Why You Can’t “Work Out” A Toxic Relationship

We often make the mistake of assuming all relationships start off with the same premise. This is understandable since we tend to give people the “benefit of the doubt” or assume everyone is inherently the same at their core. We also interpret private and public displays of affection and interest to come from the same basis we share with those behaviors.

Basically, our bias blinds us to reality.

You see, healthy relationships come from an entirely different motivation than toxic ones. Attraction, interest, and a desire for companionship and sex are common between most relationships. Then come the differences.

These differences show up in how the individuals respond to the nature and individuality of the other person.

It comes down to this:

1) Healthy relationships operate from respect

2) Unhealthy relationships operate from control

Healthy people respect the other person’s difference. They negotiate space and accommodation for each other’s nature and difference. This is often what couples call “working out the relationship”. They’re softening the sharp edges, gently adapting a mutual identity and belonging in the world together.

This comes from understanding that the other person is a PERSON and has their own feelings, wants, thoughts, needs, perspectives, and shape. They respect this. They honor it. When both honor each other, the natural gaps that are there will appear and they can bridge them through cooperation, adaptation, and understanding.

They are in the relationship because they want to experience life with that person. They like that person as they are. They have a lot of fun and play together. They work out their differences and gaps. This is the “work” of a healthy relationship.

Unhealthy people come from the premise of controlling each other. One is likely trying to adsorb and please the other (the codependent) and the other is using their partner for supply (the abusive/toxic/narc person).

What is supply? Supply is whatever regulates the self-esteem, image, and emotions of another person. “I need you so I feel better.” Is a statement I’ve heard many times from abusive people. They use their often submissive partner as a source for their own regulation by taking out their feelings on that person through tantrums, rages, sulkings, and poutings. They literally throw fits like 3 year olds do.

They also depend on their partner for their sense of value, demanding the partner give them praise, attention, and appreciation for the very little they often do to contribute to the family or the relationship. They are very bitter and resentful when they do not get this supply or they perceive the partner giving someone else a portion of it. You see this especially in how the toxic person reacts to the attention children take from them.

This is why saying no to a toxic person often results in a nuclear meltdown and then silent treatment. The abusive person is resistant to accountability and correction. Often they will cry victim, blame-shift, and avoid responsibility for their behaviors. Sometimes they’ll make a sudden shift into accountability and “enlightenment” when they see they’ve ultimately lost (usually after a divorce has happened or the partner has left them).

This can confuse people and trick them into thinking the abuser has changed. Yet the abuser continues to try to get their former partner to accept their change and take them back.

Abusers lack self-awareness. They do not understand their impact on others. They struggle to comprehend that people are separate from them and owe them nothing. They are not entitled to anything.

This is why you cannot “work it out”. They don’t want to change. They don’t’ want to connect. They want supply. And that means they want their partner to return to the old way of relating.

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