Are you heading into the danger zone?
I used to click on every story I saw about abusive relationships. ‘What To Do If Your Friend Is In A Toxic Relationship’, ‘Nine Reasons To End Your Relationship NOW’, ‘How To Know If You’re In An Abusive Relationship’ – I would disappear for hours down a rabbit hole of links and listicles.
What was I looking for? Permission to end my own abusive relationship? Confirmation my relationship was, in fact, toxic? Maybe what I really needed was for someone to reach through my laptop screen and shake me. But the truth is, no amount of shaking would have changed anything; I would only leave when I felt ready to leave.
Reading those articles did have a snowball effect, though; it helped to know I wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t imagining things.
If you’re in the place I was in – looking for permission to leave, or confirmation of your instincts – here are seven signs you really are in a toxic relationship.
1. You feel confused all the time
I used to walk around having conversations with myself about whether or not I should be upset about something. ‘Am I the asshole or is he?’ I’d ask myself. We had horrible fights, and afterward I didn’t even know what they were about or who started them. When I tried to talk to him, he was quick to tell me that no, I shouldn’t be upset, yes, I was the asshole, and that I’d picked the fight. Which brings me to sign number two…
2. Everything is your fault
One night I met my boyfriend for dinner at our fave restaurant. He was more dressed up than usual and seemed nervous, full of frenetic energy. Halfway through dinner I asked if anything was wrong. He said he was fine, but insisted I’d been “acting weird all night”. I started to feel sick; I said I wanted to go home. We ended up having a huge fight that he maintained was my fault for weeks after – until one of his friends emailed me to confess she and my boyfriend were having an affair that had started the night before that restaurant fight.
3. You hide things from him
I used to change the passcode on my phone all the time because I was afraid my boyfriend would look through innocent text messages and get upset. When we were together and my phone buzzed, my stomach would jump. He could hear my phone vibrate from two rooms away. “Someone’s calling you,” he’d say, ominously. It wasn’t that I was cheating on him or badmouthing him or doing anything I didn’t want him to know about – other than communicating with other people. Leading right into the next sign…
4. He tries to distance you from friends and family
According to my boyfriend, all my friends were either crazy whores (my girlfriends) or just wanted to sleep with me (my male friends). My family was “completely fucked”, as well as being made up of hypocrites and losers. “I’m the only person who’s ever really loved you,” he used to tell me, and, even creepier, “no one will ever love you the way I do”. I certainly hope not.
5. He calls you names
You’d think when someone calls you a “fucking cunt” or a “nasty bitch” you’d be through with that person, and yet I tried to excuse it. He was just upset. He’d been drinking. My bad mood and vicious tongue must’ve triggered him. Haven’t we all said things we wished we hadn’t? Words don’t mean anything, really – it’s actions that matter. At least that’s what he used to say to me. So he called me an ugly name; he also patched up all the mouse holes in my apartment and slaved over the stove all day to make my father’s famous stew for me as a surprise. How could I be mad?
6. You feel you have to have sex with him even when you don’t want to
Sometimes when my mind is confused, my body tells me the truth. I used to feel sick after having sex with my boyfriend. I thought I was just a freak (another name he used to call me). If you’re in a relationship with someone, it’s not rape, is it? Sometimes he wants to and you don’t, and sometimes you want to and he doesn’t. But there’s a difference between changing your mind once you start fooling around and steeling yourself when he rolls over and puts his hands on you.
7. You no longer recognize yourself
I remember the day I made up my mind to end my toxic relationship once and for all. I was riding the train into the city with some friends, and every time we went aboveground my phone buzzed with angry texts. My boyfriend was angry. Shaky and ashen, I came clean with my friends about what was happening. One of them got very upset, telling me I had to break things off immediately, to do whatever I had to, even call the police if necessary. But our other friend cut her off. “You know this person is bad for Elizabeth, and I know this person is bad for Elizabeth, but she needs to know it. It has to be her decision; we can’t do this for her.” I felt like a child with my nose in the corner, listening on as the adults discussed things over my head. It made me furious. How could they talk about me like that? And that’s what did it. Finally, I’d had enough. My rage and humiliation turned into pure resolve. It was over that day.
Please know that any one of these signs is more than enough reason to walk away from your relationship and never look back. Please know I understand exactly how hard it is to leave, and if I could reach through the screen, I wouldn’t shake you, I’d give you a hug. But since I can’t, please, be honest and kind to yourself; this is not your fault, and you deserve better… we all do.
Images via favim.com and giphy.com.
Comment: What’s your advice for others who find themselves in a toxic relationship?