Is Your Relationship Toxic?

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There are few things more frustrating than watching a good friend of yours in a horrible relationship. No matter what you say or the advice you give, they seem to have all of the emotional survival instincts of a depressed sea captain, determinedly going down with (and on) the HRMS Douchebag all the way to the bottom of the Atlantic.

“I’ll never let go, Rose. Not while you still have shreds of your self-esteem left.”

I should know. My friends love reminding me about mine.

Back in the bad old days, I was notoriously prone for my poor-decision skills when it came to women and relationships. I was a bubbling stew of low self-esteem, a defeatist attitude towards dating and the dogged belief that I couldn’t do any better, and that was never more evident than in the way I related to the opposite sex. If I wasn’t chasing after women because I thought I could get what I wanted from them (i.e. sex) without giving a damn about how it might affect them, I was enduring relationships with women I should have long broken up with because I thought… well, because I didn’t know any better.

It was a period of extreme frustration for my friends and family because they felt so damn helpless watching me piss my self-worth away and not knowing how to wake me up to what was really going on. At the risk of quoting song lyrics, when a man thinks he loves a woman, he tends to be willing to overlook a lot… and I was willing to overlook the fact that I was fucking miserable. I had convinced myself that I was in love with the woman I was dating – and to an extent, I was – and that meant that I was willfully blind to just how bad the relationship was and how much damage it was doing to me and to my friends. Part of it was, admittedly, because I thought that this was the best that I could do but another part was the fact that I just couldn’t see how toxic my relationship with this woman had become.

After all, like the poet says: the more you suffer, the more it shows you really care, right?

Yeah.

You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you’re taking love advice from The Offspring.

I spent years in complete misery because I couldn’t see the signs that my relationship had turned to poison… and everybody knew it but me.

Ever since then, I’ve seen far too many people caught in the same relationship death-spiral that I was, blind to just how bad things were and convinced that maybe this was just how relationships were supposed to be. So in hopes of opening a few eyes, I give you 5 signs that you’re stuck in a toxic relationship.

5) They Undermine You At Every Opportunity

You dread hanging out with your significant other and her friends because you know that it’s going to be a non-stop parade of jokes… most of them at your expense. No matter what you do, somehow you become the punch-line of every joke and insult that gets flung about. Even a compliment gets followed up with another put-down because hey, can’t let you get a swelled head, now right?

Of course, you can’t complain about it because all that means is that you’re just a wuss who can’t take a joke. Be careful, we don’t want to hurt their widdle feewings, gang!

“Are you sure you can’t spontaneously develop the mutant ability to set people on fire? Like, really sure?”

There’s seemingly nothing you can do without getting a ration of shit from someone who’s supposed to be your partner; there’s rarely a moment where he doesn’t take the opportunity to get in a dig at your insecurities or perceived flaws. You can’ t talk about your dreams or ambitions without his taking a giant shit on them, telling you how rediculous you’re being for even imagining that you could pull them off or bringing up all of your previous failures. Everything you do is subject to constant criticism… but hey, it’s all for your own good. He’s trying to help you, after all.

It’s one thing when you and your honey playfully give each other shit.

It’s another entirely when they seem to take every possible opportunity to cut you down.

There are plenty of relationships out there that seemingly thrive on a playfully antagonistic vibe but there’s an undercurrent of genuine love and affection and the awareness that there are distinct limits. For all that you may enjoy needling or teasing each other, your partner in a relationship is just that: your partner. They’re the one who is supposed to have your back no matter what, not the one making the point of cutting your legs out from under you whenever they get the chance.

4) They Suck The Life Out Of You

One of the surest signs of a toxic relationship is often one of the hardest to recognize in yourself… but odds are good your friends have seen it.

You may have been lively and outgoing once, but lately it just seems like you don’t have any energy at all and you just can’t put your finger on the reason why.

All of your friends can, though. They may not have said anything (or you may not have been listening when they did) but they’ve all seen how you become a different person when you’re with your hunnybun then when you’re on your own. You’re lively, happy even, when you’re out on your own, but when he’s nearby, you just… deflate. You’re quieter. You seem subdued. You insist that no, you’re having a good time, but your slumped posture and monosyllable answers tell an entirely different story.

Even when he’s out of town, there’s no escape. You’re acting like your old self again and having a good time… right up until your cell starts to ring and you know letting it go to voicemail just means an even bigger ration of shit to deal with later. So you pick up and everybody around gets to watch you transform to a shadow of your former self.

You’re using so much emotional energy dealing with your partner and the stress your relationship causes that you have virtually none left for yourself afterwards. Your partner is almost literally draining the life out of you… and the odds are good they’re happier that way. Some people thrive on the attention, on the emotional charge of conflict and and drama, and all that energy’s gotta come from somewhere, right?

If even the thought of them leaves you feeling emotionally exhausted, it’s time to plan your exit strategy.

3) It’s All About Control

Sure, relationships are supposed to be 50-50, but somehow you and your girlfriend always end up doing what she wants. Your opinions and interests better match up with hers or else. The slightest concession to something you might want is a massive sacrifice, with all the attending pomp, production, grousing and resigned passive-aggressive sighing… but if you don’t give in to what she wants, then you’re staring down the crater into an emotional Krakatoa. She has a whole host of techniques to bend you to her will and she wields them with the precision and glee of a KGB interrogater trying to wring secrets from an ISIS agent.

“Fine! Fine! We’ll rent ‘Friends With Benefits’ for movie night!”

She may use her affection as both the carrot and the stick. Do what she wants and she’ll be lovey-dovey for a little… but give her the slightest bit of resistance and you’ve been exiled to the snowy wastes of Siberia until such time as you’ve shown her that you’ve suffered enough and repent of all your sins against her. Other times she’ll throw a temper tantrum – timed to cause you the most embarrassment, inconvenience and humiliation – in order to get her way. She’ll threaten to go off with someone else – someone who knows how to ‘treat her right’. She may even go so far as to flirt – or worse – with other guys in front of you just to show that she has options you don’t have if you aren’t giving her what she wants. She knows all of your sore spots and weaknesses and she won’t hesitate to exploit them if it means getting you to give in.

It’s a long string of exercises in breaking down your will; before too long, you’re giving her everything she wants because it’s so much less trouble than if you stand up for yourself.

2) You’re Always Having To Apologize or Explain About Them

Sometimes it just seems like nobody understands your sweetie like you do. Sure, the way he acts may look offputting to an outsider, but if they just knew what he was really like they’d realize it’s actually not that bad. And sure, maybe she acted unconscionably rude to your family but they just have to understand that she didn’t mean it like that… she was just stressed. Or tired. Or has food allergies. Or any number of a host of other issues that magically excuse everything that she does that pisses your friends off.

In fact, if you stopped to think about it, you’d realize that you’re having to spend most of your time apologizing for him or trying to explain that he’s not so bad once you get to know him and your friends should just give him another chance, y’know?

Many times, it’s very difficult to take an honest, dispassionate look at the state of your relationship; you rarely have the emotional distance and perspective to be completely honest and accurate. Your friends are often your best metric when it comes to gauging the health of your relationship. Sometimes they’re capable of seeing things that you’re just too close to see yourself… and when you’re perpetually having to try to convince them that no, your girlfriend really isn’t as bad as all that, it’s a sign that something’s rotten in the state of Denmark

Nobody’s saying that relationships are democracies and your friends certainly don’t have veto power over who you date, but when the majority of your friends can’t stand your partner, the odds are good that somebody’s missing something. And that somebody’s you.

1) Thou Shalt Have No Other Friends Before Them.

Everybody in a new relationship goes through a period where they spend every waking hour with their new snuggle-bunny, annoying their nearest and dearest with their sudden chronic unavailability; you’re both too caught up in that new relationship energy to bother putting pants back on, never mind notice that you’ve been neglecting your friends. But there comes a point where your absence goes beyond “guess they can’t stop bangin'” and well into “blink twice if you’re being held hostage” territory.

While your relationship with your partner is important, it’s equally important that you have a life outside of your relationship. There’s a line between when your boyfriend is your best friend and when he’s your only friend. Sometimes it’s just a case of the two of you becoming so entwined in each other’s lives that you’ve become emotional conjoined twins, unable to function without the other for long before melting into a puddle of codependency.

On the other hand, you may find that they’ve taken an active hand in separating you from your friends.

It’s actually shockingly easy to do; like the frog in a pot of water, you simply don’t notice it because it’s a gradual process, creeping up on you until you look up and realize how long it’s been since you’ve seen any of your buddies. He may have started a whisper-campaign, bad-mouthing your friends and planting the seeds of mistrust. “You know Angela is talking about you behind your back, right?” It was cute before, but Zack’s attempts at trying to steal you away from me are really starting to get on my nerves.”

“Once you realize I’m all you need, you’ll never ever leave me. Um… did I just say that out loud?”

Alternately, she may make a point of just demanding so much of your time and attention that you simply don’t have enough energy or hours in the day to actually do anything besides dance in attendance on her. Or she may just disapprove of your friends and subtly but inexorably punish you for spending time with them; never anything you can point to without seeming petty or silly, but you know that going out for beers with the guys or hanging after class is going to lead to another uncomfortable night at home.

And it’s your toxic boyfriend is concerned, it’s good thing you don’t have friends any more. By encouraging you to be as co-dependent as possible, he’s helping insulate himself against the possibility that you might wise up and leave his ass.

Having a life outside of your own little world – encouraging one, even – is a hallmark of a healthy relationship. Isolation from your friends is a huge warning sign and a common tactic of abusers. The more he or she cut you off from your support system, the more you will come to depend on them… and the more you depend on him, the harder it is to wake up to the truth: your relationship has become impossibly toxic and you need to get out as soon as possible.

 

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