*The article below is written specifically concerning friendships and dating relationships. If the toxic relationship in question is a legal marriage, please consider pastoral counseling for much greater support and insight.
When we grow up in a religious environment, or when we get involved in religious matters, we come across the theme of love, and about the importance and duty to love everyone.
The two greatest commandments that the Lord has left us are: to love God above all things and to love one’s neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:29-34). These two are the essence of the Ten Commandments. They serve as a basis for understanding that we should love everyone, without exception.
However, because we learn about love and respect for others, we can often be tempted to hold on to toxic relationships because we believe that, as Christian women, we should love everyone. The concept is fantastic and beautiful, but what exactly does God want to tell us with that thought? Should we be in unhealthy relationships because we are Christians? How can we love everyone? Let’s see…
Identifying toxic relationships
A toxic relationship develops when one or both of the persons involved in the relationship have controlling behaviors, and there’s a dependence on attention or even the domination of the other’s life.
Here are some tell-tale signs that may indicate that you are in a toxic relationship. (It’s worth remembering that this goes for romantic relationships, but also for friendships.)
- Possessiveness and uncontrolled jealousy (would rather you be alone, is bothered at having to share your attention, has fits of jealousy, wants to control your social network or control who you can or cannot spend time with);
- Excessive criticism;
- Hypersensitivity (you have to be very careful to not hurt their feelings, and you begin to feel apprehension or fear of expressing yourself and hurting them);
- Unwillingness to communicate about problems;
- Loss of identity (you stop being you to please the other person);
- Competition and/or lack of support (your ideas are never considered, you always feel the tension because they need to be better at everything and “win”);
- Fights and constant arguments (involve incriminating and offending the other and generates emotional exhaustion. Dialogue and communication, on the other hand, are important and produce healthy growth and development);
- Lack of confidence;
- Abuse (in all senses, physical, forcing you to do something you don’t want to, or emotional, always making you feel guilty or wrong);
These are some of the signs to watch out for. It’s also possible that we may be the ones exhibiting toxic traits in the relationship. Or maybe this list has helped us identify someone harmful in our life. Here, I want to ask you to analyze and see if you have ever been this person, or if you have ever had someone like that in your life, or if you are in a toxic relationship at the moment and want to know what to do.
I’m in a toxic relationship, now what?
What can I do right now?
If you are or ever were the toxic person in any relationship, acknowledge your mistakes, ask God for forgiveness, and ask the person for forgiveness as well. And most importantly, work on yourself daily to never hurt yourself or others (this work may include seeking help from a professional who will be glad to help without judgment).
Now, if you believe that there is someone toxic in your life, and maybe that person is that way without even realizing it, and you want to give that relationship a second chance, the first step is to have a sincere conversation. With courage, let go of hate and accusations and lay bare the problem, the points you think are necessary to change so that the relationship can work. If the person doesn’t agree or doesn’t want to change, then the best thing to do is end the relationship.
It can be difficult, at first, to distance yourself from someone, to end a relationship. After all, despite all the bad times, it’s likely that there were also good times that make you rethink the decision. However, if someone is harming your life, whether it’s influencing you to do wrong things or constantly hurting your feelings, know that God loves you and can rewrite your story, giving you new friends or a healthy courtship that will help you on your Christian journey.
Don’t stay in toxic relationships for fear of abandonment or rejection. Trust God when you take that step. If you don’t feel strong enough, seek help from someone who truly does love and respect you.
Love as Christ loved
Perhaps at this point you are asking yourself: but if I am to love everyone, isn’t it my duty to love people, even toxic ones?
It may seem ironic, but yes, we must love all people, including those who are toxic, but that doesn’t mean that we must be in a close relationship with them. Try to forgive all the harm they have done to you; pray for them, and treat them with respect. Doing so will show love even if you have no close and direct contact with them.
But be careful, if this abusive person doesn’t accept the distance you’ve placed between you, then block them from your social media and/or seek help, but don’t get caught up in relationships that hurt you and even your relationship with God.
As we said earlier, God can and wants to grant you a beautiful story, healthy and lasting relationships, and, above all, to have you one day with Him in heaven. Don’t risk your happiness and salvation by choosing unhealthy relationships. Seek God’s direction and trust that He will do much more than you can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).