Soul Talk: Toxic Love


Some people are familiar with such relationships, some are themselves stuck in one: sometimes we get caught in people who definitely do us no good; a life between closeness and coldness, love and suffering, always at the narrow degree of high flight and deep fall, a roller coaster of emotions, the purest nerve carousel. You have a toxic relationship with a toxic partner. There is no antidote yet. We talked to a couple therapist, Christian von Uhl, who explained us the signs of a toxic partner and why it is so difficult to break free.

What describes a toxic relationship?

There is no general definition of a so-called “toxic relationship”, nor is it a medical diagnosis. Rather, this term has established itself colloquially for those relationships that act like poisons and still hold us under their spell. People in a toxic relationship know exactly that the relationship is not good for them – and yet they do not manage to break away from it; every small signal from their partner is enough to hope for further improvement and ultimately remain disappointed and hurt.

People who suffer from a toxic relationship suffer from insufficiently fulfilled needs, devaluations and insults (often subtle) by the partner. In the long run no one can stand it, it is only a matter of time until the soul gets sick underneath.

How do we recognize a toxic partner?

With a few exceptions, there is not THE toxic partner, there are only toxic relationships. This is like poisoning: a poison only leads to poisoning when it reaches the human organism in a relevant minimum dose. So it takes two to do this. As a rule, people only gradually feel that they are in a toxic relationship. It starts with an uneasiness, the feeling that something is wrong. As time goes by, it becomes increasingly clear that the relationship is not fulfilling, but destructive, marked by devaluations, abuse, injuries, and at the same time seemingly impossible to break away from, as in an addiction.

Is there an antidote?

Yes, four stages are decisive: First, the recognition of living in a toxic relationship. Second, the recognition, the partner (experienced as toxic) cannot be changed, either because he does not want it or because he cannot. Third, the recognition, IN the relationship a solution is not possible, because it would mean to be able to maintain the relationship only at the price of one’s own suffering. Fourth, the strengthening of an inner attitude to be allowed to be worth more to oneself than “only” to have earned a toxic relationship.

Is a toxic partner, a narcissistic partner? And what is so special about a toxic person?

As we have seen, there is not THE toxic partner. Nevertheless, narcissistic, egocentric, selfish partners are often experienced as toxic. For such people, the themes of power, inappropriate self-love and dominance play a special role in relationships, often subconsciously; an idea of equal relationships is known to them in theory, but not in practice.

Here it becomes clear why a toxic relationship always requires both partners. The other partner is involved at the beginning, arranges himself with the ideas of the toxic partner, because on the one hand he defines loyalty and hopes that everything will get better.

Why is it so difficult for the other person to come loose? Can it be compared to an addiction?

Yes, as we have already seen above, in many cases this can be described as an addiction. The separation is so difficult, because there are always also lovable sides to the other. In addition, the often subconscious self-conception is to subordinate oneself to the other in a partnership.

What kind of contact do you recommend for this?

That depends on the toxicity. The lower it is, the more likely it is to develop an equal, constructive, appreciative relationship through awareness and joint discussion. The more the toxicity increases, couple or individual therapies are recommended, either to establish a healthy relationship through this support or – if all this does not help – to bring about the strength and clarity for a separation.

About Christoph Uhl

Christoph Uhl, born in 1966, is a systemic therapist and one of the leading couple therapists in Berlin. He has been active for over 20 years in supporting private and professional concerns as well as in the training and further education of therapists. Additional qualifications in transactional analysis and organizational development, among others, with training stations in the USA, Japan and China. Member of the European Association for Supervision and Coaching (EASC).

Have you ever experienced toxic love? What would be your advice against it?
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