Have you or a friend ever been in a relationship where the other person was a little too needy, controlling, or demanding? Too often we can see the effects of how an unhealthy relationship can affect someone mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
So how would you know if your relationship is toxic or unhealthy? This is an excellent question that unfortunately we should be asking ourselves. We can see in the world around us through news, social media, and movies/TV that unhealthy relationships are quite common and even promoted. The truth of the matter is that we live in a fallen world that grapples with sin. We live in a world of toxic and broken relationships, emotional wounds, and ultimately abuse.
While God made us for the truest love, in unity with Himself, we know that through the original sin of Adam and Eve humans struggle to know what healthy and normal love looks like. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it’s almost as if they put on dirty goggles that prevented them from seeing love clearly. Our faith through Scripture and Tradition shows us that God is love. Through our own fallen nature as humans, we struggle to clearly see the authentic love God calls us to through His Son Jesus Christ. Society makes this even harder to see and it is easy for us to perceive toxic relationships as even normal and good. With current Netflix rom-com’s, Snapchat, and movies like Fifty Shades of Grey, toxic, unhealthy, and even abusive behaviors in relationships have become accepted as normal and even expected.
Don’t Settle with Your Soul
An easy way to reflect on your own relationship is to ask these questions:
Am I settling in this relationship?
Is this relationship bringing me closer to Christ?
Is this relationship building me up emotionally, mentally, spiritually?
Our God, who is Love itself, will never call you to settle. He will not call you to compromise your beliefs, self-worth, or your body. God is calling you for the highest of loves and not its counterfeits. A mark of a truly healthy relationship will be walking with someone closer to God not away from it. God calls us to mental, emotional, and relational health with ourselves and others. Toxic relationships tear us away from God and those we love. They make it harder for us to love ourselves as God loves us and damage or mental and emotional health. Toxic relationships often make it harder to pray and grow in our faith and community. Let’s take a look at some real red flags of toxic relationships that are harmful to our relationships with God, others, and ourselves.
Red Flags of Toxic Relationships
Not Defining the Relationship
God, creator of the entire universe, didn’t create you to be a side-chick/dude or to be in some nebulous dating relationship-thingy. God created you with dignity and clarity and for the truest of loves. Healthy relationships have clear expectations and understanding of the relationship’s purpose and direction.
Everything is Your Fault
The big three in relationships to avoid are blaming, minimizing, and denying. Toxic habits involve being blamed for everything that goes wrong, being told that you are exaggerating and making too big of a deal out of something, or being told you are crazy or lying about what they have said or done to you. Christ-centered relationships require true and equal accountability and honesty with yourself and others.
Relationships that involve pressure for sex or to send nudes are far from healthy and are abusive. Lust is using another for sexual pleasure and true love will never make demands for you to compromise your self-worth, dignity, beliefs, and especially your body. If someone is using you for sex, emotional dependence, or even money they do not have the best in mind for you, they do not love you.
Healthy relationships don’t require one of you to be the other’s savior or therapist. Too many people go for the “project” boyfriend or girlfriend trying to mold him/her to their fantasy. Christ-centered relationships require discernment while initially dating and being real about the relationship instead of imposing an image on the other.
Toxic relationships will often put down or criticize friends, family, faith, or interests. Toxic relationships can involve one person trying to isolate the other from those who might point out red flags and who really care about them. Healthy relationships don’t involve being with one another 100% of the time (not even marriage is like that). Healthy relationships will support you in intentionally spending time with friends, ministry, hobbies and with family.
You’d hope this was an obvious one but it is so common. Verbal abuse is any type of put-downs, name calling, or yelling. It can start with jokes but can lead to criticisms and abuse. As a child of God, you are made for more than to be yelled at, cussed at, and called names or threatened. Healthy relationships require mutual respect without exceptions and require that when problems and conflict do arise that you both know how to handle conflict appropriately
Getting Out of a Toxic Relationship
These red flags are serious signs that a relationship is toxic. If you are reading this article and checking off boxes then it’s important to understand that these are real red flags of abuse in relationships. If you or someone you know is experiencing these things then this moment is a chance to get help. It is important to break the silence. Here are a few steps to take to get out of a toxic relationship.
Talk to your parents, friends, Youth Minister, or priest
Seek out examples of healthy relationships around you – turn to Scripture and the Saints for models of love
Build a foundation of support with people who care about you to break it off
Be prepared to feel guilty and lonely when breaking it off
Fight the denial and the temptation to justify toxic behaviors
Be prepared to fight the urge to run back to the relationship (sadly this is super common)
Be prepared to sever ties and reaffirm healthy boundaries, again and again
Take to prayer God’s plan for love for you and know that He is calling you for healthy, selfless love with Himself at the center.
Our Catholic faith proclaims to us our dignity as Sons and Daughters of our Heavenly Father. You are not made for toxicity, but for holiness, for peace, and for God. God calls us to speak truth and live life and love to the fullest. God will give you the grace to live as He calls us to. Ask for His grace to live a healthier, holier, and happier life and use the tools and talents He has set before you.
© Adam Cross, 2018.