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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Is Your Relationship Making You Sick?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 22nd 2011

Is Your Relationship Making You Sick?Hypothetical Case:

"A couple, not married but living together, came to therapy seeking relief from their constant arguing, some of which became violent. Each blamed the other and it was impossible to discern who was really the instigator and who the victim. It's accurate to say that they each felt victimized. He felt chronically tired, angry and empty inside. She suffered from headaches, cold viruses, and heart palpitations since this relationship began. Neither knew what to do. Clearly, was desperate and were headed for disaster."

There are many articles reporting that marriage and other intimate relationships are good for health. The research seems to report this. For example, intimates seem to live longer, have lower blood pressure, fewer heart conditions and feel better as compared to those who remain single most or all of their lives.

However, it is important to ask about the health impact of those relationships filled with conflict and turmoil, such as in the hypothetical case above?

Research points to the fact that relationships characterized by lots of conflict have a negative impact on health. These negative relationships are referred to as "toxic."

Any relationship can be hazardous to your health. There are toxic work environments, coworkers, friendships, parents, as well as toxic intimate relationships. Two interesting facts about people in these negative relationships is that, 1. They do not seem to know they are in a toxic relationship even though they feel depressed, and, 2. They are bad for both medical and mental health. How is it possible that people don't know how bad their relationship is? The answer is that they tend to have low self esteem and to blame themselves for all of their problems.

Although no relationship is perfect and disagreement and arguments occur in the best of relationships, it is important to recognize the difference between what is toxic compared to what is not. Here are some characteristics of toxic relationships:

1. When you are together you experience feeling tired and unfulfilled.

2. The relationship causes you to feel bad about yourself, both before, during and after being together.

3. You feel threatened rather than safe when you are with this person or in this environment.

4. You feel as if you are the one who is always giving while your partner gives little or nothing.

5. There is lots of drama, conflict and anxiety in the relationship.

6. Your partner is never happy, appreciative and pleased with who you are. It feels to you as though you must change to make your partner happy.

None of this is healthy, uplifting, satisfying or pleasant. Instead, this type of thing reinforces the worst kinds of self feeling that are possible. How can being the target of constant criticism and verbal abuse possibly help anyone feel good about themselves? This can only result in feelings of frustration, inadequacy, self hate and depression.

It's important to recognize that you are in this type of relationship. The health hazards can be serious: heart condition, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, depression, extreme anxiety and more. Of course, there are many other causes for medical health problems. The fact that a person has a heart attack does not mean that their marriage was the cause. The causes of disease are many and complex. Unfortunately, even those in the best of marriages, friends, careers and coworkers can and do fatally ill. There is no immunity against certain facts of life.

Recognition that you are in a harmful environment is only the first step. The next step is to do something about it. Talking with your partner, getting their cooperation in making changes, finding a new job, changing careers, going to individual and marriage counseling are among the many things that can help. These along with exercise, eating healthy foods and using meditation and yoga are good at promoting health and relieving stress.

Ultimately, if your partner cannot and will not change it is then necessary to terminate the relationship.

In the hypothetical case above, the partners decide, between themselves but with the help of couples counseling that they are best off separating. 

I want to direct all of you to a wonderful article, from which much of this is taken, published in Psychology Today, by writer and psychologist, Sherrie Bourg Carter called, "Toxic Relationships: A Health Hazard."
The article can be found at:

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Talk out relationship problems. - Trivedi Effect - Jan 3rd 2015


Consider discussing your relationship problems with each other, relationship is very important for everyone. The sourness of your relationship can be solved by saying sorry to each other, try to listen your partner do not blame each other. 

This is really a great post, i like it. Thanks for sharing.

Love Can Make You Sick - Vickie Fowler - Apr 15th 2014

I can recall the feeling of exhiliration right before my ex would pick me up for a date...and the all consuming disappointment of miscommunication, feeling left out of his life, etc., etc., that soon took over.  I could never put my finger on why I kept feeling excited to see him again and again, only to be let down repeatedly.  Eventually, he explained that he "just isn't cut out for love".  Instead of causing me emotional (and eventual physical) pain, from the stress of it all, I wish he could've been honest, from the beginning.  Moreover, I wish I knew now what I didn't know then.  That gut feeling is always good to go with!  Thanks, I enjoyed the read!

More Than Marriage - Cathy - Aug 24th 2011

I think this applies to more than married couples or couples in general.  Really, it applies to all relationships.  I see people with friends and family that treat them absolutely terrible and keep them feeling degraded and upset all the time yet they are unable to break themselves free.  I cannot understand why someone chooses to remain with a "friend" who most obviously is not unless it is out of desperation.  So many people are emotionally dependent on others for their self image.  I don't know, friends and family sometimes are not worth the effort that they are played up to be and not nearly as necessary to one's well-being as they are destructive. 

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