Engaged couple Marci and Dan were just two months away from their wedding day when they joined one of my seminars. We opened with a quiz asking all the participants to rate their relationship on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 on the scale equaling “fantastic” and 5 equaling “failing.” Dan rated their relationship a 4, and Marci a 5 – just two months away from their big day! Those high numbers could only mean one thing; their relationship was becoming toxic.
When I listened to Marci and Dan talk to one another this is how they sounded: "It's all your fault.” “You just want to keep fighting" "What's wrong with you?" "You're too controlling,” and "Don't be stupid.” Marci explained that she went on the "bride diet" so she could look her best in her wedding photos, and Dan suddenly turned into the food police "coaching" her on what she should and shouldn't eat.
"If he says, 'Don't eat that' one more time, I'm going to scream. Even though I know it's wrong, I lash out at him. Then he gets angry because he’s ‘only trying to help.’ We get in a fight and I end up with a headache."
Have you ever had your best friend, mother or spouse say something like those nasty sound bites to you? If you have, then you know how Marci and Dan felt. These are examples of toxic communication, which leads to toxic relationships. If you feel stuck, worn down and unsupported or you wonder why your best friend isn't the person you can count on when you need support, you may be in a toxic relationship.
Toxic relationships are seriously bad for your health. When you feel hurt or upset your body produces stress hormones, which may lead to illness. Once your body tightens up in response to upset feelings, you're may be in for a domino effect that includes shallow breathing, accelerated heart rate and stomach upset. Over time, these stress symptoms trigger stress-related illness. That's why Marci was getting headaches.
With Dr. Oz, I had the opportunity to work with another couple, Bill and Susan, who came on the show desperate for help. Unlike Marci and Dan, they’ve been married over 20 years, yet their relationship was extremely toxic and was having a life-threatening impact on Susan’s health. Their issue was that Bill loved to cook and cooked food high in fat and sugar, obviously making Susan’s diabetes much worse and her weight control impossible. He just couldn’t seem to hear or understand Susan's concerns. Bad listening can turn any relationship toxic.
If you recognize any of the toxic relationship signs I’ve mentioned above, just like our two couples, you may be wondering how this toxicity got started. We all learn our communication patterns in childhood – no, we're not blaming your parents! Think of it this way, it's like learning to tie your shoes; once you've learned it, it becomes a habit and you don’t have to think about it. Just like brushing your teeth and driving your car, we have relationship patterns that have become habits. Some of those habits are good and some really just don't work. We're all doing the best we can based on what we've learned so far. Once you identify a pattern and understand where you learned it, it's much easier to change it.