There is something almost mystical about toxic relationships. They demand endless attention, effort, energy, and money. Yet we are seemingly enslaved by them. It seems like the biggest scam in history - that the more loving we pour into it, the less we get in return.
We cry out in pain, reach out to our friends and loved ones for comfort only to crawl back to our supposedly evil partners. Soap operas become a reenactment of our tragic lives, thereby normalizing the pain. But why do we cling onto toxic relationships even when we know they don't serve us?
Before I continue, I feel the need to strongly recommend for those who are in particularly violent relationships to seek support and consider leaving their partner asap.
In the meantime, I shall explore a few reasons on why YOU are emotionally stuck.
Nobody likes to admit that we have certain fears around our relationships. We put on a brave face to the world when inside we are trembling. We keep our partner at arms length because we fear them, the relationship and even ourselves! The reality is that such feelings are so common. The problem isn't so much to do with our feelings but society's judgment towards them. This causes us to reject the idea of owning terrible feelings such as vulnerability, paranoia, and insecurity. We don't want to be outcasts of society so we allow ourselves to be manipulated by its rules.
It's disturbing that negative emotions often get such a bad rap. They are just feelings after all and do not have to define you in any way. As the saying goes “nothing to fear but fear itself”. Fear is considered too frightening that the mere thought of it sends shivers down our spine. However every time you run away from fear, you are allowing fear to run you! People who repress their negative emotions ironically give them more power than they should.
So it's actually healthy to acknowledge these unpleasant truths because this will be key in solving the problem! After all, it would be foolish to fix something without identifying the issue first. You don't have to go shouting from the rooftops about your self-discovery - just being honest with yourself is already a massive step towards empowerment.
A wise person once said, "don't run away from problems, run them over instead".
So what are your fears? The following is a list I'd started whilst discussing with a friend (bear in mind this isn't fully exhaustive):
Reflect, feel and release any painful emotions that crop up. It will seem hard at first but it will get easier with practice. Don't force or rush the process - even a mere 10 mins a day is a good start.
An established relationship can feel like an old pair of shoes; well past their glory days but we're so accustomed to them. Bonds take time to break into our hearts which is often why it becomes difficult to part with them. We've grown close to them and they've accepted our strange quirks. They say that familiarity breeds contempt although I'm inclined to disagree - it is the storage of resentment which causes a sense of loathing. Familiarity at its best can invite a certain predictability which can be comforting but it's a poor justification for staying with someone.
Nostalgia and our addiction to chemical romance
Many of us are unable to move past a certain idea of them. It is unsurprising that many of us present the best of ourselves during the courtship dance. In most cases, such appearances cannot be sustained and it's only a matter of time before the cracks begin to show. We rationalise that it's just a passing phase; that the thrills and passion can be restored. We idolise the former days, pine for their return and become disillusioned with the true state of our relationship. We become so consumed by it all that we barely recognise ourselves or the person we're with.
Letting go of these unfulfilled hopes and dreams can feel devastating however it's the only way to move forward, with or without your significant other.
It's important for us to accept the reality of how the relationship has changed in order to progress and operate from a place of strength.
Examine whether you are in love with them or the feelings they once gave you? If it's the latter then it's a possibility that you are seeking an addiction and not love.
Be honest with yourself, what does love mean to you?
Any time spent with, or thinking about them is an investment. It was time which could have been spent on various other things and other people. Instead, we allowed them to dominate our thoughts, priorities, time and energy because we believed they were worth it. Patience is a virtue. Yet, if you haven't noticed any improvement in your relationship after a reasonable period of time, then either your approach needs to change or you need to change partner.
Anger, control and power
You know the saying, keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer? As much we love our partners, we may also resent them and sometimes the feeling is very much mutual. They probably know our hopes, dreams wishes and embarrassing secrets. They might even know where our sore spots are. As sad as it sounds, many choose to continue a relationship to control or be controlled. If either (or both) rings true to you, you may need to seek counselling to overcome this troubling habit.
Commitment, guilt and denial
Seasons change, people change, circumstances change and of course, hearts and minds change too. A commitment doesn't have to be a life sentence. Being a person of your word is admirable, but it doesn't have to be done at the expense of your happiness and sanity.
It's bad enough to lie to your other half but even worse to have to lie to yourself if your commitment to the cause is wavering. By no means am I suggesting that you axe your partner now or run off with that cutie from the office. Rather, try to reflect on how you genuinely feel. Ask yourself why you don't feel fulfilled in the relationship? Ask yourself if you're truly open to loving and being loved by your partner?
Perhaps we were in the wrong and broke their heart? Maybe it's the guilt which keeps us entrapped. If so, forgive yourself and promise not to repeat the same mistakes with your partner or anybody else for that matter. Just because we get a parking ticket doesn't mean we have to keep on paying the penalty, tenfold. Stop beating yourself up. Allow yourself to experience the full extent of your guilt and shame. Drain it from your system and make choices based on how you feel without the guilt. Forgive yourself even if no one else will. Don't feel obligated to be with someone out of pity or duty.
Sometimes just thinking about how awful we feel makes us want to shut down. We might even try to minimise the pain, deny that the problems are even 'real' problems. We justify their bad behaviour and our own. We question whether we're being too picky or imagining it all. Denial just causes more suffering for all and there's so much more to life than that! Perhaps you are just as toxic as your partner (perhaps even more?). Although such realisations will require a high level of self-awareness which basically means the opposite of denial! Continuing to live in denial is choosing to be in a coma. The choice is yours...
Sadly, this is a common reason why couples stick together longer than they probably should. They don't want the hassle, disruption, inconvenience or pain of a breakup. They'd rather go through the motions and remain stagnant unless there's a major deal breaker or something better comes along. A relationship built on convenience is actually abusive because we are using and being used by others. In other words, we are settling for second best and allowing mediocrity to rule.
Are there ever good reasons for being in a toxic relationship?
Firstly, if you have to label your relationship as 'toxic' then need I explain more? All joking aside, healthy unions are based on love, trust, respect and growth! If you don't have an ounce of any of these then it truly is a draining relationship.
Now you get the idea of why we might choose to live in a state of ignorance! Perhaps the issues are actually nothing to do with our partner. Whatever the case, better to put on your thinking cap and get started. If you aren't prepared to try to acknowledge or address the issues, how could anything possibly get any better?
Such issues may be vast and complex. Sometimes when we attempt to break down one issue, it splinters off into another pesky problem. It might seem like awfully hard work but it's a worthwhile investment – on you. See yourself as the biggest and most rewarding project you'll ever take on. You are bigger than the relationship with your partner.
Your life might seem like a car crash right now but it doesn't have to stay that way. Life is full of choices and even deciding to bury your head in the sand is a considered a choice.
We cannot expect our circumstances to change without engaging some sort of change within ourselves. Face yourself, your fears, your toxic habits and your demons. Write down what it is that you want from life and relationships in general. Set yourself achievable goals. Take control of life. Embrace the challenges. Learn from its lessons and don't be afraid to seek support.
If you wish to explore this personal matter further, please see me for a friendly personal consultation.
Ignorance isn't bliss, just a conscious decision to stay blind.
Stay tuned for Part 2 – how to transform the relationship / break it off
Love, Life and Destiny Guru
Dating, Relationship and emotional wellbeing Advisor
Heavy tea drinker
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