“Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly…the lover alone possesses his gift of love.” ~Toni Morrison
Not all relationships are created equal. Some rage in like a storm and leave you far weaker than you were before. As you try to process the wreck that is now your reality, you wonder, how did I end up here?
I found myself in a toxic and addicting relationship in my mid-late twenties. Now that some time has passed and allowed for reflection, I want to pass on some signs from my previous relationship that I should have paid more attention to, in hopes that this may help others who are in a similar situation.
Signs a Relationship Has Become Unhealthy and Toxic
1. You are putting in most of the effort and your needs aren’t being met.
Emotionally, I felt drained and exhausted. This frequently happened when I tried to communicate my wants and needs to my former partner. Most of the time, it felt like my efforts were in vain.
2. You constantly feel like you are walking on egg shells.
I never knew when I would say something that would be too much for my former partner to talk about and he would shut down emotionally. It made me nervous to bring up my concerns about the relationship, as I felt like he had a wall built around him that I just couldn’t knock down.
3. You hang on because you think that’s what you are supposed to do when you love somebody.
Blame it on Disney, romantic comedies, or countless love songs, but how many of us stay in unhealthy relationships because we feel like we owe it to that person to be there for them? But what do we owe ourselves?
Looking back on my past relationship, I stayed in it for far too long it because I thought that’s what you do when you love somebody. You stick with them when they are hurting. But what if it’s one sided and it’s hurting you most of the time? Is that really love, or is it an unhealthy attachment to that person?
4. You get addicted to the highs of the relationship.
When things are bad, they are bad. But when they are good, you forget about the bad. The on-and-off again pattern makes it passionate and addicting, almost like a game. It also makes it incredibly unstable. I felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps backward, constantly preparing for the next big crash.
5. You are always giving in the relationship.
I gave most of my time and energy to my previous relationship because I didn’t think I deserved to be on the receiving end of love. Now I know how wrong I was.
6. You’re trying to solve problems that aren’t yours to solve.
I tried too hard to solve my ex’s problems and didn’t focus on myself. I was overwhelmed by huge life transitions like moving and starting a new career, so it seemed easier to try to help him even though he didn’t ask me for help.
This also allowed me to avoid admitting our relationship was deteriorating. It hurt too much to accept that our relationship was over and that I’d given 100 percent someone who no longer cared about my feelings or well-being. After all, to admit is to acknowledge, and who wants to become aware that your relationship has become incredibly unhealthy?
7. You get stonewalled.
When I would be vulnerable and try to communicate how I felt, my former partner would go silent on me for long periods of time. This was pure mental torture. It was one of the most excruciating things I had ever experienced emotionally.
Stonewalling was also incredibly confusing and traumatic. I would feel ignored, helpless, abandoned, and disrespected. This in turn would make me want to try to communicate more. Eventually we would start to talk again, and we got into an unhealthy cycle of me becoming anxious and him being avoidant.
8. You lose a sense of who you are.
At the end of the relationship, I felt broken and like a door mat that got stomped on incessantly. The person that I’d been before our relationship was no more, and all I was left with was a deep sense of shame for losing myself
I felt like I had fallen like Humpty Dumpty. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t put all my pieces back together.
It was hard to admit that I’d enabled my ex to treat me disrespectfully over and over again. I’d worried so much about him that I stopped focusing on myself and became entwined in trying to save a relationship that had fallen apart long ago. I didn’t want to accept after all the years we were together that this was the way that it would end.
9. You feel like you are in limbo and things are out of your control.
When my ex stonewalled me, I felt like I was waiting on someone else for my future to start. Everything got placed on pause. I gave him all of the power in the relationship, and I felt like I was waiting for answers that I’d likely never receive.
10. You feel disrespected.
My former partner stopped caring about my feelings the moment the stonewalling started. I felt so hurt, shocked, and betrayed. I think part of me stayed in the relationship so long because I couldn’t admit that this person who cared about me in the beginning had stopped showing concern for me and treated me without any kind of dignity.
That loss of love, communication, and affection was really hard to face. His apathy and lack of compassion made me feel like I was a piece of garbage that he threw out. I felt invisible, degraded, and unheard.
To get a clearer sense of how an unhealthy relationship is impacting you, ask yourself these questions:
- Why am I staying in this relationship? Am I staying because I am scared to be alone and deal with my own problems?
- How much of the time do I initiate communicating? Am I the one putting in all the effort in the relationship?
- Am I enabling the toxicity in the relationship by continuing to allow this person to treat me in a disrespectful way? Are there boundaries in the relationship for disrespectful and inappropriate behavior?
- Am I trying to save my partner? Am I constantly worrying more about them than myself?
- Why do I want to fix things in the relationship so badly? Do I feel like a failure for having the relationship end?
- Am I trying to control something that has run its course? Do we both want different things?
- Am I co-dependent? Am I staying in a one-sided relationship to help care for this person even when my needs are not being met?
- Am I living the life I want to live? Does this relationship make me feel loved and fulfilled?
Ending and walking away from a relationship that is unhealthy and toxic may be one of the hardest things that you ever do. Know that you are not alone and that you are worthy of being in a loving and healthy relationship. You deserve a relationship full of mutual respect, love, and healthy boundaries.
Some activities and resources that have helped me on my journey to self-empowerment and growth have been:
1. Express yourself; find your voice.
Holding in all of the hurt from a toxic relationship isn’t going to make it go away. Talk openly to trusted loved ones or friends about what you’ve experienced. It may surprise you to hear that others have similar stories. Talking to a counselor, who can give you tools, strategies, and resources to help you navigate this difficult time, may also be helpful.
Write in a journal or compose a mock letter to the person who hurt you, or to your past or future self. I wrote a letter to myself ten years into the future in hopes of where I wanted my life to be and found it to be inspiring and motivating.
2. Educate yourself on codependency.
I was familiar with the term codependency, but I didn’t truly understand what it was until I heard a podcaster mention the book Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie. This book put words to everything that I felt during this turbulent relationship.
It made me realize that I put all of my energy into a relationship that wasn’t mutual or healthy and lost myself on that journey. The book helped reinforce the notion that we only have control over our actions and not others. It motivated me to always be the driver of my life.
3. Spend time alone.
After things ended, I didn’t realize how addicted to the relationship I was and how challenging it would be to not reach out to my ex. It felt like I was going through withdrawal. It was intense and frustrating because, rationally, I knew it was for the best, but when I stopped contact it was a visceral experience.
I forgot how important it was to be alone, which is also the hardest and scariest thing. The healing truly began when I was able to sit with myself and all of my thoughts. Meditating and participating in yin yoga helped me recenter and decrease my anxiety while also decreasing built-up stress and tension in my body.
4. Take responsibility for your part.
I wasn’t just a victim in the relationship; I was also an enabler. I stayed in something that became incredibly unhealthy and allowed my ex to treat me in an inconsiderate and unkind way. I enabled this pattern to continue, which was the hardest thing to admit to myself.
5. Be gentle with yourself.
We are all human and are learning. Be patient and kind with yourself.
When this relationship was finally over, I wanted to rush through all of my grief and uncertainty in order to move on because it hurt too much. It was too real.
I knew deep down that this would take time to heal and I wanted to fast-forward through that phase. Give yourself time and grace. Some days will be worse than others. Just know that eventually you will have many more good days than bad days.
6. Forgive yourself.
Initially, I wanted to forgive my ex and felt an urgency to do so because I thought it would stop the pain. However, the person that I was most upset with was myself. How did it take me so long to realize this relationship was unhealthy? Why did I allow someone to treat me so poorly emotionally?
The person that I really needed to forgive was myself for allowing someone to walk all over my feelings for such a long amount of time. Once that process starts, everything gets easier. You may never get closure from your former partner after things end, but you can find it on your own.
7. Use this experience as a lesson.
Every relationship is a lesson. Even if it was a difficult time, learn what worked and what didn’t work. What you want and don’t want. Decide what are acceptable and unacceptable boundaries in a relationship so that the cycle doesn’t get repeated in the future.
8. Take control of your life and be the author of your own story.
Don’t wait for someone to change to start living your life. Hit the play button and start focusing on your goals and dreams and where you want to be in the future. You may not be able to put all of your broken pieces together in the same way they were before the relationship, but take time to figure out what person you want to become and rebuild yourself.
9. Love and believe in yourself.
Take good care of yourself because if you don’t, nobody will. Have high standards for what you deserve in a relationship and don’t accept less. Practice positive affirmations about your worth. How you perceive yourself will impact how others perceive you.
We might not have control over others’ actions, but we do have control over our own. It’s time to empower ourselves to live the life we want to live.
If we take time to truly understand why a relationship was unhealthy and toxic, we can vow to break the pattern and not allow it to happen again. We can love in a secure and healthy way and in turn attract partners who do the same. After all, we deserve to be in a healthy, fulfilling, and happy relationship, with ourselves and with others.