unhealthy relationships

How to help a friend in a toxic relationship

toxicImagine for a moment that you have a friend who is in a toxic relationship. It’s hard to tell from the outside just how unhealthy it is, but you’ve got a pretty strong inkling that it’s worse than they let on. You want to help your friend, but what do you do? What can you say? How can you encourage them to get the hell out and move on?

First, I’d like to tell you how *not* to do it. Because I am consistently astonished by how often I hear this terrible advice repeated.

  • Do not, I repeat, DO NOT tell your friend that their significant other is toxic, abusive, or otherwise “bad.”

Even if this is demonstrably true, it’s STILL a bad idea to say so to your friend.

Why? Because it makes them wrong to have gotten into the relationship in the first place. And making someone wrong about something is the very best way to get them to vehemently defend their right to do it and their rationale for having done it.

Allow me to play the role of your friend for a moment.

So you’re telling me that my partner is a toxic person. But if he simply *is* toxic, as a quality of his being, then he was toxic when I chose to start a relationship with him. Right?  So what does that make me? An idiot. A mark. A martyr. A victim. 

And anyway, you’re wrong. I know that he isn’t all bad. He has stunningly wonderful qualities. Qualities so wonderful, in fact, that I’ve been continually willing to put up with and overlook the toxic behaviors in question.

I’ve even engaged in some of those behaviors myself. They seem to be contagious. So if he’s toxic, then I must be toxic, too. Hell, maybe we deserve each other.

And maybe I can still fix this. Maybe I can repair this broken relationship and prove myself right to have gotten into it in the first place! Maybe I can redeem us both and make all this pain worthwhile! Maybe, with a little more work, with a little more patience and understanding and loving kindness I can still get my happily ever after…

But even if I can’t, the bottom line is that it doesn’t feel good in my soul to label this person whom I deeply love as “toxic” and cut him out of my life like a fungus. So I guess I’ll just have to hide the really bad stuff from you from now on so you’ll stop saying that to me.

Not exactly the outcome you were hoping for, hmm?

So, how do you help your friend?

Step 1. Observation

You point out the toxic patterns you see playing out in their current relationship. You help them step outside of their own relationship for a moment and see it from the outside so that they can decide what ought to be done. Use language like, “Here’s what I’m observing,” or “I wonder if you’ve noticed that…” Stick to observable behaviors and facts. No speculation, no evaluation of motives or assignments of blame.

Step 2. Validation

You reassure them that they are normal, and human, and that their reasons for choosing to be in, and stay in, that relationship are perfectly valid and totally understandable. This may feel counter-intuitive but it’s absolutely essential. Nobody wants to give up on a project that others tell them was doomed from the start. But if you tell them instead, “I totally see what you were going for there. Great idea, in theory,” they’re far more likely to be able to drop it and move on.

Which brings me to…

Step 3. Offer an alternative

Gently remind your friend that they can make a different choice at any time. For any reason. That it really is okay to take a break from someone just because that feels like the healthiest course of action. It doesn’t need to be a reflection on the toxicity of either party.

The truth is that, for the most part anyway, people in toxic relationships are not toxic people. They are people who have fallen into an unhealthy pattern of behavior vis-a-vis another person or people.

Peanuts aren’t deadly unless you happen to be allergic to them. Plenty of chemicals are inert on their own but explosive in the right–or rather the wrong–combination. Water is, like, the best thing in the world for you until you drink too much of it, and then it can fucking kill you. Forreal.

So it is with people. Some pairings are just… volatile. And we all have a nasty habit of recreating the same toxic patterns and pairings we are used to. It feels normal and familiar, even comforting, to experience that same flavor of toxicity over and over. Just like people often develop strong cravings for the very food they are allergic to.

And just like a gambling addict will sit in front of a slot machine for hours and hours and hours, we can spend months, years, even lifetimes trying to finally untangle that central problem we keep re-creating for ourselves. This time, we tell ourselves, it’ll be different. This time, I’ll figure out the trick of it, beat the system. Win that emotional jackpot. Even though we know that the dealer always wins in the end. Still, we keep trying, not just because the jackpot is so compelling but because the game itself becomes an addiction.

And the only way to let go of an addictive game is to find a new, equally compelling game to play.

So if you REALLY want to help your friend, here’s what you do: you help them find a new game. Invite them to collaborate on a project. Convince them to sign up for a class with you. Take them on a road trip. Keep them distracted, break up their usual patterns of behavior, get them out of their trigger-filled environment and give them a fresh perspective on things. Even if it doesn’t inspire your friend to leave their partner, it will certainly make them less reliant on that partner to get their needs for emotional support and stimulation met.

And hey, it’s a lot more fun than lecturing a purported equal about their terrible choice in partners. Not to mention far more likely to strengthen, rather than poison, your friendship.

How to destroy a relationship in 6 easy steps!

Are you tired of ending up in healthy, long-lasting relationships? Here are some simple steps that will keep your turn-over rate sky high!

I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of this method (I’m not proud, just honest).

broken_heart-1501

Step 1:  Be dishonest

True dishonesty begins by being dishonest with yourself. Try to be someone you’re not, and to want things you don’t. That will make it much easier to make agreements you can’t effectively honor. Before you know it, you’ll be breaking those agreements!

And when you do, you’ll think, “Hey, I’m a good person. So I must have had a good reason for breaking that agreement.” And you’ll find a way to rationalize your action, and to cover your tracks.

You might even get good at it. And before you know it, you’ll be a bona fide liar. It’s that easy!

Lying is an especially effective way to destroy relationships, because even if your partners never find out (and they probably will), you will feel the need to justify having lied to them. And thus you will start to subtly villainize your partners.

Which will lead you directly into step two…

 

Step 2:  Find fault with your partners

Although it’s plenty effective to simply think badly of your partners, this step is most effective when you actually let your partners know just how dissatisfying and inadequate they are, both as a partner to you, and as individuals.

Here are some especially effective areas to focus on:

  • – Things they can’t (easily) change

Do they have a small penis, or perhaps mismatched, pendulous breasts? Be sure to point that out every chance you get! Oh, and be sure to unfairly compare them to other people! Bonus points if those other people are other lovers of yours (past or present), celebrities, porn stars, or friends or relatives of theirs.

Triple bonus points if they were bullied in school because of it!

  • – Things that are important to them

Tell them how to do their job! Contradict them on matters in which they are vastly more qualified than you are! Oh, and by all means, offer unsolicited critiques on the stuff they’re most passionate about.

  • – Insignificant details

Did they mispronounce a word in conversation? Correct that shit! Bonus points if you roll your eyes.

Do their favorite shoes squeak when they walk? Complain about it until they feel so self-conscious they stop wearing them!

Oh, and be sure to lecture them about shit they post on Facebook, where they happened to go grocery shopping most recently, how they dress themselves, their grooming habits, etc.

Show them just how wrong they are on a wide variety of topics. This will drive home the importance of your approval, while simultaneously making them despair of ever living up to your standards.

 

Step 3:  Always be right

Okay, so you’ve made it clear just how superior you are to your partners. But why should they trust your opinion? You’re going to need to make sure they understand that YOU ARE ALWAYS RIGHT.

So, you’ll need to take every possible opportunity to assert your rightness. Jump on any mistakes you see a partner making, no matter how insignificant, and don’t let anything go until you’re satisfied that you have won!

Never admit fault, and for god’s sake never learn anything from your partners.

Above all, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EMPATHIZE. If you start looking at things from your partner’s perspective there’s a good chance you will achieve understanding. And that’ll lead you straight to compassion and reconciliation, which is the LAST thing you want when trying to make a relationship spontaneously combust.

Pro-tip: be sure to generalize! Make whatever is going on now about everything else they’ve ever done wrong. That way you’re not just right, you’re META-RIGHT.

 

Step 4:  Throw your partners under the bus in public

So now anyone you’re dating should be painfully aware of just how often you are right, and more importantly, how often they are wrong. But if you really want to annihilate the relationship, you’re going to need to make sure that everyone else knows it, too!

Whenever you disagree with something a partner does or says, proclaim your disagreement loudly, and in front of as many people as possible. Social gatherings, social media, Thanksgiving dinner, all excellent opportunities to let folks know you’re not afraid to side against your partners. Bonus points for snark and sarcasm!

If you skip this step, people might start to think that you are on the same team and have each others’ back, and that’s bound to give your partner a sense of security and a desire to show the same kind of loyalty to you. Now, is that any way to fuck up a relationship beyond all hope of recovery?

 

Step 5:  Don’t communicate effectively

Now, if you’ve followed all the steps above, your relationship should be on the train to splitsville. But there’s still a chance that train could be derailed by effective communication. So you’re going to need to be extra vigilant about keeping those channels full of static.

For example: have you been clearly stating your needs and wants? Well, cut that out! If they’re aware of your needs and desires, they’re much less likely to fail to meet those needs and fulfill those desires. You might end up feeling loved and supported, and you’d be surprised how much damage that can do to all your hard-earned dysfunction.

Instead, simply expect partners to be psychic and magically know what you need and want. And each time they fail to guess correctly, be sure to assume that they must have known, and simply failed to provide you with what you wanted on purpose. That’s sure to produce the maximum amount of resentment, which is a key ingredient in all failed relationships.

But don’t say anything about it! Let that resentment build! Resentment, like a fine wine, needs time to mature in order to reach its full relationship-crushing potential. The time will come to unleash the torrent. In the meantime, you can communicate just how unhappy you are by cultivating the fine art of passive-aggression.

Meanwhile, be sure to discourage your partners from expressing their needs and wants by reacting poorly any time they try. Bonus points if you mock their “neediness” and/or make negative judgments about their desires!

Pro-tip for the advanced relationship saboteur – do communicate your desires, but phrase them as demands rather than requests! This is extra-effective because it not only destroys any chance of your partners freely offering you what you want, it also fosters resentment, and undermines your partners’ sense of self-determination. And what better way to discourage someone from communicating their own needs and desires than to convince them they are not in control of their own life? Genius!

Finally, don’t forget to…

 

Step 6:  Focus on the past

Be careful! If you focus on what you actually want to accomplish in the present, there’s a possibility that you could actually achieve mutual satisfaction and move forward together! And that could lead to…

FIXING THE RELATIONSHIP. *gasp*

So, instead, be sure to focus on things that have already happened and cannot be undone. That’ll ensure an endless battle that can’t be won. By anyone. Ever.

 

That oughta do it. Now get out there and start ruining your love life!

I wanna see you be brave

confront

“Say what you wanna say

And let the words fall out, honestly

I wanna see you be brave

– Sara Bareilles, Brave

The first time I heard that song, I was oh-so-smug.

I thought: “Now there’s something I’m really good at! Being BRAVE!

I thought about how often I’m the first to say “I love you.”

I thought about how brazenly I put myself out there in the public eye.

“Hey everybody! I’m bisexual! I’m polyamorous! I have herpes! I’m a survivor!”

I thought about all the little ways in which I make myself vulnerable in the realms of sex and romance. Brené Brown would be so proud,” I told myself.

And I gave myself an emotional pat on the back.

I thought about all the other people who really needed to hear, and heed this song. People who weren’t being honest with themselves, weren’t being honest with other people, weren’t being brave enough to confront the reality of their situation, let alone change it.

I wanted to send a benevolent, benignly supercilious singing telegram to every last one of them.

But as recent events in my personal life have proven, Sara was singing to me.

Because bravery isn’t just about telling people what you do want, it’s also about telling them what you don’t want. Or, even scarier, what you did want, but don’t anymore.

And now I’m thinking about all the ways in which I’ve failed to be brave in my relationships. Like how long it took me to be honest with that guy who was convinced I was “the one,” when I knew I wasn’t. Or how many times I said, “I love you” to that girl, knowing that I didn’t. Or how long it took me to leave my abusive first husband. Or all the times I’ve failed to speak up when I didn’t like what was happening, and then got resentful about it.

I’m thinking about all the myriad ways I’ve allowed my boundaries to be trampled, my integrity to be tarnished, my needs to go unmet.

Then again, in every case, I eventually did the right thing. The hard thing. Despite grave personal and emotional risk.

I gave that guy his ring back.

When that weeping woman asked me point-blank, “Do you love me?” I answered, “No. Not the way you need me to.”

Despite the death threats and blackmail, I left that abusive bastard for good (third time was the charm). And I’ve come clean about a lot of those harbored resentments after the fact, and done my best to make amends.

Because it’s never too late to be brave.

The longer you wait, though, the more bravery will be required.

Look, I’m willing to put money on the fact that you–yes, YOU–are not confronting some truth.

Yep, that thing you thought of just now. That’s the one.

And now you’re probably mentally listing off all the perfectly rational reasons why you’re absolutely justified in not confronting it.

But here’s the truth: that thing is screwing up your life, diminishing your joy, and sapping your resources in ways you aren’t even aware of. And you don’t have to settle for that.

So I’m lancing you an official challenge:

  • DO IT TODAY.

Not tomorrow, not next week, not after squandering another year, or ten years, of your life on living a lie.

I promise you’ll thank yourself for it. Not right away, of course. At first it’s gonna suck hairy, sweaty monkey nuts. But someday soon, you will.

  • There is never a good time to do the hard thing. The time is now. Go. Do it. Be brave.

Because nothing feels better than being true to yourself.

“Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is”

 

Is this relationship good for me?

should-i-leave-him-quiz

“I need help,” said the frazzled woman sitting across from me, wiping tears with the back of her hand. “I can’t decide if this relationship is good for me or not.”

As I handed her a box of Kleenex, I thought, “If I had a quarter for every time I’ve had this conversation, I wouldn’t be sitting in my office, having this conversation.” But, as usual, I asked her to enumerate both the positive and negative aspects of her relationship. And, as usual, she listed off all the things she liked and didn’t like about the way her boyfriend interacts with her.

When she had finished, she looked at me, waiting for a verdict.

“And what about you?” I asked her.

She seemed genuinely confused by the question.

“There are two people in this relationship,” I reminded her. “What have you done to change things for the better?”

She protested that she’d told him many times about the things she doesn’t like, but that he still hasn’t fixed them.

And there was the rub: she was focusing on things she had no power to change, i.e. his behavior, rather than focusing on things she could, and should be doing to work toward her relationship ideal.

Women in particular seem to be prone to this behavior, though it’s not gender-specific per se.

  • There is this sense that a relationship falls into our laps ready-made, and either it’s worthy of our time and energy or it isn’t.

This creates a feeling of powerlessness, as though we ourselves are incapable of affecting change and must therefore pester our partner to do so. And since people are not generally fond of criticism, particularly within romantic relationships, those petitions are, at best, simply ignored, and at worst labeled as “nagging” and used against us in a court of love.

  • The truth is that both partners are equally responsible for creating and maintaining the kind of relationship they want. And that begins with focus.

You see, focus determines reality. So the more you focus on what you think your partner is doing wrong, the more real that problem becomes. And the more energy you send toward worrying over whether or not that problem is a deal-breaker, the less energy you have to devote to creating the kind of relationship you actually want.

So, the first step is to decide what kind of relationship you want. Until you do that, you have nowhere to put your focus and no goal to work toward. So, envision your ideal relationship. Write it out on paper. Keep it somewhere prominent so you can remind yourself on a daily basis exactly what you are working toward creating.

Then, put your focus on taking positive action. That is, on doing whatever you can do to make your relationship more like that ideal you described.

Finally, when you find yourself in a negative interaction with your partner, try simply re-focusing your energy onto figuring out what you are both trying to accomplish.

Ask your partner, and yourself for that matter, “What do you want?” or, if you want to get more technical, “What is your desired outcome for this interaction?”

Once you’ve gotten an answer to that question, for both of you, give no focus to anything that does not work toward one or both of those goals.

To sum up:

  • Ask not if this relationship is good for you, but if you are good for this relationship.

 

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