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Do toxic relationships last?

Toxic relationships are unhealthy relationships that are characterized by behaviors that cause emotional or physical damage to one or both partners. These relationships tend to be very dramatic, unpredictable, and emotionally draining. While the highs can be exhilarating, the lows can be extremely damaging. There are some key signs that can help identify a toxic relationship, as well as reasons why people stay in them. Understanding the dynamics of a toxic relationship can provide insight into whether they are able to be repaired or if ending the relationship is the healthiest option.

What constitutes a toxic relationship?

There are some common patterns seen in toxic relationships:

  • Poor communication – Partners may struggle to communicate their feelings and needs. There is little vulnerability or empathy present.
  • Unhealthy attachment – Partners may be overly clingy and dependent or avoidant and withdrawing. There is an imbalance of needs being met.
  • Jealousy and possessiveness – Extreme jealousy and attempts to control or isolate one’s partner are common.
  • Dishonesty – Deception, infidelity, and betrayal are common occurrences.
  • Volatility – Frequent dramatic fights, outbursts of anger, and mood swings characterize the dynamic.
  • Disrespect – Partners are dismissive, critical, and contemptuous towards each other.
  • Power imbalance – One partner dominates and seeks to maintain control of the relationship.
  • Emotional or physical abuse – Toxic relationships may involve emotional manipulation or physical violence.

The presence of even a few of these unhealthy patterns constitutes a toxic relationship. Both people involved tend to engage in behaviors that are damaging. Even if only one partner exhibits toxic behaviors, the relationship dynamic itself becomes unhealthy.

Why do people stay in toxic relationships?

There are many complex reasons why people remain in toxic relationships, even when they feel unhappy, stressed, or unsafe:

  • Trauma bonding – The highs and lows create an addictive attachment, making it hard to leave.
  • Fear – People may worry their partner will retaliate or they won’t be able to make it on their own.
  • Guilt and obligation – Some feel guilty about abandoning their partner or not keeping their commitment.
  • Low self-esteem – Those with poor self-worth don’t feel they deserve better treatment.
  • Hope – People hope their partner will change or the relationship will get better.
  • Love – Even in a toxic relationship, one can still feel love for their partner.
  • Isolation – Controlling or abusive partners intentionally isolate victims from support.
  • Normalization – Those who grew up around unhealthy relationships may not recognize toxicity.

Despite the pain these relationships cause, the reasons people stay are complex and valid. However, remaining in toxic relationships long-term comes at a huge cost to mental and physical health.

Are toxic relationships sustainable?

While toxic relationships can last for many years, they tend to follow predictable patterns that make long-term sustainability difficult:

  • There is a repeating cycle of abuse that keeps the relationship unstable.
  • Partners become increasingly emotionally damaged, affecting mental health.
  • The toxicity tends to escalate over time, getting progressively worse.
  • The relationship is emotionally exhausting, causing partners to burnout.
  • Time spent trying to repair issues detracts from other areas of life.
  • Physical illness can result from prolonged stress.

In the long run, the chaos and emotional damage makes these relationships unsustainable. Trying to continually smooth things over and recover from explosive fights becomes too draining. However, people may stay for years hoping their partner will change or the relationship will improve before finally reaching a breaking point.

Short term vs. long term

In the short term, the excitement and passion can outweigh the toxicity. However, harm begins compounding the longer one stays:

Short term Long term
Drama and chaos can feel exciting Repeated volatility increases emotional damage and physical stress
Making up provides a high The cycle of fighting and making up becomes increasingly draining
Attachment and hope they will change Disappointment when unhealthy patterns remain
Efforts focused on saving the relationship Burnout trying to repair things long term

While someone may stay in hopes their partner will change, long-term exposure to toxicity inevitably takes an emotional toll. The damage and stress compounds over years in unhealthy relationships.

Can toxic relationships get better?

With commitment from both partners, toxic relationships can sometimes improve. Certain conditions make success more likely:

  • Both partners take accountability for their role.
  • There is openness to learn and grow.
  • Each person seeks individual counseling.
  • Partners engage in couples counseling.
  • Healthy boundaries are established.
  • Communication skills improve over time.
  • Each person commits to change.
  • The relationship ends if real change does not occur.

However, true change requires humility and self-awareness from both people. If one partner remains in denial about their behavior, the relationship likely won’t improve. Additionally, some relationships become too damaged to properly repair.

When is it time to let go?

Ending a toxic relationship may be the healthiest choice in some situations:

  • Abusive behaviors are present – Any form of emotional, verbal, sexual, or physical abuse.
  • One partner resists change – If they remain defensive and won’t acknowledge issues.
  • Damage is too extensive – Partners may reach an emotional breaking point.
  • Trust is completely broken – Infidelity or patterns of deception destroy trust.
  • Safety is at risk – A partner fears for their overall well-being and safety.

Leaving a toxic or abusive relationship can be extremely difficult. Having social support and seeking professional help can provide guidance during the transition out of an unhealthy dynamic.


Toxic relationships can last for years, but tend to become increasingly unhealthy over time. While some relationships can improve with commitment to change, others become too damaged to properly repair. Recognizing toxicity early and intervening with counseling provides the best chance. However, letting go of some relationships is necessary to preserve mental and physical well-being in the long run.