The word “toxic” refers to behaviors,
attitudes, and philosophies
that cripple or destroy relationships.
Question: Dear Mr. Brennen: I am presently on my twentieth intimate
relationship since 1990. I seem to mess up every time. I am very good at
attracting women but not good at keeping them. I get really deeply involved in
their lives until they find out the truth about me. I usually end up hurting
them. When one relationship is over, I must find someone else to love and be
intimate with. If I do not find another partner, I may have a
depression and become suicidal until I find another partner to
get excited over again. What can I do?
Answer: Dear friend: It is evident that you are developing injurious
or toxic relationships. You seem to be as James Henslin, sociologist describes a
mania or ludus lover. "A manic lover cannot tolerate loss of contact with a
love object, even for short periods of time, and is distressed by a lack of the
lover’s presence or anticipated interaction" (Henslin, 1989). A manic
lover is one who tries to manipulate the behavior or feelings of the one he or
she loves, "but because he or she seems to be bereft of logic, often
succeeds only in looking foolish in his or her own eyes." Mania is usually
associated with low self-esteem and a poor self-concept.
Ludus lovers are generally those lovers who "play" love affairs as
he or she plays games or puzzles--to win, to get the greatest rewards for the
least cost. A ludic lover does not like long-range plans, and is careful not to
date the same person often enough to create the illusion of a stable
relationship. "For a ludic lover sex is totally self-centered and may be
exploitative rather than symbolic of a relationship" (Ibid.).
This certainly describes toxic intimacy. Here are several important points to
understand about toxic intimacy.
1) Toxic intimacy occurs when someone is
obsessed with finding someone to love. Usually the development of self is not a
priority. Therefore, low self-esteem is evident, which can lead to depression.
This combination of low self-esteem and the obsession to find someone to love,
makes it impossible to establish stable relationships. Since one is dependent on
another person to feel good, but lacks what is needed to hold on to the
relationship, one would enter a cycle of first finding another lover, then
enjoying the thrill and excitement in the novel relationship which shortly ends
in pain and despair. This pain and despair only end when he or she enters
another relationship. It is a vicious cycle.
2) Toxic intimacy occurs when there is a need for immediate gratification.
That is the toxic lover wants to move the relationship too fast, skipping
developmental steps toward intimacy. He or she can’t wait and may be so
impatient that demands are made on the partner that are usually detrimental to
the progress of the relationship. There is plenty of pressure for sex and/or
3) Toxic intimacy happens also when there is a power and control struggle in
the relationship. Toxic lovers have difficulty not being "in charge"
in the relationship. Sometimes the toxic lover may try to isolate his or her
lover from friends and maybe family members. Usually they want to spend a lot of
time alone with the partner under the disguise that having too many friends may
destroy the relationship.
4) In toxic intimacy, there are usually attempts to change the partner to
meet one’s needs. Any attempt to change the partner is unhealthy. Many times
women are convinced that they can change their lover’s negative behavior. They
live each day on hope and denial until a cancerous sore of jealously and
manipulation ruins the relationship.
5) This introduces the next point. Toxic relationships are usually
relationships based on delusion and avoidance of the unpleasant. It is very
difficult to admit that what you suspect about your partner is true and might be
detrimental to the life of the relationship, especially if your own self esteem
is dependent of the very existence of the relationship. Many times toxic lovers
are so blinded by the obsession to love someone that they would deny even the
very obvious evil behaviors in his/her lover no matter how unpleasant it is.
These are just some of the points about toxic intimacy I feel are important
in helping better understand yourself. What can you do now? Here are a few
things you can do.
1) Place the development of self as first priority. People
who feel good about themselves make better married partners. If you do not have
a positive self-concept before marriage, you will not find it after marriage.
Remember you have the freedom of choice. No one should pressure anyone in a
3) Take time in your relationship. Desire long-term contentment.
Develop the relationship step by step.
4) Let there be a balance of mutuality in
the relationship. Treat your partner with respect. Each one should feel of equal
value in the relationship.
5) There should be compromise and negotiation in
relationship. There should be no struggle for leadership. Be open-minded and
honest with yourself and with each other.
Barrington H. Brennen
6) Allow sex to grow out of friendship
and caring. It is futile to think that friendship can grow out of sex.
to share your needs and feelings with your partner. Get in touch with yourself.
It is only when you can reach into your own heart that you can truly appreciate
what your partner means to you.
Dear friend, take time to examine your life. It might be painful, but it will
be the first step in building the foundation for healthy, long lasting
relationships. Unfortunately, men and women who do not place the development
self as first priority in their lives usually end up with similar partners. The
partner also has low self-esteem or has patterns of behavior that cause painful,
short-term relationships. With these thoughts, you can move from toxic intimacy
to healthy intimacy.
Barrington Brennen is a marriage and family therapist, board
certified clinical psychotherapist, nationally certified
psychologist. 1242 327 1980