic father ends up married to an alcoholic even though it has caused her so much pain growing up. People are often drawn to partners who are strikingly similar in looks, manner and characteristics as their parent of the opposite sex.

There are various psychological explanations as to why this happens. For those involved there is often an awareness that all is not well coupled with an almost magnetic pull to stick with it because it feels so familiar.

Warning signs – your partner shares many characteristics with your dysfunctional parent (or you theirs); you often feel very young and childlike within the relationship and as though your feelings are out of control or your partner treats you as though you are a parent by being rebellious, defiant and childlike.

4. Lack of intimacy

The thing that separates friends from lovers is intimacy – physical and emotional. Sexual intimacy is a natural and healthy part of adult life. Unfortunately sex is also the largest potential area of dysfunction when it comes to emotional development because it is so caught up with moral, religious and social education.

Every couple will have times when they have little or no sex and that is natural too – intimacy isn’t just about the physical act – this area becomes dysfunctional when one or both partners are not getting their needs for sex, warmth or affection fulfilled within the relationship and feel frustrated as a result.

Warning signs – not as much affection or warmth as you would like right at the beginning of the relationship; a pre-existing problem in this area that hasn’t been addressed.

If your relationship falls into any one of these categories it does not mean that it is doomed to failure. An awareness of the problem is half the battle when it comes to solving it. Talk to your partner, get professional help if needed and remember that most relationships have some level of dysfunction in them, it’s what you do with it that counts.

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19 thoughts on “4 toxic relationship types to avoid

  1. I would add a fifth – with one in 3 girls and women being hit by a male peer or partner – and the male media, particularly porn, promoting a psychopathic understanding of female humans being fundamentally different than male humans in their ability to withstand pain, humiliation and insults, I would add that many men are exhibiting psychopathic behaviour and attitudes towards females in direct proportion to the number of men using pornography, nearly all of which normalises and promotes psychopathic storylines and real behaviour without a single health warning about how this behaviour in reality is defined as violent and abusive and is likely to result in any existing family relationships with females breaking down and possible arrest and imprisonment if tried out on women around you.

  2. Why do women not educate their men? Give them an idea what pleasure is and how to play sexuality. Sex is a game between lovers. Having sex just does not start 10min before; it starts in the morning. Actually it starts with a healthy work life balance. A porn can be part of the game.
    But work life balance is heavily influencing a healthy sexual relationship. And this is the point where women must start to change their behaviour. Just think about the pressure a men has when he needs to provide alone for a family. He needs to accept all the usual bullying and difficult social relationship at work without often even the option to say bye bye to a rubbish job.
    Women with the crazy idea to stay at home as they are the best person to raise the kids? Mad! Kids need to be under kids as soon as possible. Mine were in nursery starting from the age of 8 month and they are the best kind of behaviour and performance.
    I only want to say just saying porn is bad is rubbish. All in good time. Like everything also a healthy and nice sex life has many components. The most important is work life balance for every member of a family. And women can do a lot by reducing their demands towards materiality, sucess or by changing their picture of the perfect family.

  3. I have experienced verbal abuse from a partner and I didn’t realise what was happening until about 15 months into the relationship. I was made to feel useless, stupid and guilty – he blamed me for a lot of things, and that nothing else mattered apart from doing what he wanted me to do. I’m extremely cautious now because of this experience. Identifying the warning signs of abuse, both verbally and physically, are so important. You can end up being trapped in because your self esteem is so low and you’ve been told over and over again that you will not be able to cope without them. Any unreasonable demands or harsh put downs are definitely the start of it. Definitely a toxic type to steer clear from!

  4. Vickiw, I disagree.
    Prior to the internet no one had the power to publish any kind of art. Publishing was expensive. The status quo, therefore, was often considered as all that there was and all that there could be. The internet has brought about a new revolution whereby the cost of communication has gone through the floor. With an internet connection publishing has become free. As a result, all forms of expression, that were previously controlled by a small minority, has exploded. Possibly the most drastic of these is the world of pornography. I grant you, pornography has historically for the most part been a betrayal of seemingly meaningless misogyny. But now, with the democratic effect that the web has brought about, the 21st century is witness to a much richer spectrum of erotica. Whereas before we had barbies caked in makeup, now we have sculptures illustrated with light and shadow to create photographic art. Whereas before we had facetious discrimination, we now have declarations of love accompanied with writings full of meaning and insight.

    I won’t go into the philosophy behind domination but what I will say is that it doesn’t have to involve pain or punishment and that such a feature can be healthily enjoyed by both men and women in all shades of its realisation.

    To witness how erotica can be portrayed as art and empowering to both sex’s, search for baby girl / daddy blogs on tumblr.

    Just to be clear, Just like the next person I too am extremely uncomfortable with frivolous portrayals of violence and degradation. And this is why I am so relieved to see how everyday people are exercising their freedom to express their voice of what they want to see and what that is is something rich in content and context.

  5. carol culleton

    June 17, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    i was abused physacally for 13 years by my bad tempered husband,i left him when i was 30,i am now 52 and have never had a relationship since ,i feel safer on my own men scare me,the mental scars never leave a woman,its is very lonley without a partner,but safer

  6. God these are so accurate it’s scary, having Been on the receiving end of number two and acting out number one I seriously understand why my last relationship failed but hey as long as we all learn from past mistakes and notice what was wrong with it, surely it can only lead into a happy relationship at some point in the future :-) happy days going forward

  7. Just recognised myself as one of the points, uncomfortable reading but rather know and deal with the issue.

  8. Dear Vickiw,
    It sounds to me as though you have had some personal experience of abuse, which as you know takes many forms. It is an insidious erosion of ones self esteem and confidence, degrading and damaging. I apologise if am incorrect and wish no offence, but if you are having to live with the aftermath of abuse, there are many organisations available for confidential counselling of a specific nature; nearly all are accessible by phone. Good luck.

  9. I would like to ask the following. I have a loving incredible relationship with someone on equal terms. There is just something which I need to ask outside of this relationship. He used to get caned in boarding school. Although he dreaded the canings, he eventually enjoyed them at the same time. He asked whether I would cane him if that need gets so bad he goes into depression. At the same time, he said his love is greater than the need and that he would never demand it of me. I love him for his honesty and at the same time, the very thought of hurting your loved one is foreign to me. On the other hand, my mind also tells me that if I really love the man then its’ok. He has been to psychoatrists and they all agree there is no cure. Can anyone comment as to how acceptable such bedroom behaviour is? I just would like an outside opinion. Thank you

  10. I’m convinced that emotional abuse/ manipulation in its many forms is one of the most prevalent types of toxic relationships. And contrary to popular belief, men do not have a monopoly on this sort of abuse: it is practised by both women and men. In my own personal experience, it can be manifested even in seemingly benign email communications: a correspondent will refuse to answer even the most basic questions about her motives in posting her profile on eharmony and yet ask all sorts of intrusive and inappropriate questions about a man’s motives. Or after a brief exchange of emails, a woman will begin to offer a series of unwanted and sweeping judgements about a man’s character and his motives. And next come the small criticisms, which start to accumulate, and then the ultimatums – all couched in the most reasonable language. If you begin a correspondence with someone on eharmony and they start to exhibit these patterns of behaviour, I’d strongly advise you to politely and firmly end that correspondence!

  11. Dear dfanon,

    I appreciate and value your input. However, I am talking about someone who is not on this dating site. It is someone I met through associations, who, as it happened per chance is connected to my past back in 1973. We’ve met then and through some miracle have connected again by accident.
    Will you comment on this please?

  12. Dear Ruth,

    As you suggest, my previous posting was more general in nature.

    In response to your message in 9, I personally believe that fantasy and play is a wonderful part of the healthy and normal sexual intimacy that can be shared by a couple. But your situation is somewhat complicated by the fact that what your partner is requesting of you seems to be more connected to a childhood trauma, which somehow became eroticised and is still evidently unresolved. It’s clearly an issue that your partner himself has some ambivalence over (witness his desire to reassure you that he’d never “demand” it of you). It obviously brings him a large amount of shame and depression as well as guilty pleasure. I wonder therefore if helping to feed your partner’s neurotic, masochistic desire is actually healthy. Would it help him to move past the pain of his childhood trauma? Most importantly, would it be pleasurable for both of you? Would it bring greater intimacy and understanding between the two of you?

    It’s nice to hear that the two of you share an “incredible loving relationship on equal terms”. This is quite rare. But your partner’s issue does not seem to be the sort of fantasy/pleasuring that can be shared by both of you. You say that psychiatrists have told him his ailment is incurable. Did he tell you this? Do you have independent confirmation of what he claims? It seems to me that the two of you should consult a marriage and relationship counsellor together to sort out this issue.

    Best of luck with this!

  13. I find the title of this article a little inappropriate. Yes journalism requires an element of sensationalism to appeal to our curiosity but it seems to overload the negative aspects of the complexities of relationships which invariably contain all the above elements to some degree. A Jungian or anthropological deconstruction would suggest all relationships contain these parameters. I am not defending any of the behavioural patterns and note that the article has many helpful suggestions for those caught in the negative aspects of the architypes. Perhaps the writer is primarily focusing thoughts towards women as historically they are more often than not the victim? Of course we are now living in a period where both sexes are redesigning post modern society which is complex and pluralisitic, especially Great Britian. Just don’t forget we are still fundamentally animals however clever we think we are.

  14. No:1 i agree with vickiW comments. Porn is wrong on so many levels.

  15. Wo/men who think porn is bad, and degrading to women are mad,men also play a part in the roles of porn?? its a fantasy role, usually played by 2 or more people and clearly people who have issues with watching it or there partners watching it are just insecure about themselves and need to get help to resolve their own issues. sorry if i seem harsh, but i have no problems watching it and acting out similar roles with my partner it brings a little excitement into the bedroom, maybe if there was a little more excitement about people would’nt go looking elsewhere to find it!

  16. Hi there, been there done that…..i didnt realise what the relationship was until i was six years into it…from being a confident outgoing socialble lady i was left a nervous hermit….i got out last october…but only just realising my worth! I am lonely therefore I am trying eharmony to see if I can fill the void..

  17. In response to the issues involving pornography raised by vickiW and commented on by Donna and Amanda I most definitely agree with Amanda. I am a 25 year old male so I am one of those “kids” who is often mentioned who “grew up” on pornography. Well, I admit that like many other guys I know I first started to look at porn (and pleasure myself to it, I wasn’t just looking out of curiousity haha) when I was about 12 years old, in 6th grade. And although what I watched was “vanilla” for a while it wasn’t long before I branched out into the more kinky stuff. And here is my main point: even with all that, early exposure, my thoughts on porn (and from what I remember my friends mostly agree) is that it is media made as entertainment, to stimulate people sexually, and the actors in it are obviously following a “script” of sorts (more like directions lots of the time), performing certain sexual acts designed to appeal to the sexual appetites of the target audience. Even at 14 or so I intuitively understood what was “normal” sex or “loving sex”, compared to what was sexual encounters designed to exhibit people observing certain fetishes and to appeal to people who have that fetish (I use fetish colloquially; I don’t mean attraction to some object but I mean certain sexualized situations/aesthetics/large body parts appeal to some people very strongly, often more so than intercourse).

    I found out during the movie Goldeneye (google “Youtube goldeneye Xenia scissors” if you don’t know what I’m talking about) after seeing the scenes where Xenia sexually dominated, scratched and bit, and wildly squeezed men between her strong thighs to the point that they coulden’t breathe that I myself had a strong kink/fetish/whatever for being dominated by a woman. I’ve since looked at a lot of stuff called “femdom” where a man is being dominated by a woman (i.e. a dominatrix), and I love it. This gives me a very solid perspective to respond to Viki’s grossly lopsided analysis of the entire realm of pornography, and brings me to my key points:
    (1) Look around on the internet and you’ll see that it is almost as common to see men being dominated by women as it is vice versa . (2) Even as a 14 year old child I could understand that these videos involving domination were in no way presenting material that was worthy of being used to develop one’s view of human nature. If I thought like you did, Vicki, I would have grown up assuming that most women were secretly sexual sadists and got off on dominating and humiliating men, and that men have a lot more tolerance for abuse in general than women (which is not true; abuse harms both sexes severely). Sure, as a kid the acts you see repeatedly in what you know is “vanilla” porn do help to shape your impression of what sex is like and things to do during it, but that variety of porn contains no “abuse” of women.

    (2) As someone who enjoys S&M, as a submissive who likes being dominated, I can see how Vicki must be one of the many people who are not at all into that (nothing wrong with that of course), and drew conclusions based on her gut instincts when she was first exposed to/or read about porn involving a man dominating a woman. Note that I don’t say “porn with a women being physically and emotionally abused and degraded by a man”. To explain the complex inner drives that make some of us love being sexually dominated (or dominating others sexually) would take way too long, but it involves the thrill of power exchange as well as creating a “hypersexual” feeling in each partner. Now, porn is porn and the actress involved may have not really been a submissive but in real life every sane man knows and usually does not desire to ABUSE his female partner during sex. The scenes you describe are usually depicted what is supposed to be a submissive woman and a dominant man, and they are designed to appeal to those who share one of those labels. Trust me, getting spanked, thrown around, called names, hair pulled, and other things that are too graphic to describe here are very arousing and fun for the submissive, and for the dominant. When I am dominated I love it; even though “humiliation” can be part of the play we both know we both get pleasure out of it, so nobody is degraded in reality. Its the same in the porns you described. Partners who engage in that style of play are aware of the other’s preference and are doing it to please them as well as themselves. It is in NO WAY a SOCIAL STATEMENT about how its right to in general treat women that way. Porn is a genera of fantasy… I understood that at 12, apparently you still don’t. You woulden’t watch The Wizard of OZ and assume that older women are either ugly and mean and nasty, or the opposite, pretty and kind and wise (the wicked witch of the west and good with of the north or whatever it was haha). You apply the context of the film to what you see. People do the same with porn, and most of it is not seen as media with much educational value. Now, I will admit there are porn sites that portray women being “forced” into domination and “abused”, but again its a fantasy and some men like it, personally I find it distasteful and unarousing, but lots of us are turned on by fantasizing about things that we would never do/want to happen in real life. Take people who are aroused by fantasizing about being raped, or men who like to watch women kick men in the groin as they dominate them. Neither probably wants that to happen in real life (despite my fetish I have no desire to be kicked there myself), and men who get turned on by the fantasy of forced domination of women probably know that it would be very wrong to ever attempt what those sites portray in real life (more exteme porn like that may start to show general trends among its audience, but still what I said about fantasy remains true as well).

    Vicki, those pornos you mentioned need no warning saying that the behaviors in them, if done by a man to some random unwilling woman, would be violent and abusive. At 14 I understood that; its completely obvious. And no no no, the vast majority does NOT portray that. And if the film is depicting a submissive woman who loves the experience with a dominant man who does as well and knows that it is OK to do what he does to her because she desires and consents to it, the reality is no abuse, normalizations, portrayals of society, or anything else like that occurs in them. I also agree with what was said above, the way you responded in an angry, irrational rant about pornography to an article that was about problem relationships (and did not even MENTION porn) strongly suggests that you have a skewed point of view on the topic of flawed relationships, and I would guess it has something to do with porn having been (or still being) a cause of many problems in your relationship(s). Sure, it does in some, but in others, like in mine, it provides an imaginative, safe, harmless outlet a few times a week when I want “relief” and my partner is not around. And growing up it gave me a safe way to fulfill my sexual urges without feeling compelled to act them out and risk getting an STD or a girl pregnant.

    Don’t take this comment to mean that I think porn is 100% good and I am a huge fan of it, thats not the case, I know it can cause sexual and romantic problems in relationships when people allow their expectations of sex to mirror what happens (and what people look like) in their favorite genera of porn. Or when people have compulsions to spend way too much time with it at the expense of their partner. But those are extremes, and so is what was said about porn in a couple of the other comments. Since I thought I could offer good insight into the domination aspect of which Mrs. Vicki was misguided (and apparently extremely angry and bitter) about, I decided to reply.

  18. The warning signs of abusive/controlling relationships are often there in the early stages of dating. If someone plays silly games with you, it would suggest that their idea of a relationship is one which is given validity through a master/servant dialectic. If someone comes on far too strong, is too intense, or doesn’t respect your personal boundaries, again this all indicates a desire for power and control. If you find yourself in a situation like this, get out fast. Been there, done that and wore (the now thrown away) T-shirt!

  19. I’m not sure how or from where to start.
    Being married for several years has not amounted to a union in any sense. I have had to constantly organize and plan everything. Even whilst away on trips; my days have been wrecked by the lack of communication.

    I’m not sure if I am over reacting but I’d like to know if I can save my marriage, if I am not doing everything right.
    Any advice is gratefully received.

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