I've got a quick uncomfortable truth for all of those of you in relationships. They might be happy, complicated, short or long-term, but nothing renders a relationship immune to compromising your mental health. Unfortunately, that's just the nature of co-dependency and the addictive nature of emotional validation.
It's also incredibly hard to step back and recognize what we put ourselves through everyday.
What we have acclimatized to is not what we deserve to endure. Equally, what we can handle is not what we can sustain. And finally, that which we would do for them is not necessarily what we get back in return.
Emotions are sometimes a transaction.
This doesn't mean that they're there to be bought, or flogged, or sold on the black market for people numb to the world to benefit from those that Feel Too Much. But it is reciprocal and filled with its own cultures and transactional exchanges. It's filled with gestures that we know to respond to or dismiss in order to send a message. However, with the application to relationships, this becomes even more intensified.
Why? Well, because you are generally putting all of your emotional eggs in one (probably careless) human being of a basket. We can't expect people to be infallible or never make a mistake, but all it takes is a stumble and suddenly your emotional wares are on the floor and they're stepping all over them trying to find them again.
Think of it as a Pandora's box.
The point that I'm leading to here is that no matter how much you love another person, and no matter how much they, in turn, love you back, you can't control how you feel at all points. Neither can they. Often, if communication starts to toil on the back burner, those in a relationship can quite forget that their actions can hurt the other person. And that's a tough pill to swallow. It brings to the surface questions of failure, emotional availability, and one's ability to truly be there for another person.
But that's the kicker. We can't be there for someone all the time.
A lot of the time, yes. But not enough or with enough accuracy to satisfy their emotional needs all of the time, and certainly not sufficiently to alleviate stress or anxiety. In fact, whether they know it or not, many people in relationships find themselves getting worse symptoms of their mental health problems, rather than being soothed or relaxed. And that's where it really hurts because the other person likely doesn't even realise that what they're doing hurts. We can acknowledge that, but we aren't responsible for excusing that.
People have that much power over us because we willingly ceded it, but we would do well to remember that it's also ours to take back. I understand that separating yourself from a toxic relationship is no small feat. And that often people aren't symmetrically attached in relationships. Some get out easier than others, without having tied all their sense of self to the other person. Others struggle, and that's perfectly valid. It is very upsetting, though.
I'm not going to sit here and pretend that there's an easy fix either because there isn't. Emotions are hard and so are life and relationships. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't put ourselves out there, or that it's not sometimes worth it, in the end, to have your heart broken a little. But you can't sustain a relationship that breaks your heart every day and kills you a bit inside every time that your partner is careless with you.
So here's a quick checklist of 5 sure fire red flags in a relationship.
Remember that just because it's what you may have got used to, that doesn't mean that you aren't still allowed to feel hurt and act on it!
1. They never respond to your messages
Not even the cute Facebook tags? Well, that sounds innocuous initially, but it soon spirals into ignoring important logistical texts and amplifies eventually to blanking you entirely. Sounds extreme? It happens and it means that you aren't remotely prioritized in their mind. The irony is of course that they will always expect you to show up and be there for them, even when they wouldn't do the same for you… this leads us neatly to our second point:
2. Double standards.
Don't be the guy that always demands a home-cooked meal and clean flat to come back to even though you both work. Even worse, don't demand that without contributing to the house yourself. This is a symptom of you not pulling your weight in the relationship too. It shouldn't be lopsided or comfortable for just one person.
3. They're secretive or overly private
This leads to suspicion, anxiety, and a lack of control in the relationship. If you are serious about a person, you must be willing to cede control just a little bit and loosen the lock around your heart. Otherwise, no one will get in and people will stop trying. By this, I just mean that the request for your phone password isn't really the end of the world. It's the old motto: 'if you have nothing to hide…'. You owe emotional vulnerability to yourself, but secondarily, to the person, you are invested in in the relationship. If you aren't progressing in emotional intimacy, then it's clearly going nowhere and causing you more stress than the relationship is worth.
4. They're super controlling.
This one kind of explains itself, but if the demands for access to each other exceeds what you are comfortable with, or you in any way feel that things have changed or you feel that you have to hide things from them, then that's a clear sign to get the heck out of there. Easier said than done, as per, but try to seek support or other perspectives from your friends or colleagues. Anyone you feel safe to talk to – and of course, if you feel unsafe or threatened ever – leave. Seriously consider afterward whether you want to go back.
5. They never want to meet your friends and make you arrange everything
Another double standard, but this one is a big no-no. you shouldn't be the person in the relationship always organising, pushing, or chasing up loose ends. This isn't a rogue office email that you have to trace back – you deserve to know where your partner is if you ask.
In short, a relationships shouldn't be hard work.
You can expect to work hard, but it can't just be on one person.
Cut yourself loose because that is an anchor pulling you down.