Stuck in a Toxic Relationship? 7 Hidden Reasons you Can’t Escape (and how to finally break free!)

by Coach Ellie
Until I caught my parents carrying wrapped gifts into the house on Christmas Eve, I believed in Santa. And, until my ex:
  • crammed all his late mother’s belongings into the living-room
  • refused to get a job and
  • demanded I provide room and board for his  father
 I believed I couldn’t land a better boyfriend.

What do you believe about relationships?

This is such a basic question.

Everybody would do well to ask themselves what, “being in a relationship” means to them. But especially for us love addicts, it is paramount that we ask ourselves this question.

For me, relationships have, unfortunately, been a way for me to measure my worth. All kinds of relationships, not just romantic ones. This is major aspect of recovery; seeing that my worth is NOT dependent on other people.

You are on autopilot

Before extracting myself from my abusive relationship, I never paused to reflect.

If you had asked me about relationships 10 years ago, I would have shrugged my shoulders. I would have mumbled some truism about “shared interests?”

Now I see: “what are relationships?” to be individual to the person asked and unique to any pairing or grouping. We are all in relation to each other. It’s unavoidable in that we all exist. But we can choose HOW we relate to one another.

Reciprocity is key.

These days I seek relationships that are supportive.
The goal is equal partnership. You get to learn about another person’s world and enjoy a reflection of your own. You are there for one another. The sum is greater than the parts.

But what about ROMANTIC relationships?

This concept, these words, “romantic” and “romance” like the word “tush” seem icky and outdated to me. And yet I struggle to find another word. What is it when two people want to have nice conversations AND smoosh body parts together?

This is where intimacy comes in.

We get into romantic relationships because we need intimacy. Unfortunately, we focus too much on sexual attraction and sexiness. And we under value the warmth and connection of honest intimacy.


The deliciousness of intimacy comes from combining the physical with the emotional. It’s literal and spiritual.

But too often love addicts miss out on this gourmet offering. We’re trapped eating Styrofoam because that’s what we were raised on (emotionally, that is). We confuse sexual attraction, pitying, rescuing and unreciprocated giving with love.

You lose the plot before the story even starts.

Unfortunately, we get into relationships to avoid ourselves.

The addiction took hold because we fundamentally reject who we are as individuals. We suffer low self-esteem because we think we should. That’s what we deserve. We got it in our heads, early on, that we aren’t worth much.

So we fake it to try to make it.

We want to look normal.

As a result, we end up performing the act of being in a relationship and get no real, nourishing connection. That’s not because we don’t want that bond! We grave it, very deeply actually. Sadly, we just don’t know how to recognize it because it wasn’t modeled for us.

Image by Andrea Placquadio on Pexels.

We stay because we don’t know any better.

Deep down, at a soul level, we know it’s not good. That’s because our family of origin, lacked comfort and encouragement. We love addicts come from troubled situations over which we had no control.

To want to be part of a tribe, a family, a couple is natural and healthy. It’s how we humans evolved. We aren’t house cats, we’re social creatures. Solitary confinement is harsh punishment in maximum security prisons, after all.

So it’s confusing for us.

Because, say we do have a partner. We do have someone to go home to. Yet once we get through the door, it’s frustrating and disappointing. We have no way of realizing that we are living in a hologram. We don’t have concrete experience of an actual, meaningful, nourishing relationship.
We grew up without the care we needed. And the thing is we still need it.
So we get trapped.

Typical reasons given for staying:

  1. Afraid of being alone

  2. Believe we are unlovable

  3. Know it’s bad but, have “no other options”

  4. Believe we can’t make it on our own

  5. Don’t want to be the person to hurt or “abandon” another

  6. Believe we won’t be able to find anyone better

  7. Think we don’t deserve better

Tragic, right?

My heart breaks, for myself and everyone else surviving in this mental prison. Our good friends and close family members can see we are in bad situations. They know we can do better. Yet, we don’t.

What makes us think we can’t do better?

Because it’s not so much what happened to us in our formative years as, what DID NOT happen. Our early experiences were with caregivers who were far too traumatized themselves.
That trauma could have looked like many things such as:
  • drug or alcohol addiction
  • workaholism
  • chronic illness in a family member
  • untreated grief
  • divorce
  • financial devastation
  • immigration challenges
  • and of course, untreated love addiction/codependence
This gets sticky because I am pointing at your mom and dad or whomever raised you. There is much defensiveness around this topic it’s hard to “go there.”

Look, I know that –if I had, had kids– I would have been kinda terrible.

I would have tried my best but, I also know that I would have been a mess. I would have been self-sacrificing. I would have also been expecting to be deeply appreciated for it.
I would have been a very needy parent. Not because I am a monster. Because I grew up too starved for attention; too many unmet needs. Yet, I also had no conscious understanding of this.
Parenthood is all giving. Not giving to get. But, that’s not possible for us hungry ghosts.

Ouch. Right?

So what’s the answer?


The recovery process makes us challenge all this self-hate and cultivate self-appreciation. It does not make us arrogant. Quite the contrary.

Recovery makes us see ourselves and others as error-prone but, lovable humans. The lack of early warmth and affection made us into vulnerable pray. Resulting in us hitching our wagons to partners whom we hope will save us.

How do we get out?

Gotta hit rock bottom.

It’s not until things go completely hay wire that, we start to investigate things. And then we find out we aren’t alone. Phew! What a relief! But then soon after we confront the hard truth: we’ve been cheated.

We accept that we have valid needs.

We learn that humans need nurturing from one another. And that the problem is in our thinking and in society. Too many of us are starving and desperate. We feed off of, rather than help each other.

We see that it’s a jungle out here.

Dating apps seem to be hosting the Hunger Games. Marriage are rushed into and abandoned. Men suffer from misogyny and women, misandry. It’s a real knife fight out here!

Fortunately though, some of us get so pushed to the edge that we finally choose a way out. We recover ourselves, maybe even find ourselves, finally for the first time. Lucky us!

You think I am being overly dramatic?

You think I am leaning too hard into the early childhood trauma stuff. I get that. In my marketing career, I was always promoting the power of email. Every solution was about cultivating a great email list. Need to cultivate a loyal audience? Email. Need to stretch that marketing dollar? Email. Think social media trumps email? Psh, no way Jose´, Email!

I harp on early childhood trauma everything I write. Maybe I have been brainwashed? I fail to think outside the box? I discount the genetic component? It’s all possible.

But in my own experience
  • and in that of my fellow travelers
  • and what I read in books
  • and see online
all signs point to our salad days (early freaking childhood).
Our upbringing is a thing we had no control over. It has scrambled out thinking and turned us into love addicts.

Let’s have mercy on ourselves. Shall we?

Messed-up belief about relationships example one:

My ex once berated me in the car, after we finished dining with a friend of mine, about eating with chopsticks. He found it very unsanitary and uncivilized to eat  from shared plates. It’s OK to not want to do that. However, what is not OK is to yell at me with contempt and judgment.

He could have said something at the table. And then scooped out his individual portions to protect himself from our germs. Problem solved.

As a love addict I  took his abuse. I believed there was nothing I could say or do about it. I receded  into myself. I was in learned helplessness by this point.

Messed-up belief about relationships example two:

My ex went to his high school reunion without me because he found me embarrassing. He didn’t think I dressed well enough or had the right pedigree for him to be seen with me. One afternoon, he asked me to leave our apartment, the rent for which I was paying. He had invited his wealthy friends over and wanted to look good for them (minus me).

I complied. I believed his need to impress was more important than me being treated as his equal. I literally disappeared myself.


  • It is imperative that we ask ourselves “What are relationships?” because, we have twisted beliefs about them.
  • Romantic relationships have out-sized meaning to us.
  • We over value what others think of us.
  • We confuse intimacy with sex.
  • We use romantic relationships to bolster our confidence and to “look normal.”
  • We stay in bad relationships because we don’t want to be alone. We fear we can’t do better.
  • We had chaotic childhoods and thus screwy attachment styles.
  • We tend to have to hit hard, hard rock bottoms before we will leave a bad relationship.
  • Recovery from love addiction requires confronting hard truths about our childhoods.
  • In recovery, we learn that we are “perfectly imperfect.” Our value is inherent.
  • It’s painful when we realize what we didn’t get as kids (and how we behave  as a result)
  • Because we grew-up in chaos, we become control seeking, depressed adults.
  • We take a long time to hit rock bottom because healthy relationships were not modeled for us. We don’t know what we are missing.
Santa is a fun hoax. And even though Santa isn’t coming to save you for Xmas, you can! You just need to do the work or recovery.
But what do you believe?

Next Steps:

Struggling to decide if you need to leave? Schedule a free, no obligation,  discovery call with me to see if coaching with me could help you get clarity and move forward.

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