A subject that has been and will always be present on everyone's lips and lives is the one about couple relationships. As I said every time, a relationship comes to complete our happiness, not to make us happy. For this to happen, we must be first and foremost happy with ourselves, seek to put ourselves first in our lives, become aware of our needs and desires, and do our best to meet them, set objectives and goals on all other areas of life, work for them and perfect ourselves as human beings. But out of need, because we have some inner voids or because we don’t know how to give a purpose to our life, we can idealize the idea of "relationship", idealize our partner, and think that everything we need to be happy and fulfilled is to get our hands on a man or a woman regardless of the costs, implications or consequences.
Relationships represent an important aspect of our lives in which we invest energy, time and feelings. Especially couple relationships have a major influence on our physical, mental, emotional well-being and on the quality of our life.
People want to feel loved and they want relationships at any cost. That is why they can make countless sacrifices and compromises, cling to a person even though that person isn’t right for them, accept abuses, or simply live in a relationship that brings them many more negative things than positive ones.
In each relationship there are misunderstandings, ups and downs, but a toxic relationship is one that constantly takes from you the joy of living. When in your relationship you feel unhappy, powerless, when you constantly have negative emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, when you are criticized, lied to, deceived, manipulated, constrained, when you offer far more than you receive, when there is no respect, admiration, appreciation, intimacy, or when you feel all by yourself, maybe it's time to reconsider the situation you are in.
At the beginning of any relationship we feel magical, as if we were under a spell, due to love hormones. We project on our partner an idealised image, without realizing we put him on a pedestal, we get excited, we make plans and hopes, and most of the time we become quite irrational. After romantic love or "the madness of our senses" begins to fade, many couples break up, but there are couples whose relationship evolves when there is compatibility between the two partners, and when they cultivate and nurture their love every day. There are also partners who stay together although there may not exist anymore respect, appreciation, compatibility, desire or will to be with each other. They don’t separate, although they are no longer happy together, but on the contrary, they do more harm than good to each other. They don’t separate even though there is no more intimacy and love between them, but criticism, nagging, offenses and reproaches, because they have invested a lot of time and energy and have become attached to their investment, because they are afraid of loneliness, because they have monthly payments or other joint businesses, "for the sake of the children", because they got used to live like that, and so on. Their relationship is no longer a positive one (if has ever been) but on the contrary, it has become toxic, harmful, unhealthy.
There are certain circumstances that can make the separation difficult, but most often people make things hard on themselves and prolong their suffering because they are stuck in their own limiting beliefs, because they continue to invest in a "dead" relationship and they delude and deceive themselves that things will change, because they have become dependent on their partner or on their relationship and they are afraid they wouldn’t handle things on their own. So, they stay in that relationship, although they know that it hurts them, and despite the fact that they want more and maybe they even have tried to break up before, the suffering caused by their partner’s absence and the idea of loneliness always brings them back. It's like thinking "I'm not ok in this relationship, but also I'm not ok all by myself."
What to do then? How can you eliminate this mental contradiction? What can you do to tilt the balance in one direction or the other?
Maybe you feel powerless and it’s difficult for you to leave but you invest more energy and more resources in a toxic relationship than in any other kind of relationship. Negative emotions, the tense atmosphere, quarrels and conflicts, strategies and psychological games, defense or attack, the state of alert, uncertainty, insecurity, jealousy, all these drain your vital energy, and you get exhausted and even sick. So be present and realize how bad is your relationship. Be aware and accept the physical, emotional and psychological consequences that this relationship has on you. Maybe you tend to seek refuge in the past when things were going well, to constantly remember those beautiful moments, or to seek refuge in the future by daydreaming that your relationship will be different and things will change. But how does it help you to continue to hope and to delude yourself that it will be different? If it had been okay, it would have been ok from the beginning. Stop! If your present is so unbearable that you feel the need to take refuge either in the past or in an illusory future, perhaps you should change something precisely this present day you live in. In addition, in order to deal with a painful present, we can take refuge in vices and form all sorts of harmful habits. But if we didn’t run away from reality and didn’t have the opportunity to take refuge in something, we would have to accept things as they are and inevitably we would change something.
Accept reality as it is - accept your partner, the relationship and what this means to you. When you are honest with yourself and you embrace the truth, when you no longer live in illusions and fairy tales, you will be more willing to make changes. You will have more power and more courage to decide if this relationship is really a good one for you.
You can make a list of both positive and negative things. Which come first? What is their frequency? Does your partner's presence adds value to your life or, on the contrary, burden you one way or another? Choose a certain amount of time, for example a month, and review your relationship. At the end of each day, write down what you have gained or lost from your relationship. Have you felt encouraged, supported or sad, angry or unhappy? Be aware of the feelings you constantly have. Would you like to feel anything else? If the answer is yes, what can you do for that? Also, be aware of what your body is trying to tell you. The connection between your mind and your body is very close and our body reflects our inner states. Do you feel tension? Pain? Do you get sick frequently? All these are signs that something is not ok with your mind our emotions.
Stop looking for excuses and justifications. What do you want from this relationship? Have you got what you wanted? How big is the difference between what you want and what you actually live? Every relationship goes through some difficulties, but even then you can feel that, overall, everything is "as it should be", even then you feel the love, respect and support of your partner. But if, in general, you aren’t feeling ok, if you feel that this relationship isn’t right for you, it probably isn’t.
Set a deadline. How long are you going to suffer anymore? How long are you still willing to live the way you do? Give yourself a deadline, and meanwhile do everything you can to contribute to the good of the relationship. Assume your share of responsibility. Is it something you can do differently? And when that day comes, be honest with you: is it worth continuing? If you feel that it’s best to leave, just leave. If not, no. But if you decide to stay, do this only if you are sure that this is the best thing for you, not because you are afraid or because you feel that you have certain debts or obligations. Take the decision from a power position, not from helplessness position. And if you postpone to make a decision, consider that you have already taken one - to stay.
Be aware of your role in the relationship. The relational dynamics is supported by the roles that each of the two partners has assumed, roles that support each other’s behaviours. For example, if you are a victim, your partner may be an aggressor or a savior. If you don’t communicate, your partner may nag or criticize you. The more you distance yourself from the role you have assumed, the more the relational dynamics will change one way or the other.
Put yourself first in your life. Be aware of your needs and desires and respect them. If your partner doesn’t accept that you respect yourself, if he becomes aggressive, emotionally blackmails you and tries to make you feel guilty because you no longer accept compromises and sacrifices "for his sake", ask yourself how selfish is he and how much does he care about you. If you saw your best friend suffer as you, what advice would you give him? What would you think? Fight for yourself and for your happiness and treat yourself as if you were your best friend.
When the relationship is a healthy one, the partners manage to overcome the difficulties and problems they inevitably face in certain moments over time. But these difficulties will strengthen them and they will become more connected as a couple. Even if those difficulties will consume their resources in those momentes, those resources will regenerate. But in a toxic relationship, what is consumed can’t be recreated. You give and give your energy, your emotions and your time but it’s just a waste - nothing positive is created and nothing returns to you.
What do you choose to invest in?
Dr. Ursula Sandner