A bad relationship can hurt more than your feelings.
Relationships are, in a word, complicated. Most of the time, they can be a good thing. In a significant other, you may have a friend to confide in after a long workday, a family member who offers support and a fresh perspective, or a partner with whom you can face the future. (And, ideally, you have someone who will make the coffee before you even wake up.)
But bad relationships exist, too — and they may even impact your health. People enter and remain in toxic relationships for a host of reasons. Romantic relationships that are or have turned toxic are often tied to a psychological process called idealization.
Idealization, or the idea of an “ideal” partner, is rooted in unconscious or semi-conscious desires that have been influenced by cultural and biological forces, according to Linda E. Weinberger, professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Those influences basically blind people to the red flags that can be so obvious to friends and family — and, typically, everyone except the person involved.
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Whether you’re aware of it or not, a toxic relationship may negatively impact your physical and mental health. It can make you feel insecure or bad about yourself, leave you feeling drained and unhappy, place pressure on you to change something about yourself or may even be physically and emotionally harmful.
Beyond the mental health implications, the effects of being in a bad relationship can impact your physical health. One study found that being in a negative relationship puts people at a higher risk of developing heart problems (such as a fatal heart attack) than those in healthy relationships.
In another study, researchers found that women with high levels of conflict in their relationships tend to also have high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure and high rates of obesity. Research has even found that hostile relationships can slow wound healing.
There may be other physical repercussions, too, primarily in the form of stress on your body. Constant tension or serious conflicts in a relationship can keep your body in flight-or-flight mode all the time, spurring your body to produce adrenaline and quickly discard the excess. This can eventually lead to fatigue, a weakened immune system and even organ damage.
The good news is that there’s an obvious solution — and it’s one worth seriously considering, if only for the sake of your health. You can either repair the relationship (if the other person is willing) or end it altogether. Because one thing is clear: A bad relationship is not worth the toll it can have on your body.
By Deanna Pai
If you’re in Southern California, make an appointment with one of our primary care specialists. To schedule an appointment, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.