Toxic relationships: the lessons I’ve learnt

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Toxic relationships are inevitable. Whether it’s a friend, a family member, an acquaintance, a partner, or a dearly loved one, unfortunately they are bound to happen and are far too common in today’s day and age. Among the sea of smiling faces and rays of sunshine are those who manipulate, control, humiliate, and twist others’ lives into experiences that they should never have to endure. And the sad thing is, that often, these people aren’t even aware of what they are doing. They are not aware of the hardship their friend is going through, they are not aware of the tears their significant other sheds when the curtains are drawn and the door is closed, and they are not aware of the torment and pain that hides behind their sibling’s gentle eyes.

Having recently dragged myself out of a toxic relationship, I’d love to compile my thoughts, feelings, and the lessons I’ve learnt in hope that others won’t have to experience the same things as I did.

Leaving the relationship was not easy. It was my first, I’m young, and I’d thrown myself headfirst into far too much commitment that I could afford. In fact, my mother was the one who talked me into it and gave me the strength to do so. For so long I had been hiding in the dark, pushing away the realisation that a break-up was the best solution to all the problems my SO (significant other) and I had been facing. I was weak, my mind was swimming with thoughts that I couldn’t comprehend, and my values and beliefs were being tossed around as if in the roughest of oceans. I couldn’t think clearly and life was obviously a mess. Yet, I clung onto the relationship.

Nine months later, I now realise that leaving the relationship was a decision I should have made very early on. There were so many red flags I had neglected, and so many conflicts that were left unresolved. Prolonging the relationship allowed them to fester and increase in dynamic overtime. This often led to heated arguments, swearing, being given the “silent treatment” and hiding our feelings from one another. Whilst the relationship was most definitely not one of my most comforting and pleasing experiences, it’s given me a new perspective on life, allowed me to grow as a person, and most importantly, I have found confidence and strength in being ME.

So here’s what I’ve learnt:

Communication is KEY: This is a rather obvious one, or should be. But so often, people throw themselves into relationships too quickly, or are so blinded by conflicts that they forget this very essential rule. Always speak up for yourself, express yourself, and allow your opinions to be heard. Optimally, it is best to do this in a way that does not offend or hurt the other person, but sometimes, harsh words and a verbal slap in the face (not physically!) is what is needed if a person gets riled up or bull-headed. Definitely DO NOT shy away or allow yourself to be victimised if a person is verbally attacking you. You have a right to retaliate and shield your heart, but make sure to do this in a composed manner. Don’t assume that the person can read your thoughts and feelings based on your texting mannerisms, tone of voice or facial expressions. It is like writing an essay: communication is key, treat the listener as a young child who knows nothing, express yourself in the clearest and most efficient way possible to convey your message.

Your life belongs to you– do not let others control it: This was a huge issue in my relationship. I let my SO control my life to the point where I couldn’t make decisions without feeling some sort of anxiety. I was always in fear of his disapproval and the way he would get angry over certain choices I made. At the end of the day, I was so mentally exhausted and lost within myself. So I encourage you to stand STRONG and BE CONFIDENT in yourself. Don’t let another person’s remarks, criticisms or judgement get in the way of what you want to pursue. I know that it’s easier said than done, but this is YOUR life, YOUR decisions, and YOU are the one living it, not someone else.

Don’t ignore red flags: Another huge mistake on my behalf. Early on in the relationship, my SO admitted that he had trouble trusting me. Trust is such an important factor in any kind of relationship, and it was not the smartest idea that I simply told him: “It’s okay, let’s see how things go.” NO. If red flags arise, don’t sit on them. Don’t let them fester at the back of your mind and eat you up from the inside. If you can’t solve them immediately, at the very least come up with a plan of action to get rid of it for good. And sometimes, that solution may be to end the relationship.

Pace yourself: Jumping into a new relationship may be exciting, but it is always best to take your time and not rush things. Resist acting on every impulse. You don’t have to be in contact with them 24/7. Don’t feel obliged to dedicate your entire life to them, and make sure to keep your own life. Avoid conversations about the future in the early stages of a relationship. “Forever together” topics can be dangerous, especially if the thoughts are mere fantasies. Saying such things creates unnecessary expectations, and this can place a huge burden on your SO. And the simplest reason to pace yourself is…that you’ll get bored of each other if you don’t! This can then lead to misunderstandings regarding commitment, dedication and genuineness of feelings if one person seems to not take as much interest as they did before.

Always look at the bigger picture when it comes to conflict: This doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships, but any kind of conflict in general. Refrain from making assumptions, bull-headed comments, and getting caught up “in the moment.” And if you solve a conflict, it doesn’t always mean things are going to be smooth-sailing from then on. Imagine if you had three arguments in a week, yet you solved all of them. Just because they’re resolved, does it mean your relationship is healthy? NO. It doesn’t. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Realise that the fact that you are even having conflicts in the first place is a major sign of stress. Don’t stop once you’ve solved the conflict at a surface level. If your girlfriend doesn’t like the fact that you attend so many social gatherings, don’t simply resolve things by promising that you won’t attend as many– realise that it’s because she doesn’t trust you. If your boyfriend hates your long uni hours, don’t just say sorry and change your timetable– realise that it’s because he is demanding an unhealthy amount of commitment from you.

It is not your sole responsibility to keep another person happy: I knew this prior to the relationship, but because I had become so mentally twisted and brainwashed by my SO, I ended up thinking the opposite. Whenever he was upset, I blamed myself. I berated myself and beat myself up without realising that most of what was happening wasn’t even my business in the first place. Just because I was attending music rehearsals all the time and he didn’t like it, it didn’t mean it was my fault. Just because he got upset with himself often, it wasn’t because I was bad at providing support. There is only so much you can do to help someone. Yes, most definitely be there for support, comfort and love, but don’t feel like it’s up to you to fix their problems. It’s not. It’s up to THEM. It’s their life, they have control over it, and if things don’t work out, unfortunately it’s THEIR fault.

Some more quick points before I wrap up:

  • Solving conflicts through text is a terrible idea (I speak from experience)
  • Don’t sell yourself short for love. Don’t change who you are for another person.
  • If your levels of commitment don’t match, things may not work out.
  • Sometimes flaws can’t be fixed, they can only be accepted. No one is perfect.

Leaving any kind of relationship is definitely not easy, so I encourage you to be strong, be kind to yourself, and most importantly of all, love yourself.

~Abbey xxx

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Photo by Andressa VoltoliniUnsplash

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