Have you struggled with relationships that were bad for you?
Maybe you’ve been in a toxic relationship with somebody who was always manipulating you into ways of getting what they wanted, leaving you feeling like a doormat. Maybe you had friends who treated you badly or would pressure you into going along with jokes at your expense or doing things that made you uncomfortable or went against your values.
Or perhaps you’ve had family members who would leverage guilt or reciprocity to make you do whatever they want, even if it’s a huge inconvenience to you or emotionally draining or even damaging. Or you were constantly being made to feel as though your interests, desires or wants were unimportant or inconvenient… even if it’s simply “don’t treat me like sh*t.”
One of the most important things you can do to ensure you have strong, healthy relationships — with your wife or girlfriend, your friends, your family or even your co-workers — is to have strong boundaries.
Today, I’m going to teach you how to build strong boundaries… and how to enforce them.
- What one viral video teaches us about toxic relationships
- Why abusers and toxic people prey on people with weak boundaries
- How abusers trick you into lowering your boundaries for them
- How to push back when people push against your boundaries
- The most important part of maintaining healthy relationships
…and so much more
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Want more dating advice? Check out my books at www.www.doctornerdlove.com/books
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I think I’ve come to the denouement of my real problem, but as it was a painful process and is still ongoing, I’d like to relate my story and see if you have any good advice for moving forward.
I cut ties with a toxic partner about a week ago. I think one of the hardest things about our relationship was seeing massive red flags everywhere and allowing myself to have my mental slate erased like an Etch-a-Sketch by the fact that this abuse was unintentional.
So, in 2013, I was feeling good about being alone when I met Jake (names have been changed to protect the innocent) online. We seemed to hit it off, so we started going out. We had mind-blowing earth-shattering sex that eclipses my memory of our first year. He was unemployed, and I helped him with the caring kick in the ass he needed to start making money again and move out of his parents’ house. He felt a lot of guilt about mooching off their support since he quit his lucrative last IT job and squandered his savings. I was also living at home, and understood the shame that comes from not having income.
I quit my retail job to work in my field in 2014 and was glad of it because my resume had even more holes in it than Jake’s swiss cheese history. I was let go about a month later. This was a big blow to my self-esteem but Jake was there to get me through the rough times. After living with roommates for a year, he decided to move with me to a shared house where I would be independent of my parents. He floated the idea of being my sole source of financial support, so I could focus on my career without stress.
Then he asked me to marry him.
I was a little taken aback since we were both kind of anti-wedding if not anti-patriarchal-symbol-of-property-exchange, but I said yes. In the months leading up to my moving in with Jake, his insistence on a D/s relationship became subtly more aggressive, and I said sure we can try that. I’m probably a french vanilla with sprinkles as kink goes, and it wasn’t difficult, until I got triggered one evening and was unable to “red” out (red means stop, yellow means slow down, like a stoplight) of a scene. I insisted that this was due to a scene dynamic I was unprepared for, but Jake cooled his jets and held onto resentment that I wasn’t into being kinky. A few months later, I tried to take it in a different direction – dog seemed to have a different connotation than slave to me, so I suggested pet play. Jake didn’t understand the distinction, but was excited to learn.
A few months later, I moved in with him. The roommates we shared a townhouse with were passive aggressive and weird and made life annoying. Worse, tensions at his job were inciting Jake to look for new work. When OPM investigated his candidacy further due to a fudging of being fired to a “mutual decision for me to leave,” Jake’s chances for keeping his new job seemed to diminish (as far as I know he still has it, go figure). We had a huge fight about whether the government was right to brand him not suitable for a clearance – I insisted that it was not a personal judgement of his character to say that if he lied to the government in fear of losing his job, maybe he wasn’t the best candidate for a clearance. He locked the door to our bedroom and bathroom for an hour.
Having resolved that fight semi-peaceably with a decision to table our engagement, which involved shearing off my bride hair, we moved forward. I got a job as a pet sitter and dog walker that was stressful but allowed me to be financially independent for the most part. I got a much better job a year later that was just enough above minimum wage for us to afford an apartment in an expensive part of the city closer to Jake’s job, where he was put on non-cleared overhead for a negotiated salary of 63k or so. Mine was somewhere around 30.
So we moved into our own one bedroom apartment in 2017. Fights were regular. In the interim years, my friends had stopped inviting us to social engagements. My family mentioned they wanted to see us more often. But whenever I would see someone without Jake, he treated it as emotional cheating, and leaving him out of my life. I increasingly wanted time alone in the apartment, which only spurred on Jake’s feelings of abandonment.
Somewhere around the third time I was provisionally fired and made to look for and train my own replacement at my job, I stopped making transfers for rent to Jake. My salary had been cut but I couldn’t find work elsewhere. We fought about it but never discussed it. He insisted that if I spent less on frivolous things, I’d have the money to pay him.
I walked out of my job one day and into the ER for fear of my safety from suicidal depression. Jake was supportive and joined me at the hospital. I quit my job officially later that day. In the months that followed, I worked on myself and got two jobs to make ends meet – part-time at the job I’d quit a month ago, and part time dog walking. Things had reached a comfortable lull that I was thinking Jake and I could move forward from. I asked him about getting out of our lease and he said not to worry about it.
Then one day he started a roundabout conversation about moving into a townhouse again, this time renting a room so that I could afford rent. At this point, I owed him back rent on our agreement of some $3000. Next day, the current lease was cancelled, waiting for my signature. He toured houses without me, and we had our last big fight, after which I stormed out to stay with my mom.
I moved out, and we stayed friends. We tried a few months later to patch things up. It didn’t work. My family hated how he sponged my time. Then the pandemic hit. Jake texted me, as he often did while we were together, saying it was difficult to be the person no one wanted to talk to. I texted back viciously that he could see a therapist, work on himself for once. He blocked me. My family and friends rejoiced and told me all the ways he was awful. I thought it was because they were trying to be supportive.
Then last week I was thinking (a dangerous pastime), wondering how Jake was and if he wanted closure. He wasn’t the type to just cut ties out of the blue. I offered an olive branch over text and he called me by our secret pet name for each other in return.
In the next week, I talked with him for about 8 hours a day for four days. Jake had started therapy and antidepressants. Was working toward getting better and wanted to be friends, even platonic partners. On the fourth day, my family intervened. Since then, I’ve been untangling a web of unintentional gaslighting going back almost 7 years. I wouldn’t say I’m not responsible for at least some of the toxicity between us. But I have learned that he does not care about me and that was all I needed to put him out of my life for good. I am aware of the ways I hurt him – most were made clear to me at the time; some I had come to on my own. I didn’t and still don’t know how deeply I was hurt by our relationship.
I know, and am sorry, that you have first hand experience with both sides of this kind of toxicity. I think that’s why I’m asking you, now that I’ve asked everyone else in my life.
I guess what I’m wondering, as someone intentionally oblivious, being manipulated and abused by someone just as intentionally oblivious of that manipulation, how to understand and prevent it from happening again?
How can I know myself when my mirror is so distorted from years of warping? How can I know my yes when my no has been so absent? How can I recover and share mutual intimacy with future partners? More importantly, how can I love myself after years of being “loved” the wrong way?
I have a series of problems, four points that I desperately wanted to address and have answers to. Just a note, I may well bring this up in case it changes anything, but I am diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and have difficulty socializing with others.
1) I’m still being haunted by the memories of friends I lost. I bonded with a wife and husband (in that order, I’ll refer to them as Jill and Jack respectively) over a game. We seemed to hit it off reasonably well, until Jill said that she was out on an anniversary with Jack. And I became obsessed and bitter at how well they have it; someone that’ll love you unconditionally, always be there, and eventually tie the knot with. It kinda grew to a point where Jill was disturbed, and eventually got me banned. I still kept in contact with them, and they did forgive me, but they’re still relatively guarded. One mistake sure, and they utterly despise me for using their names (not exact names, but inspired) in a story and making a dirty joke I thought they wouldn’t notice. (In April 1st, no less, making me the biggest fool of all). This destroyed my relation with them completely, and I thought I had moved on, but a friend of mine in the server said that they still hold a grudge for the previous incident, and aren’t keen on forgiving me (Jack, at least. He said Jill was probably willing to put it behind her). I really hit it off with them, and the guilt of being the one at fault for breaking the friendship still haunts me to this day. I still wonder, “If I hadn’t been so bitter.”, “If I could’ve kept quiet, kept all to myself.”, would we still have been friends.
2) After the above, I frequented another server, and I asked a girl user there for a face reveal (which I know now is a big no-no), which made her call me out as a perv, and made the other members of the server vilify me. I made another user block me for my emotional vampiric tendencies, and this incident effectively made me scared to talk to anyone I couldn’t ascertain the gender online. I regularly ask users I’m suspicious of if they’re girls, since I know to myself that, if they’re a girl, I’m going to inevitably ask them for a face reveal, they’re going to think I’m a perv, and they’ll hate me even if I just want to be genuine friends.
3) This segues into another case, I joined a mental help Discord server. As of writing, I am banned from the server for a public display of gynophobia, not malicious in intent, but still disturbing members. I came here seeking asylum and answers to my questions, and I did ask them about my problem communicating with girls, and they said my case must have come from a lack of physical affection, or ‘skin hunger’. How do I even solve this problem, especially with this pandemic quarantine in place? Touching or hugging myself does fuck-all, I’m too disconnected with my family to ask them. Friends? What’s that?
4) Leading all to this, I’ve lost passion. I play a handful of games, mostly RPG and turn-based games. Civ 5, Fire Emblem, Shogun 2. I’ve lost my passion for all of them. I don’t derive any enjoyment playing them anymore, yet I still do them for some reason. There are times where I just want to lie down on the bed, close my eyes, and never wake up. And I know these symptoms are coincidental with clinical depression. This isn’t helped that, after my ban from the mental health support server, the other server I visited vilified me for it even further, saying things such as “You’re a failure as a person.”, “Something’s really wrong with you if you got rejected by a mental help group.”, etc. The only thing they didn’t say outright was suicide.
I’m so lost and want to heal this, but carrying the guilt of losing Jack and Jill, along with everything else, I don’t know what to do. I want to see a therapist, but the quarantine forbids going outside. Worse yet, how do I regain my passion for the things I used to love?
Burning Down My House
Right now everything feels like chaos. We’re living through the worst pandemic the world has seen in more than 100 years. We are less than three weeks out from an election that feels like our choice is whether to pull America back from the brink of fascism or not. Our lives have been thrown into pandemonium like we’ve never known, even as people seem to insist that we’re fools for being concerned about a virulent disease. Violent extremists are attacking innocent protestors and activists and the people in charge are hosting giant gatherings all but guaranteed to spread the virus.
And yet life stubbornly insists on continuing like normal.
It’s enough to make you feel like you’re going mad. Like you want to give up and just scream.
But even under the best of circumstances — when the world doesn’t feel like it’s teetering on the verge of collapse — there are times when life feels like it’s too much. There are days when you feel like you’re hanging on by your fingernails and you just want to let go. There are days when you simply don’t feel like you have the strength to keep going. Whether it’s chasing your long-term goals and dreams, finding the desire to keep moving forward, or even summoning up the courage to make the hard decisions, you will face moments that will push you to your very limits.
Those are the times when you need to have the resources to keep going. You need to build your emotional strength. You need to have the will and the strength to not just persevere but to thrive.