For many students, university is the ideal time to explore dating and relationships. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily a positive experience for everyone. Toxic relationships are a prevalent phenomenon among university students and can have many negative consequences for those involved in these relationships.

Dr Lillian Glass, a communication and psychology expert who says she coined the term in her 1995 book Toxic People, defines a toxic relationship as “any relationship [between people who] don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness”. Toxic relationships, according to Dr Glass, are consistently unpleasant and draining for the people in it, to the point that negative moments outweigh and outnumber the positive ones. Dr Kristen Fuller, a California-based family medicine physician who specialises in mental health, adds that toxic relationships are mentally, emotionally and possibly even physically damaging to one or both participants. Toxic relationships can include any form of violence, abuse or harassment. Toxic relationships can also include more subtle behaviours, such as jealousy, controlling behaviours, resentment, or a lack of support, explains Healthline.

Unhealthy relationships among university students have been increasing for several decades. A 2009 study by Teenage Research Unlimited confirmed that nearly one in three teens had experienced the most serious forms of dating violence and abuse, including sexual abuse, or threats of physical harm to a partner or self. Multiple studies have also reported that psychological abuse is found in as many as 88% of university students’ dating relationships.

A 2012 Providence College thesis explained that dating violence has been associated with many “harmful, lasting consequences”.
These consequences include “depression, anxiety, and lowered selfesteem”. Dating violence has also been linked to “eating disorders,
substance abuse, somatisation, suicidal ideation, lowered academic performance”, and other risky behaviours. Toxic relationships can also leave you feeling drained, explains Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Usually, selfcare and self-prioritisation are neglected. Time and mental energy in toxic relationships will often be spent on the other person — either directly or indirectly through the backlash of unremitting discord and strife.” Toxic relationships can also cause constant feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety, says Dr Glass. These consequences affect every part of one’s life, and can be very damaging to university students on an academic, emotional and physical level.

It is possible, according to Insider, to mend a toxic relationship if both parties are committed to trying. If, however, “one partner refuses to work on the relationship, repeatedly acts poorly — such as breaking relationship agreements, or belittling — or is emotionally, physically, financially, or sexually abusive, it’s time to make a plan to leave the relationship”. Meeting with a counsellor is also a great step to take in fixing a toxic relationship, explains Insider. “I really am a firm believer that you have to try to work everything out and understand why the person is toxic. You may be able to live with it — but on the other hand, you may not”, Dr Glass says. “[If you can’t], you’ve got to get out of it.”

It can be very difficult to try and resolve or possibly leave a toxic relationship. It can, however, be crucial in protecting one’s own mental and physical well-being. “Love should never cost you your peace. It should never cost you your joy. It should never cost you your happiness”, Carolyn Gamble, a Maryland-based motivational speaker who runs a nearly 7,000-person toxic relationships support group on Facebook says. “If there’s more negative in the situation than positive, something has to change.”

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I’m Kirsten, a law student who loves writing, making spreadsheets and consuming an unhealthy amount of caffeine.
I love writing about student issues and current events.