There is one question that is guaranteed to keep us from moving forward after a toxic relationship.  One question that keeps us stuck and one question that haunts us each and every day.


Why did he think that?  Why did she say that? Why didn’t they get more counseling after their traumatic childhood? Why can’t they just be nice?  Why does everything have to be so difficult? Why don’t they understand what I am saying?  Why do they think I’m cheating?  Why do they hate me?  Why would they say that?

Living in a toxic relationship means your mind is constantly racing with questions of why.  Yet, there is an incredibly simple answer that explains everything; they feel better when they hurt you.  

Studies have shown that certain pleasure sensors within the brain light up in bullies when they are able to power over another individual.  People imagining abuse think about toxic people “losing it” when they get angry, but victims of toxic relationships know that the scariest moments of cruelty are often calm and calculated.  Toxic people get pleasure from your pain.  It is like a drug, they feed off of it.  And, the more they hurt you the more pleasure they get – as long as it isn’t in front of anyone of course.  If they have the opportunity to look good or need to gain your trust again then they will be kind for a time.  However, they always go back to hurting you.  It is simply fun for them.  Think about that…it is fun for them.

When we find ourselves stuck in a cycle of why’s then we aren’t moving forward.  We aren’t healing and we aren’t taking any actionable steps to improve our lives.  In our hearts we have secretly known the answer for years, yet because we don’t like the answer we continue to try to find a solution.  Because, if we can find a solution then we can do something, anything to keep life moving forward with this person.  If we find a solution then we can feel good about ourselves because we are doing our best to make things work.  If we find a solution then there is hope.

If we can figure out why he thinks that then we can change ourselves in the hopes of changing his thoughts.  If we can figure out why she does that then we can change ourselves in the hopes of changing her actions.   If we can figure out why they act that way then we can change ourselves in the hope of feeling loved.

If I can figure out why she said that then I can change what I do so she doesn’t say that again.  

If I can figure why they didn’t get counseling when they were younger then I can talk them into counseling now.

If I can figure out why they don’t feel like being nice to me then I can change myself so they will be nice to me next time.

If I can communicate what I need then they won’t make everything so difficult.  Surely they aren’t doing it on purpose, right?

If I can figure out what I am saying wrong then I can say it differently next time.  

If I can figure out why they think I am cheating then I can stay away from that situation so they will believe I am faithful.  I would never cheat on them!  If I can prove it then they will stop accusing me of it.

If I can figure out what I do to make them so angry then we will be able to get along.  I will finally be able to have peace.  

Asking why leads us to try to figure things out.  And, trying to figure things out and change leads us to focus on ourselves.  And, when we spend our time focusing on what we can change about ourselves then we don’t focus on their contribution to the problem.  And, when we don’t focus on their part of the problem then we end up doing all the work of the relationship without realizing it.  And, when we do all the work of the relationship then they don’t have to do any of the work of the relationship!  They can just sit back and watch us spin our wheels in effort and confusion.  The game continues because doing the work of the relationship makes us feel as if there is something we can do to make things better!  

But the entire game is that we never get control.  The entire game is that they have the power because it makes them feel good for us to feel helpless.  The entire game is that they think it is fun to make us work and work and never make any progress.  The entire game is that they always win…and we don’t even realize it.

Don’t waste your time asking why.  You already have the answer.  Being mean to you simply makes them happy.  Adapt your life accordingly.  Most importantly stop asking “Why?” and start asking “How?”

“How can I learn more about the game of a toxic relationship?”

“How can I be wise so I am not doing all the work of a relationship?”

“How can I set appropriate boundaries to care for myself and others?”

“How can I get the help I need to clear the confusing thoughts in my head?”

“How can I be strong enough to survive my own life?”

Simply asking “How” instead of “Why” is the first step toward taking action and taking your life back.  Don’t get stuck in a life of “Why?”  Ask “How” and take one step and then another and then another until you can walk forward to your next best life rather than continuing to walk in circles.


Sarah K Ramsey