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Is Your Toxic Partner Making You Sick?

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

parrots arguing

What Is A Toxic Relationship?

Toxic relationships bring us consistent negativity in our lives and are when one or both partners exhibit patterns of abusive behavior, manipulation, or control. Such relationships are problematic and can profoundly destroy our emotional, mental, and physical health. They strain our ability to connect with others in healthy ways and keep us from living our best lives.

Toxic relationships are not exclusive to romantic partnerships and can be part of our lives through family, friends, and professional relationships. In the context of this guide, the primary focus is on romantic relationships. Nevertheless, most of the insights provided here can also be effectively used to navigate any toxic relationship.

When you are in a toxic relationship, you may find your self-worth is diminished and feel as though you are constantly walking on eggshells, bracing for an emotional storm from your partner at any moment.

Toxic relationships often cause feelings of shame, guilt, disrespect, betrayal, and emotional exhaustion. They may even cause you to feel as though you are not worthy of kindness, respect, and love. There is often a sense of losing a sense of your personal boundaries, and it is challenging to distinguish where they end and your partner begins.

Toxic relationships prevent us from receiving the love and health we deserve.

The Stress From A Toxic Partner

When you are with a partner who lacks emotional intelligence, the constant turmoil of the relationship will create incredible stress, leading to not just psychological tension but can make you physically sick.

Many partners of such unhealthy individuals do not fully comprehend how their unhealthy relationship affects their health until it is too late, and their stress has manifested into damage to their body. In some cases, that damage can be irreversible.

If you are in a relationship with a partner who is chronically triggered, angered, defensive, or reactive, it sends a clear message that expressing your feelings and truths is unsafe. Living in an emotionally, mentally, or physically unsafe environment creates incredible stress.

How A Toxic Partner Impacts Our Lives

A toxic partner can trigger chronic stress the longer we stay in a relationship with them. This stress can create a destructive ripple effect that impacts our mind and body. Physical reactions to stress will release stress hormones such as cortisol which can cause a slew of health issues.

Often toxic partners seek ways to isolate us from other people in our life so that they can have control over our sense of self-esteem. Over time, this can lead to the development of mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).

There can also be additional challenges impacting our ability to work. Abuse can disrupt our career, leading to job loss or financial instability due to the constant stress and inability to focus.

Ways Your Toxic Relationship Can Make You Sick

Chronic stress can cause all sorts of health issues. Let's explore some of the examples of how a toxic relationship can make you sick:

  • Relationship stress can contribute to the wear and tear of the cardiovascular system and increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
  • Immune system disruption, which is when your immune system is dysregulated can make you more susceptible to infections and slow recovery from illness or injuries.
  • Relationship stress can cause digestive issues like stomach aches, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. Over time, this can lead to more serious conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other gastrointestinal problems.
  • Sleep disruption can occur from dealing with a toxic partner, making it hard to fall or stay asleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to various health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
  • Chronic stress from an abusive partner is linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.
  • Relationship stress can lead to overeating and under-eating, both of which can cause serious health issues over time.
  • Stress from a toxic relationship can lead to irregular menstrual cycles and painful periods and can exacerbate the symptoms of menopause. It can also lead to impotence and lower sperm count.
  • Chronic stress from your relationship can cause memory and concentration issues which, over time, can lead to cognitive decline.
  • Stress from a toxic partner can cause and exacerbate skin conditions like eczema, acne, and psoriasis and can also lead to hair loss in some people.
  • Relationship stress may also increase the risk or severity of chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Stress in a relationship can cause reduction in libido, and sexual dysfunction. For more about this, see our Stress & Sex Guide.

Recognizing Toxic Behaviors in a Relationship

Knowing the signs of toxic behavior can be a game changer as it can help us tackle them immediately to protect our well-being. Let's delve into some of these toxic behaviors:

Being Controlling

When your partner tries to control many of the details in your life, such as where you go, who you see, and even what you may say, it's toxic. This typically comes from someone extraordinarily insecure but who often appears as dominating. It can also be done using emotional manipulation from the stance of playing the victim.

Your controlling partner will often assert that their perspective is the only correct way to see things and insist that you fall in line with what makes them most comfortable. It is an attempt by them for you to surrender your power to them.

Constant Criticism & Disrespect

Constructive criticism is a healthy part of relationships. However, when someone constantly criticizes you and does so in a manner that has little respect for you, they are attempting to chip away at your self-esteem to have power over you.

It can take the form of ignoring boundaries, name-calling, or belittling your accomplishments. Such behaviors are a far cry from providing beneficial guidance; rather, they are steeped in a lack of empathy.

Engaging with them often leaves you feeling emotionally exhausted, like a reservoir persistently drained and never refilled.

Playing The Victim

When a partner consistently seeks sympathy and assistance without asserting their own sense of responsibility, they are exhibiting signs that they are a perpetual victim.

This toxic behavior is used to manipulate you to redirect their own accountability into blaming you or demanding that you take responsibility for their filling needs.

This is an example of an emotional vampire who can feel like a black hole of neediness, sucking you dry of energy and leaving you feeling like no matter what you do for them, it is never enough, and you are always in the wrong or to blame.

When people act like a victim in relation to a problem they created, it is a form of self-defense, deflecting blame to others or external circumstances. These individuals will find it difficult or impossible to learn from their mistakes or to make positive changes in their lives because their focus is on externalizing blame rather than on introspection and self-improvement.


Similar to those who play the victim, those who feel entitled to take your time, resources, and emotional energy without offering anything in return are displaying entitlement.

Healthy relationships have a balance of give and take, whereas an entitled partner will always look for ways that you can continually provide for them while giving little to nothing in return.

Poor Communication

For a relationship to be healthy, it is essential to communicate with one another, but someone who avoids dealing with issues that impact the relationship is neglecting you.

When people react with anger or withdrawal when we invite them into a conversation about deeper feelings and needs, this discomfort often masks a profound fear of vulnerability.

Some people habitually avoid these conversations, even devalue them, dismissing their importance altogether. This dismissal of emotional exploration tends to create an environment fraught with the potential for misunderstandings and resentment. It erodes trust, the bedrock of all relationships. It paves the way for emotional damage and a loss of connection.

Discrediting & Jealousy

When a partner can't bear to see you succeed and looks for ways to discredit you under the guise of superiority, they are behaving in a toxic manner. When they attempt to belittle even the most trivial of your victories, it is vital to remember that this isn't a reflection of your worth but rather a symptom of their deep-seated insecurities.

Jealousy in a toxic relationship can come from fear of abandonment, an unmet need for validation, or a pattern of emotional starvation stemming from past traumas. Toxic relationships often function on the dynamics of power and control, where jealousy can be used as a weapon to manipulate and maintain dominance.

There are healthier ways to cope with our insecurities, such as acknowledging and embracing our vulnerabilities and seeking the courage to grow from them. At the end of the day, it is our choice to have the courage to face our vulnerability, and partners who choose not to do this are creating problems in their relationships.

Manipulation & Gaslighting

When you're up against manipulation and gaslighting in a relationship, it becomes even more challenging to hold onto your sense of self. This is often accompanied by feeling isolated in your relationship, where you feel loyalty to your partner but begin to lose yourself in the toxic world they are creating for you.

Manipulation can take on many forms, for example, it might show up as guilt trips and blame. This kind of emotional maneuvering isn't about love or connection. It's about power. It's about one person exerting control over another to get what they want.

Then there's gaslighting, a psychological manipulation that makes you question your own experiences and perceptions. It's a soul-crushing tactic, one that makes you feel like you're losing your grip on reality.

When you are experiencing gaslighting, it is vital to understand that you're not going crazy. You're not remembering things wrong. But your partner wants you to think you are, to make you feel unstable, to pull the rug from under your feet and leave you on shaky ground.

When confronted with these tactics, remember it's about standing in your truth, even when someone tries to obscure it. Show up for yourself. Don't let someone else's need for control dictate your narrative. You have the power to write your own story.


An emotionally absent partner may show up physically, but their engagement with the shared moments is lacking. Such an experience can be incredibly disheartening, which is akin to ghosting within the relationship.

When this indifference seeps in, it often leaves you feeling unseen and unheard. We can find ourselves left with painful silences and loneliness. Yet we need more than physical presence; we need emotional connection; we deserve to be seen, heard, and valued.

What Should You Do If You Are In A Toxic Relationship?

Whether you are working on improving your relationship or deciding on whether to leave it, start by recognizing the signs of a toxic relationship and seek support from trusted friends, family, and even a therapist should you need it. Challenging a toxic partner is exceptionally difficult and will require self-reflection, feedback, and support.

Once you have the support you need, set boundaries and honor them by standing up for yourself in a respectful yet firm manner. If your partner does not acknowledge or exhibit a need to change, be clear about the consequences you intend to enforce should they refuse to honor your boundaries. This may involve seeking couples counseling or leaving the relationship.

If you are in an abusive relationship and your safety is of concern, discreetly reach out to local resources such as a domestic violence shelter to prepare yourself and be able to access them should you need them. They can offer counseling, helpful suggestions as well as housing, job placement, and other resources.

Remember, you are not alone, and you are always worthy of love and respect.

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