What is a toxic relationship?
A quick Google search term defines a toxic relationship 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.” (Toxic Relationships: Signs, Help and What To Do)
How do you know you could be in such a toxic relationship?
It could be quite similar to how to identify toxic family members (How To Identify and Deal with Toxic Family Members) as the premise is the same. You feel as though you are stuck in a treacherous cycle that you cannot get out of. There are different types of abuse such as physical, emotional, mental, psychological and financial. However, there are insidious ways in which your relationship could have toxic elements.
My toxic romances
A piece of popular advice or key rule of a successful relationship is to “never talk shit about your partner.” I disagree with that statement to a degree. One of the imposed rules that my previous relationship had was that I could not talk about our relationship to my friends, regardless of the topic or type of conversation. Therefore, when my now ex-partner cheated, it became a breach of trust in our relationship and I sought comfort in my close circle of friends. I relayed my concerns and heartbreak to my friends and they attempted to comfort me. However, my ex-partner disagreed with how I handled the issue as he framed my communication with my friends as a breach of his privacy and our relationship. Somehow, the conversation ended with me apologising to him for transgressing our privacy. From then on, I did not speak about our relationship and brushed off any concerns that my friends had whenever they brought up my partner. Looking back, it was clear that I should have voiced out my concerns and engaged with my closest friends more. I did not have to go into the nitty-gritty, deepest, and darkest aspects, but I could have been more open with my scruples.
Another potentially toxic stereotype is to love someone unconditionally and that you can change them for the better. This is patently untrue. I used to date someone with depression and suicidal ideation, and this placed a heavy mental burden on me. I became introverted. I found myself constantly on my phone and checking in with him, and dreaded whenever he didn’t reply. It began to feel like I was trapped in the relationship and that something bad would happen if I left. Additionally, I felt that I had to change certain aspects of myself in order to conform to his expectations. I used to have several outfits that I loved to wear but he expressed that he did not appreciate some of my clothing choices, so I threw them out. After the breakup, I came to regret that decision as I reviewed my actions during the course of the relationship.
Lessons I have learnt: Things to watch out for
How your partner describes you
You should watch out for how your partner describes you to their friends and vice versa. If they, or you, find yourself constantly degrading them or bringing up their faults and arguments, perhaps this relationship is not for you. Sometimes, it is difficult to realise when you are in a toxic romance, so you should always speak with a trusted friend when you have doubts about your relationship. Objectivity from a third party may be necessary to understand that the relationship is no longer healthy and your individuality is at risk. If you find that you have been isolated from your close family and friends and that you no longer have anyone to converse with, it may mean that you are not in a healthy relationship.
How you feel around your partner: You constantly feel the need to check in with your partner
You may feel that you have to walk on eggshells when you are with your partner. If you are glued to your phone, awaiting the next text or worrying that you have not heard back from your partner, it may be a codependent relationship. You should not feel obligated to constantly check in with your partner or ignore your own individual time. It is crucial that you have boundaries for yourself, especially if your partner has mental health issues. Therefore, it is important that you set aside time for yourself which you can refer to here (Setting Boundaries for Mental Health With Your Loved Ones). It is not considered selfish or self-serving as you are just as important as your partner.
How you conduct yourself: You don’t have hobbies or alone time
When you are completely subsumed in your relationship, you may start to lose your sense of self. This is dangerous. It could feel like the world consists of you and your partner, and you start to neglect the closest people around you. Hobbies or the things that you enjoyed prior to your relationship start to take a back seat because they did not fit with what your partner liked or encroached on your time with your partner. Thus, you stop doing what you liked initially or changing aspects of yourself such as your dressing.
I like to use the analogy from David Sloan. Think of life like a puzzle where you are constantly changing and forming as you grow. When you start a new relationship, you may start to remove and insert different pieces of the puzzle in order to fit someone in your life. However, you should remember that you have to be happy with what remains in the puzzle.
Sometimes, it’s hard when you fall out of love with someone and your relationship becomes like a dull routine. Staying together becomes akin to a safety net rather than a choice.
Thus, if you feel insecure or that you no longer love your partner, the first person that you communicate with should be them. You have to have this difficult conversation before you do something you regret.
Relationships are built on mutual trust and understanding, and not violence. Love is not and does not have to be unconditional. That is simply unrealistic optimism that no one should have to put up with. No one is a terrible partner 24/7, but you cannot only focus on the good parts of the relationship and ignore the potential dangers that a toxic relationship may hold.
If you meet someone who is a “player” or a “soft boy,” you cannot expect or force them to change for you. The qualities that you may have fallen in love with at first, for example, “ambitious” and “spontaneous” could quickly turn into negatives like “too busy for personal time” and “prone to last-minute cancellations.” It is important to remember that you cannot force someone to change, nor do you have to wait and attempt to fix them into better people.
Sometimes, it is better to simply give up. It does not make you a bad partner as you need to look out for yourself first and foremost. Even then, leaving a toxic relationship can be tricky, as there can be huge risks involved when domestic partners leave.
What happens after you leave the relationship?
Like many others, the most important point is to understand and learn how to forgive yourself. After a toxic relationship, you may begin to second-guess your choices and actions. You may be thinking, “I am a strong independent woman, but how could I be so stupid?”
You don’t have to be ashamed or feel alone. You may be trapped in a toxic romantic relationship but you are not alone. Your experiences are not an isolated case as there are many others who have gone through or have experienced toxic elements in their relationships as well.
Pave (Centre for Promoting Alternatives to Violence)
Adult Protective Services, a scheme by the Ministry for Social And Family Development