“I don´t need to own to love. I don´t want to be the owner of the person I love. I neither want to conquer nor take: love is not an act of war. Saying she is mine is treating the other like a thing, as if it were a matter of buying and selling. I don´t possess you, I enjoy you while you are around in my life; and that means a lot.”
Walter Riso, Psychologist & Writer
This phrase describes well how a relationship should be like. Yet, there are also these types of relationships that are painful, difficult, confusing and incomprehensible. Maybe you have seen them in your family, in the circle of your friends, at work or maybe you have experienced them yourself. As an observer, a separation seems to be the only wise solution and you wonder why the couple stays together. If you are involved in toxic relationships you may feel like Don Quijote fighting with the windmills: powerless, guilty, without energy and maybe even embarrassed when you talk to friends about your relationship. Love has turned into continuous suffering and fighting even though you saw all through rose-colored glasses at the beginning.
Why do toxic relationships exist?
Lack of Healthy Role Models
Many people miss a healthy image of a relationship because they grew up in dysfunctional families. They have never learned how a healthy relationship should look like. They lack of positive role-models and they do not know how to behave in a relationship in a healthy way. As a consequence, they repeat as adults what they have learned during their childhood. However, you do not have to continue this cycle. You can break it. As an adult, you can choose to heal your childhood wounds and your past to generate new experiences. This way, you can experience relationships that give you support, positive energy and well-being.
Unhealthy Beliefs about Love
Some people have idealized thoughts about love. Beliefs like “love is limitless” or “true love is unconditional” make it difficult to set clear limits or leave the relationship if necessary. Society or your own family may tell you that you have failed when you get separated. Or, that you cannot separate because of the children. My parents were divorced and, as a child, I was grateful that they had been divorced. These beliefs are often deeply buried in our subconscious mind and make a separation a very difficult decision due to fear, guilt and shame. In reality, you should say, “no” to a relationship when it affects your dignity, your identity or your happiness. You should leave your partner if their behaviour breaks with your values and principles. A healthy relationship signifies that you love your partner while you love, value and respect yourself.
Obstacles to love
Another limit of a relationship is that your partner doesn’t love you. It is not necessary to continue with the relationship, but you must face reality and to learn how to give up. Love is the foundation of a healthy relationship. A relationship is unhealthy if you cannot grow or if you cannot follow your dreams. A relationship should give you and your partner the freedom to grow.
Any form of violence
Physical and sexual violence clearly breaks the limits of love. Love doesn’t justify violence. There is nothing to argue about. Despite the evident signs like maybe a bruise in your face, physical violence leaves a mark in the soul that requires profound healing. A very subtle boundary is emotional violence or manipulation. It is hard to notice but has the same devastating impact on our soul as physical or sexual violence. Manipulation destroys in a hardly perceptible manner the self-esteem, the well-being, the happiness and the identity of the victim. In a toxic relationship, the victim and the aggressor are in a dangerous cycle of control and power and may even switch roles from time to time.
What are the signs of toxic relationships?
Here are some of them:
- Your partner makes you feel inferior, guilty or humiliated. They repeatedly insult you by telling you phrases like You’re insane, You’re ugly, You’re stupid or You’re fat.
- They try to isolate you from your family or your friends. They control whatever you do or whom you talk to. They try to tell you where to go and use jealousy to justify their unhealthy behaviour.
- They use threats by mentioning suicide or separation or they frighten you by falsely reporting you to the police. They provoke fear through looks, gestures or by destroying objects.
What makes toxic relationships so complex?
All these behaviors break with the limits of love in a relationship. Often, the aggressor would minimize or deny the abuse, in occasions they make even their partner feel responsible for the abusive attitude. Sometimes, the aggressor looks like a charming person to other people and only shows their abusive behaviour in the relationship. This makes it difficult for the victim to ask for help since no one else understands it. The affected person loses self-esteem until they start believing that there is really something wrong with their personality. That is the point when the victim is convinced that their partner is right, and develops a false image of themselves. The affected person lives in fear and experiences a strong feeling of guilt and self-hatred. The victim also faces difficulties to giving up a toxic relationship due to a strong emotional dependence.
How can you change the situation?
Even though it seems difficult, you can learn a lot out of these situations: you can learn to set healthy boundaries, to stand up for yourself and to clearly say no to these toxic relationships and walk away while facing the pain of separation. This pain is a useful suffering because it opens a path towards a healthy life. You don’t have to make the road alone, you can and you should ask for professional help that supports you in facing the fear of loneliness, in healing the traumatic experience, in learning to set up healthy boundaries, in regaining self-esteem and dignity and in learning how a healthy and mature relationship looks like. This is an inner process that can guide you to freedom, happiness and connecting deeply with your essence. The beauty that life has to offer is worth to take this step.
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