We often talk about how it feels to be in an unhealthy relationship, but we give less thought to how toxic relationships affect your health. Like any prolonged stressful experience, it's bound to have some physical and mental effects, right? After all, we all know that staying with a toxic partner is bad for your heart figuratively, but is it possible that it's bad for your heart literally, too?
According to Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist and relationship coach, the answer is yes: Being in a toxic relationship can, in fact, be bad for your actual health. "Settling for a toxic relationship creates a false sense of intimacy, hope, trust, and disillusionment in the relationship," she says. "Over time and because these feelings are often unexpressed, [a toxic relationship] can result in creating anxiety and/or depression, which can manifest themselves as other chronic illnesses further down the line." As it turns out, protecting your heart may literally mean protecting your heart.
So what should you do if you think you're caught in a bad-for-you romance? Well, it's worth considering what it's doing to your mind and body.
Toxic Relationships Take A Toll On Your Mental Health
If it feels like your unhealthy relationship is making you feel bonkers, that’s because it is. Early in relationships, when infatuation is at an all-time high, there is a temptation to brush aside the red flags your partner may exhibit. But the problem with this, as Silva explains, is that, by doing so, you may "mistakenly idealize an undeserving person [and] prolong the struggles the relationship brings."
"[You] risk having your self-esteem negatively impacted, which can result in depressive symptoms," she continues, "This can be you withdrawing from things you used to enjoy, excessive alcohol or drug use, [or] increased irritability." So yes, what you're feeling is real, and the longer you're exposed to the toxic behavior, the longer the impact on your emotional well-being will last.
Your Immune System Takes A Hit, Too
It's not all in your head. Remaining in an emotionally unhealthy relationship can also impact your physical health as well. It all comes down to the stress it puts on your body. "Dealing with a toxic relationship creates chronic stress and anxiety that reduces your immune system, making you vulnerable to several other chronic physical illnesses, including heart disease, chronic respiratory disorders, and gastrointestinal conditions,” says Silva. And the sooner you deal with the problem, the better. She continues, “When people with these disorders have gone untreated, these diseases are more difficult to treat and their physical symptoms often become worse."
OK, so that all sounds scary, but it’s not all doom and gloom; you do still have some options for healing both your body and your mind. According to Silva, the best treatment plan is to find a safe way to get out of the relationship. "For optimal health, cultivate a social support network that will make you aware of changes in your behavior. In many cases, the best course of action is to leave the relationship," she says. And it's best to do so sooner rather than later, if you're able to.
In other words, if this year your goal is to focus on your wellness and health, it’s time to add dropping your toxic partner to the to-do list. It’s just another way to take care of your heart — in this case, literally.
If you or someone you know may be in trouble in a relationship, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit the website here.
Check out the entire Gen Why series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.
Check out the “Best of Elite Daily” stream in the Bustle App for more stories just like this!