Self, Heartbreak

5 Fears That Keep Women Stuck In Toxic, Dead-End Relationships

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how do you end up in a toxic relationship

First, what typifies a toxic, dead-end relationship?

  • He criticizes you all the time. You’re too clingy, too smothering, too needy, too short, too tall, too flat-chested, too “you.”
  • He’s inconsistent with his affections. You think there may be Other Women sniffing around and even breaching your relationship perimeter.
  • He won't commit. Every time you want him to commit to ANYTHING (this can even be the next time you’re going to see each other, let alone when he might deign to marry you), he suddenly gets hives, becomes mute, disappears for days at a time, grows a beard and goes into the Witness Protection Program in Iowa. You get the point.

How do you end up in a toxic relationship? Well, if you’re in one of these relationships and have been for some time, even though you know you need to get out, these are the five fears that might be keeping you stuck and their antidotes.

1. We prefer the Devil we know to the Devil we don’t know.

Once we’re sexually and emotionally hooked to a non-commital, toxic guy this is usually when their disrespectful behavior kicks in and our self-esteem and self-confidence take a major hit. The only way to stop this from happening is to get out of the relationship as fast possible.

But once we’re hooked, like any drug, we need more and more of the toxic guy just to get even. And the more we mainline him, the more dependent we become, which means the toxic guy owns and controls us.

And toxic guys know how to keep us hooked by demeaning us to the point where we honestly believe no one better could ever love us because we’re quite simply too flawed for anyone better to love. And so it follows we’re compelled to stay with our familiar Devil.

Fear antidote: Make a list of all of the criticisms your toxic guy has leveled at you then share them with an objective person you trust (a close friend, a therapist, a sponsor, someone in your religious community) to get a reality check. Are you the person your toxic guy has painted? Are you a different person when you’re with him than when you’re not?

For instance, maybe you are needy and clingy with him because you don’t trust him. Whereas you’re confident and independent in relationships with people you know you can trust.

Now make a second list of all the ways you are beautiful and badass and share that list with that same objective person. Look at both of your lists and ask yourself which girl you want to embrace. Then take steps to make it happen.

2. We’re afraid that if we leave the dead-end relationship, we may never have children.

This is a very real fear for women in their mid-30s to early 40s. Our eggs do have an expiration date and there will be a time we’re too old to conceive.

This was absolutely one of my greatest fears about leaving my final dead-end relationship when I was in my early 30s. It was only when I’d reached rock-bottom in the relationship (another woman in my bed, or panties-that-weren’t-mine evidence thereof) that I thought about what it would actually be like to have a child with my toxic boyfriend.

Fear antidote: I tried to imagine how a child would be affected by living in a home with two people who were always at odds and worried this child might feel he had to take care of me the way I’d taken care of my own mom when she was in a toxic relationship with my stepfather. I knew I didn’t want that for my hypothetical child.

So when your fear of ending up childless kicks in, take a deep breath and remember, it’s not just enough to have a child. You need more than that. You need a loving, supportive, stable relationship to raise that child in.

Don’t let your biology make you put the cart before the horse. Heal yourself and your relationships first, then keep the door open for a child to come into your life, not solely through your womb, but by any unexpected, wonderful means possible.

3. We're afraid it’s always the wrong time to make the Toxic Guy accountable for his bad behavior.

What you’ll find is that toxic men have myriad reasons for why they behave the way they do.

They’ve had a sad and painful childhood that still affects them today. They’re struggling at work. Their ex-wife is draining them. Their children are burdensome and troubled. They have high cholesterol, low serotonin, not enough testosterone, bipolar disorder, plantar fasciitis and the beat goes on.

And have you noticed that whenever we need more from the toxic guy in our lives, his life has never been more challenging?

Once you get sober from your addiction to the toxic guy you’ll realize that his life is in a perpetual state of chaos. The bottom line: there is no good excuse for hurtful behavior and never a good time to hold the toxic guy accountable.

Fear antidote: Make a list of how you’d like to be treated. Give it to your toxic guy and tell him these are your relationship requirements. Awareness creates change. And have your own back, don’t abandon yourself when he says you’re too demanding.

4. We’re afraid if we leave the toxic relationship something awful will happen to our man.

This one is especially true for those of us who were responsible for a parent when we were a child. Maybe our parent was a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or co-dependent with a toxic partner when we were growing up. Because of this, there’s an inchoate, primal fear that the one we love will perish without our intervention and care.

I can remember sitting in the Agape church in Culver City weeping my eyes out as I prayed to God (even though I’d heretofore been agnostic) to take care of my fragile ex-boyfriend who’d done everything he could to destroy our relationship, but whom I didn’t want to hold accountable.

Two weeks of sheer guilty hell went by. I was certain I was going to receive a phone call at any moment from my guy’s mother telling me of his self-inflicted demise.

Fear antidote: Instead, I came home from work one night to discover a note tucked into my screen door from my guy’s new girlfriend, Jenny, wanting to know if I thought he might be a sex addict. So much for the loss of my love sealing his doom.

5. We're scared that our toxic, dead-end guy will take everything he learned from us and give it to the next girl.

She will become his wife and the mother of his children and they will be happy, proving all of the negative things he said about us were true.

Fear antidote: It’s not our business to think about whether the toxic guy will change, it’s only our business to change ourselves. So instead of thinking about your toxic guy’s potentially perfect future, make a list of all of the POSITIVE THINGS that could happen for you once you get let go of your fears and step out of the dead-end relationship.

Here are the positive things that happened to me once I hung up my cleats and left the toxic turf:

  1. I was afraid no one better would love me. I started dating my now-husband three months after ending my toxic relationship and he’s so lovely he makes me want to be a better person. Like Helen Hunt made Jack Nicholson feel. Only I’m Jack Nicholson.
  2. I was afraid that if I left my ex I might never meet and fall in love with a man soon enough to have children. I now not only have two daughters, but I also have the great fortune of raising them in a stable, loving home.
  3. I was always afraid it was the wrong time to make my guy accountable for his behavior. There was never a good time. There was always a crisis in his life usually stemming from the other ladies he had hidden in the cupboards.
  4. I was afraid my guy would perish without me. Within days he had a new girlfriend he was already making nuts.
  5. I was afraid my guy would give future women everything he didn’t give me. I recently discovered that my ex is indeed married. I have no idea whether or not the marriage is a happy one, but because I’ve found happiness myself, in my finer moments, I wish all the best for my ex and especially for the woman he made his wife.


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This article was originally published at The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.