Our anonymous relationship writer Hayley T writes about her experiences of a toxic relationship, how she got out and where to go from there.
Whilst most of you would probably argue that 2020 was defined by lockdowns and COVID-19, my 2020 was defined by something entirely different. Indeed, whilst COVID-19 might have claimed many relationships, with lockdowns and long-distance slowly eating away at what was once a sturdy connection, I don’t think I can blame the pandemic for the breakdown of mine. This is what a toxic relationship can look like, and here’s how I got out, in the hope that maybe, you won’t make my mistakes.
What is a Toxic Relationship?
Toxic relationships are something that we often hear about, but maybe we don’t actually know what one is. Some people define toxic relationships as:
“Any relationship [between people who] don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness” – Time
But it’s hard to define it as anything as toxic relationships can look completely different based on the situation.
What are some of the signs?
In my experience, here are a few red flags that might help you to understand. It could be just one of these that shows up, or all of them, or any combination of them. So, yeah, it’s hard to tell you if your relationship is toxic. Not all of these showed up in mine, and they weren’t always there, but it’s important to understand that any of these things can make a relationship toxic.
- Jealousy, accusing you of cheating or other things
- Emotional manipulation, like guilt tripping you into avoiding other people and spending time with them
- Controlling behaviours, like telling you what to wear or monitoring your phone
- Being dishonest with you, including cheating
- Wanting to change you or parts of you
- Losing relationships with others as a result of their behaviour
- Walking on eggshells around them – you never know what they are going to be like with you from one day to the next
- Gaslighting you, doing one thing and then saying or doing another, consistently making you feel crazy for calling them out
- Patterns of consistent disrespect, such as always being late or ‘forgetting’ plans, inconsistent responses and refusal to acknowledge your needs.
- Toxic or poor communication between you both, only telling half truths, getting angry, dealing with feelings poorly etc.
Lessons from the Other Side
How do you know you aren’t the toxic one by the time the end of the relationship comes around? How can you tell what behaviours are really yours, and what are the consequences of their actions towards you? How do you know, really, who you are, when the chips are down?
These are all the things I’ve been forced to ask myself in the past year. In fact, it is nearly 12 months to the day that my relationship finally broke down, although we would both continue to fight it for another six months. I suppose that’s the first lesson I would like to share:
When it’s over, it’s over. Fighting it will only ever hurt you both in the long run.
We had been together for just under a year when the cracks really and truly began to show. Of course there were red flags before that that I refused to acknowledge. But a year in, everything started getting… complicated. One of the biggest red flags I had ignored was finally coming back to bite me, and that was his incredible gaslighting ability. Oh, he owned it like it was a super power. Nothing he ever said, he really said, according to him. Nothing he ever did was true, and I was crazy for remembering it. It’s a good lesson in life really, is to never call anyone ‘crazy’. You have no idea what might be the real story. That’s lesson number 2;
You are not crazy. You deserve respect.
Never one to be made a doormat of, I’d be the first to admit now, my behaviour started to get worse. I wanted to give as good as I got, but it turns out I was never much good at lying. I’m not cut out for cruelty. I’d rather the world got on. There’s number 3 for you
Don’t stoop to their level. It will only end in tears and you are better than that.
I suppose the biggest thing that kept me in the relationship for so long was a genuine fear of what I would lose. He had made me give up my entire life for him, and I was grateful for it. I barely stayed at home, I never saw my friends, I missed work and school to spend time with him simply because he asked. I thought it was what everyone did when they were in love.
I gave up every aspect of my life and only did what he wanted to do, and see his friends. I was grateful for it in the end, because some of them became some of the best people I had ever spent time with. But he always knew, and wouldn’t be scared to tell me, that they were his first. That this was his life, and if I did something he didn’t like, he could take it away from me as quickly as he had given it. There’s number 4;
Fear of losing the life they gave you is natural, but if anyone in that life is worth keeping, they would never let you go without question. If they are really friends, they will want to keep you.
When I finally laid down some boundaries, and made 2021 the year that we would go our separate ways, I felt free. I felt for the first time in a long time, who I was, what I was capable of and felt good about where the world might take me. But it wasn’t long before his attitude towards me started to reach into this separate life I was building. Rumours got back to me, friends fell away as they began to believe his lies about my behaviour.
Eventually, it became impossible to stay happy for long, because it felt like there was something new every week. It broke my heart all over again, that he really wanted to keep doing this to me long after we drew a line in the sand. I became angry, depressed, anxious, at the prospect of what this would do to me. I stopped being asked to see friends I had loved because he had told them they weren’t to see me. I stopped being able to enjoy my life because I was scared of turning a corner and seeing him staring back at me. In that, I learned lesson number 5
Anyone willing to do this to you is clearly in pain themselves. Humans never lash out unless they feel threatened or scared. It’s fight or flight, the most basic evolutionary response. But just because someone is in pain, it doesn’t make it your job to fix them. You fix yourself, and see how much time there is left at the end of the day.
Coming out the other side of a toxic relationship is one of the toughest things I have ever had to do, and it’s not like I’ve had the easiest ride of it anyway. But it showed me who I was, who in my life I could truly rely on. Most importantly, it showed me how much I needed to respect myself, as up until this point I hadn’t been getting it from anywhere. Relationships and friendships will always come and go, but you are with yourself forever. So that’s who you’ve really got to love.
Watch this space for more advice from Hayley T!
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