Toxic Relationships

With his mouth the ungodly destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge the righteous are rescued” (Proverbs 11:9)

Our associations are of great concern to God as they have great influence in and over our lives.  While many verses speak to this, Proverbs 11:9 identifies the ungodly coupled with their communication and its devastating impact countered by God’s provision of preventative knowledge which rescues the righteous from toxic relationships.  Toxic relationships are those which supplant the fruit of the Sprit (Galatians 5:22, 23) in our lives with resentment, anger, strife, exasperation and ultimately loss of control often inflected upon those around us.  Per our text, God provides for our rescue: 

1. The toxic relationship is self-centered.  Such think exclusively of themselves, employing ulterior motives to their benefit.  This is a direct violation of Philippians 2:3–4, which says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

2. The toxic relationship is marked by upheaval and drama.  They weave a constant mesh of pretexts, deceits, untruths, and destabilizing circumstances that fatigue everyone else in their world in order to keep everyone’s focus upon them.  They are the example of Proverbs 18:7: “The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives.

3. The toxic relationship always asserts their incontrovertible positions.  Always right, they are intolerant of any differing opinion.  Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before a fall and a haughty spirit before destruction.” Self-importance dominates toxic people, leading not only to their own embarrassment if not destruction, but of those associated. 

4. The toxic relationship is marked by fear of contact.  Even the thought of interaction, knowing how twisted and vexing it will prove to you will not be so for the other party.  Unfazed, they not only cannot comprehend the dynamic, they certainly do not care how damaging an interaction may prove to your person or spirit.  Proverbs 20:3 instructs, “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.

5. The toxic relationship characterizes itself in the role of a victim.  Working to garner self-pity for personal gain, toxic people position themselves as the aggrieved party, misunderstood, mischaracterized, portraying themselves as innocent victims.  Playing on sympathies, outsiders are given a deceitful impression thereby rendering incorrect conclusions and characterizations which harm everyone associated, often fostering silent, incorrect judgments of friends or family.  In short, the epitomize Job 15:35: “They conceive trouble and give birth to evil, and their womb prepares deceit.

6. The toxic relationship is based upon untruth.  Toxic people lie more easily than they tell the truth and are so convincing that even those who know better question their own knowledge. Scripture has harsh words for the duplicitous.  God has a zero-tolerance policy for liars, and He is not fooled by any of their excuses: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). In fact, Proverbs 6:16–19 lists seven things the Lord hates, and lying is on the list twice.

We have been called to peace (Colossians 3:15), but a toxic relationship destroys peace. Some people are so abusive that they will not allow us to seek or broker peace in any area. When the relationship is continually filled with unwanted drama, when you find yourself dreading the next blowup, when you cannot believe anything this person says, or when someone is destroying your reputation and sanity, then it is time to create distance in the relationship.

Psalm 1 gives specific instructions about keeping away from wicked fools. We are blessed when we do not seek out friendships with them or listen to their counsel. Toxic people fit into that category. They are not content to destroy their own lives; they must take others with them. It helps to remember that you cannot change a toxic person, especially from within a toxic relationship. You cannot help toxic people unless they want to be helped.

People-pleasers are the most frequent victims of toxic relationships because they want the toxic person to like them. But there are times when closing the door on a relationship is the wisest thing you can do (Proverbs 22:24–25). If you are married to a toxic person who has turned your relationship into a toxic marriage, then a separation may be in order, along with some focused marital counselling. If you are not married, then it’s time to say goodbye.

In every situation involving a toxic relationship, take the matter to God in prayer. Cry out to “receive mercy and find grace” to help in the time of need (Hebrews 4:16). “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Petition the Lord unceasingly to change the heart of the person bringing the toxicity as there is hope and healing only in Him.