15 Signs of a Toxic Relationship

15 Signs of a Toxic Relationship

Toxic relationships will cause monumental breakage to people, families and workplaces, but they aren’t necessarily the territory of the weak, downtrodden or insecure. Strong, healthy, independent people can find themselves in the white-knuckled grip of a toxic relationship. Similarly, relationships that seem to begin strong because ‘omg we’re soooo in love you guys,’ can dissolve into nothing but ash and legal fees that could have bought a castle on the river Seine, if they weren’t being used to divide half your assets more ‘half-ly’.

Relationships evolve. They change and they grow. Sometimes they crash and they burn. We never know how things will look when each other’s less adorable, kind of awful habits start to show themselves publicly, or under the influence of alcohol or in-laws.

Some relationships are all shades of wrong from the outset (‘Darlin’ you’re so pretty. You’re the image of my ex. See? Here’s her photo. You can keep that one. I have plenty – in my wallet, as my screen saver, on my bedside table, at my mum’s house, on my desk, on my fridge and yeah, all over the place. Sometimes I just, like, hold it in front of me and run backwards and pretend like she’s chasing me. Wanna get some tequila baby?’) Some start off with promise and with all the right ingredients, but somewhere along the way, the right ingredients get replaced with resentment, jealousy, history and hurt.

We love love. Of course we do. Love sends us to joyous, lofty heights that we never want to come down from, but the same heart that can send us into a loved-up euphoria can trip us up and have us falling into something more toxic. The hot pursuit of love can be blinding. Even worse, sometimes it’s not until you’re two kids and a mortgage into the relationship, that you realise something has been missing for a while, and that something is you.

What is a toxic relationship?

A toxic relationship contaminates your self-esteem, your happiness and the way you see yourself and the world. A toxic person will float through life with a trail of broken hearts, broken relationships and broken people behind them, but toxic relationships don’t necessarily end up that way because the person you fell for turned out to be a toxic one. Relationships can start healthy, but bad feelings, bad history, or long-term unmet needs can fester, polluting the relationship and changing the people in it. It can happen easily and quickly, and it can happen to the strongest people.

Can I fix it?

All relationships are worth the fight, until they’re not. In a toxic relationship there will always be fallout:

  • moodiness, anger, unhappiness become the norm;
  • you avoid each other more and more;
  • work and relationships outside the toxic relationship start to suffer.

If the relationship is toxic, it is highly likely that all the fight in the world won’t change anything because one or both people have emotionally moved on. Perhaps they were never really there in the first place, or not in the way you needed them to be anyway. Even worse, if your relationship is toxic, you will be more and more damaged by staying in it.

Fighting to hold on to something that is not fighting to hold on to you will ruin you. Sometimes the only thing left to do is to let go with grace and love and move on.

What are the signs that I’m in a toxic relationship?

Being aware that the relationship is toxic is vital in protecting yourself from breakage. To stay in a toxic relationship is to keep your hand hovering over the self-destruct button. Not all toxic relationships are easy to leave, but being aware of the signs will make it easier to claim back your power and draw a bold heavy line around what’s allowed into your life and what gets closed out.

Toxic behaviour exists on a spectrum. All people and all relationships do some of these things some of the time – but that doesn’t make them toxic. A toxic relationship is defined by the consistency, the intensity and the damage. Here are some of the signs.

  1. It feels bad. All the time.

    You fall asleep hollow and you wake up just as bad. You look at other couples doing their happy couple thing and you feel the sting. Why couldn’t that sort of love happen for you? It can, but first you have to clear the path for it to find you. Leaving a relationship is never easy, but staying for too long in a toxic relationship will make sure any strength, courage and confidence in you are eroded down to nothing. Once that happens, you’re stuck.

  2. You’re constantly braced for the ‘gotcha’.

    Sometimes you can see it coming. Sometimes you wouldn’t see it if it was lit with stadium floodlights. Questions become traps. (‘Well would you rather go out with your friends or stay home with me?’) Statements become traps. (‘You seemed to enjoy talking to your boss tonight.’) The relationship is a jungle and somewhere along the way you’ve turned into a hunted thing in a skin suit. When the ‘gotcha’ comes, there’s no forgiveness, just the glory of catching you out. It’s impossible to move forward from this. Everyone makes mistakes, but yours are used as proof that you’re too uninvested, too wrong, too stupid, too something. The only thing you really are is too good to be treated like this.

  3. You avoid saying what you need because there’s just no point.

    We all have important needs in relationships. Some of the big ones are connection, validation, appreciation, love, sex, affection. When those needs are mocked or ignored, the emptiness of that unmet need will clamour like an old church bell. If your attempts to talk about what you need end in a fight, a(nother) empty promise, accusations of neediness, insecurity, jealousy or madness you’ll either bury the need or resent that it keeps being overlooked. Either way, it’s toxic.

  4. There’s no effort.

    Standing on a dance floor doesn’t make you a dancer, and being physically present in a relationship doesn’t mean there is an investment being made in that relationship. Doing things separately sometimes is healthy, but as with all healthy things, too much is too much. When there is no effort to love you, spend time with you, share the things that are important to you, the relationship stops giving and starts taking too much. There comes a point that the only way to respond to ‘Well I’m here, aren’t I?’ is, ‘Yeah. But maybe better if you weren’t.’

  5. All the work, love, compromise comes from you.

    Nobody can hold a relationship together when they are the only one doing the work. It’s lonely and it’s exhausting. If you’re not able to leave the relationship, give what you need to give but don’t give any more than that. Let go of the fantasy that you can make things better if you try hard enough, work hard enough, say enough, do enough. Stop. Just stop. You’re enough. You always have been.

  6. When ‘no’ is a dirty word.

    ‘No’ is an important word in any relationship. Don’t strike it from your vocabulary, even in the name of love – especially not in the name of love. Healthy relationships need compromise but they also respect the needs and wants of both people. Communicating what you want is as important for you and the relationship as communicating what you don’t want. Find your ‘no’, give it a polish, and know where the release button is. A loving partner will respect that you’re not going to agree with everything they say or do. If you’re only accepted when you’re saying ‘yes’, it’s probably time to say ‘no’ to the relationship. And if you’re worried about the gap you’re leaving, buy your soon-to-be ex some putty. Problem solved.

  7. The score card. Let me show you how wrong you are.

    One of the glorious things about being human is that making mistakes is all part of what we do. It’s how we learn, how we grow, and how we find out the people who don’t deserve us. Even the most loving, committed partners will do hurtful, stupid things sometimes. When those things are brought up over and over, it will slowly kill even the healthiest relationship and keep the ‘guilty’ person small. At some point, there has to be a decision to move on or move out. Having shots continually fired at you based on history is a way to control, shame and manipulate. Healthy relationships nurture your strengths. Toxic ones focus on your weaknesses.

  8. There’s a battle – and you’re on your own. Again.

    You and your partner are a team. You need to know that whatever happens, you have each other’s backs, at least publicly. In healthy relationships, when the world starts throwing stones, the couple comes together and fortifies the wall around each other. Toxic relationships often see one person going it alone when it comes to public put-downs. Similarly, when attempts are made from outside the relationship to divide and conquer, the couple is divided and conquered as easily as if they were never together in the first place.

  9. Physical or verbal abuse. Or both.

    These are deal-breakers. You know they are.

  10. Too much passive-aggressive.

    Passive-aggressive behaviour is an indirect attack and a cowardly move for control. The toxicity lies in stealing your capacity to respond and for issues to be dealt with directly. The attack is subtle and often disguised as something else, such as anger disguised as indifference ‘whatever’ or ‘I’m fine’; manipulation disguised as permission ‘I’ll just stay at home by myself while you go out and have fun,’ and the worst – a villain disguised as a hero, ‘You seem really tired baby. We don’t have to go out tonight. You just stay in and cook yourself some dinner and I’ll have a few drinks with Svetlana by myself hey? She’s been a mess since the cruise was postponed.’ You know the action or the behaviour was designed to manipulate you or hurt you, because you can feel the scrape, but it’s not obvious enough to respond to the real issue. If it’s worth getting upset about, it’s worth talking about, but passive-aggressive behaviour shuts down any possibility of this.

  11. Nothing gets resolved.

    Every relationship will have its issues. In a toxic relationship, nothing gets worked through because any conflict ends in an argument. There is no trust that the other person will have the capacity to deal with the issue in a way that is safe and preserves the connection. When this happens, needs get buried, and in a relationship, unmet needs will always feed resentment.

  12. Whatever you’re going through, I’m going through worse.

    In a healthy relationship, both people need their turn at being the supported and the supporter. In a toxic relationship, even if you’re the one in need of support, the focus will always be on the other person. ‘Babe like I know you’re really sick and can’t get out of bed but it’s soooo stressful for me because now I have to go to the party by myself. Next Saturday I get to choose what we do. K? [sad emoji, balloon emoji, heart emoji, another heart emoji, lips emoji].’

  13. Privacy? What privacy?

    Unless you’ve done something to your partner that you shouldn’t have, like, you know, forgot you had one on ‘Singles Saturday’, then you deserve to be trusted. Everybody deserves some level of privacy and healthy relationships can trust that this won’t be misused. If your partner constantly goes through your receipts, phone bills, text messages this shows a toxic level of control. It’s demeaning. You’re an adult and don’t need constant supervision.

  14. The lies. Oh the lies!

    Lying and cheating will dissolve trust as if it was never there to begin with. Once trust is so far gone, it’s hard to get it back. It might come back in moments or days, but it’s likely that it will always feel fragile – just waiting for the wrong move. A relationship without trust can turn strong, healthy people into something they aren’t naturally – insecure, jealous and suspicious. The toxicity of this lies in the slow erosion of confidence. Sometimes all the fight in the world can’t repair trust when it’s badly broken. Know when enough is enough. It’s not your fault that the trust was broken, but it’s up to you to make sure that you’re not broken next.

  15. Big decisions are for important people. And clearly, you’re not one of them.

    If you’re sharing your life with someone, it’s critical that you have a say in the decisions that will affect you. Your partner’s opinions and feelings will always be important, and so are yours. Your voice is an important one. A loving partner in the context of a healthy relationship will value your thoughts and opinions, not pretend that they don’t exist or assume theirs are more important.

I think I might be in a toxic relationship. What now?

If it’s toxic, it’s changing you and it’s time to leave or put up a very big wall. (See here for how.) Be clear about where the relationship starts and where you begin. Keep your distance emotionally and think of it as something to be managed, rather than something to be beaten or understood. Look for the patterns and look for the triggers. Then, be mindful about what is okay and what isn’t. Above all else, know that you are strong, complete and vital. Don’t buy into any tiny-hearted, close-minded push that would have you believe otherwise. You’re amazing.

And finally …

There are plenty of reasons you might end up in a toxic relationship, none of which have nothing to do with strength of character or courage.

Sometimes the toxicity grows and blindsides you and by the time you realise, it’s too late – the cost of leaving might feel too high or there may be limited options.

Toxicity in any relationship doesn’t make sense. In an attempt to make it make sense, you might blame history, circumstance or your own behaviour. The truth is that none of this matters. It doesn’t matter where the toxicity comes from or the reason for it being there.

Love and happiness don’t always go together. The world would run so much smoother if they did, but it just doesn’t happen like that. Love can be a dirty little liar sometimes. So can commitment. Staying in a relationship should never have losing yourself as one of the conditions. You’re far too important for that.

It’s important to make sacrifices in relationships but your happiness, self-esteem and self-respect should always be on the list – always. If a relationship is built on love, it nurtures, restores, replenishes and revives. It doesn’t diminish. It isn’t cruel and it doesn’t ever violate a warm, open heart. Everything you need to be happy is in you. When you are with someone who suffocates those precious parts of you, be alive to the damage they are doing. You owe them nothing, you owe yourself everything. You deserve to thrive and to feel safe, and you deserve to be happy.

[irp posts=”1602″ name=”When It’s Not You, It’s Them: The Toxic People That Ruin Friendships, Families, Relationships”]

344 Comments

Anna Julia

I remember reading this 9 years ago – that was the first article that somehow spoke about my reality and named the feelings and behaviours that I could not express correctly myself. It was an eye-opener. A year later (and after soo much work) I left my fiancee. Still coming back regulary to this piece. For me it’s one of the most important that I’ve ever read.

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Maxwell

What to do when someone you love is in a relationship where the other lies, and he/she passes over them like they are unimportant, the objectionable person drinks to excess, tells him/her they are sick and can’t see them for 3 days (and you believe there is another reason, either cheating or binge drinking), and other objectionable things. How can you protect the person you love who will not listen to reason, but contends that he/she doesn’t want to hurt this person and therefore seems to be sacrificing themselves to that person’s needs? What to do?

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Nessa

I just got out of a 7 year relationship where I tried everything to make it work, but it was never enough. We had a rocky start where he just left his wife, and I had just left my 14 year relationship. We were friends with benefits in the beginning, but I was not comfortable with it because he told me he loved me and spent almost every day with me, yet he was sleeping with other women without protection and messaging other women.

When our relationship became more exclusive, the arguments became very nasty and he would call me every name in the book and break up every time we argued. I loved him very much so I chased him and tried to make it work, even though he would hurt me over and over. When I would communicate that I felt his words or actions were hurtful, he would get upset, disregard my feels and tell me that I was being crazy, overreacting or being too sensitive, and he would break up with me stating that he didn’t have the patience for this.

The last straw was when he gave me a promise ring after 6 years of being together and told me not to tell anyone because he didn’t want his ex to know because it would hurt her feelings because she was still in love with him. So our big moment became about her. I also didn’t like that after an argument he said that our relationship was over and he emailed our real estate agent and copied me on the email stating that we wanted to sell the house without talking to me about it first. He did that to me twice.

In a nutshell, I did everything for him and his son. I helped raise his son from the age of 5 to 12. I was with his son when he would visit us most of the time because his father was working. I did the cleaning, cooking, administrative work for the house, and I took care of them while I still maintained a full time job and was going back to school part time. But it was never enough. I was still not ambitious enough, I was lazy, he didn’t like the way I thought or dressed, and I was too sensitive. He complained about everything.

I left and severed all communication because he was not willing to listen or to work on our issues, and his behaviour remained destructive. I tried for many years to make it work, but we cannot fix things if the other person is not willing to make the effort to change as well. He did not believe in therapy. His behaviour just took a heavy toll on my mental and emotional health for a long time, which really affected my self esteem.

I know my worth and I don’t deserve to be put down, devalued and ignored. We all deserve better and we need to stop all communication with those that make us feel anything less than special and important. I am in therapy now and it is bringing me back to life again. I advise any of you in the same situation to leave and get help because you deserve to be treated amazing. And if you’re staying because you feel sorry for them, they clearly don’t respect you so let them go and let them help themselves. You need to take care of yourself and your own wellbeing and can’t help those that don’t want to be helped. I know from experience.

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VC

I just got out of a 7 year relationship where I should have let it go on day one. He had just left his marriage and he has a son. I had just left my 14 year relationship. I initially was there for him in the beginning because he was so broken. He felt like he had abandoned his son, so I was there for him as support. When we did start dating, he would hide me so that his ex or her family didn’t find out about me. I understood. But then even though he said he was in love with me, he wanted to be friends with benefits. So even though I spent a lot of time at his place and we were sleeping together, he was sleeping with other girls without protection and messaging girls. It really hurt but I agreed to be friends with benefits. I was quite naive.

We eventually became exclusive, and in the beginning we had some great times together, but as we started to become more serious, the arguments became quite nasty. He would call me all sorts of names and tell me he didn’t want anything to do with me. We broke up and got back together multiple times. I made excuses for him and stuck by him because I loved him and wanted to be there for him. I always thought he was lashing out because he was hurting, and I didn’t want to abandon him. I felt a lot of abandonment as a child, so I didn’t want him to feel abandoned by me. Although in hindsight, he knew all about my past with abandonment and he still didn’t mind breaking up with me every time we argued. He would even use things that I told him about my past against me, which was really hurtful. Things that I never told anyone.

He was constantly disrespectful and disregarded my feelings when I would try to tell him how his words or actions made me feel. I was crazy, overreacting or too emotional and he didn’t have the patience for it. The two things that were my breaking point was when he gave me a promise ring after 6 years of being together and he told me not to tell anyone because he didn’t want his ex to find out. He felt it would hurt her feelings even though she was already dating someone for 5 years and bought a house with him. He felt guilty for how he treated her in the past and couldn’t get over it and he felt that she still loved him, so that moment became about her and not about us. I told him that he should disconnect more from his ex because he said she would make him feel bad and guilty prior to this incident, but he would get upset and say that I was being jealous. I’m sorry but your ex of 6 years is messaging you photos from when you were married stating “the good old days” and messaging you photos of her on the beach from her vacations. And he once sent her a photo of them from an anniversary dinner looking lovingly into each other’s eyes, but he said it was because he wanted to show her how young they were in that photo. Maybe this behaviour would be ok if they actually got along, but they fought constantly. I felt very uncomfortable with it. The second incident was when we got into an argument and he said we were done and he emailed our real estate agent and copied me on the email to say we would like to sell the house without even talking to me about it. He did that to me twice.

Overall, I did everything for him and his son. I was even there for his ex wife if she needed something. I cooked, cleaned, did all of the laundry and the grocery shopping. I did all the administrative things around the house. I took care of everyone when they were sick or hurt, and his son was prone to sickness. I helped raise his son from the age of 5 to the age of 12. We had a very good connection as I was with him most of the time when he would visit us while his dad was busy working. Even though we are not together anymore, I wanted to send his son a birthday gift but he told me not to because we were not together anymore and that his son will remember me, even though I thought we were friends. That hurt me a lot because he was like a son to me and he is trying to remove me from his life.

I did everything I could for the relationship only to be told that I was not ambitious enough, I was lazy, he didn’t like the way I think, he didn’t like the way I dressed, I wasn’t social enough and I was too sensitive. A lot of this is my fault because I allowed it to continue. He tried to get rid of me multiple times throughout our relationship and I chased him because I didn’t want to lose him. I loved him very much. But in August of 2023 I moved out so that we could give each other space to see if we could work on our issues, and he turned it into one of those moments where he needed to see if he needed to choose between me and his freedom, which is not the first time he had done this. This would probably be the third time. I decided that enough was enough and that I was not an A or B choice, I deserved better and I know my worth, so I ended it for good.

We tried to be friends but I just blocked him from everything recently because I tried to communicate with him that I don’t like the way that he disrespects me, and he went off again about how I am too sensitive and to never contact him again. We are not together anymore and he doesn’t owe me anything. His ex and I talked from time to time in the past, and he did the same things to her that he did to me. It was a pattern unfortunately. But you cannot help someone who is not willing to help themselves.

At the end of the day we have to be strong enough to break the cycle because it takes a real heavy toll on your mental and emotional state. I allowed him to push me away and pull me back in constantly, and it really breaks down your self esteem and you start to question everything about yourself. I know I am not perfect, but I also know that I do not deserve to be treated like that. We all deserve better and I at least know what I don’t want in my next relationship. A definite eye opener. I hope this story helps you move forward from an unhealthy relationship as well.

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SP

Wow we must know the exact same guy. This sounds to the tee like the 8 month “partner” / friends with benefits but “more” I’m seeing now. It’s freakishly similar…freakishky. The wife, the son, the exclusivity and sleeping. All of it. I salute you for your strength to endure it that long! I am a much weaker person. Have been questioning my self-worth and if he’s actually right and I just need to be a better/smarter/more driven/cooler person…also was depressed when we met and feel it’s all he sees and criticizes me for.. He always says he’s kidding but you can feel the cruel intention underneath and the motivation to get under my skin. Constant push and pull. Know he keeps all sorts of photos on his phone…UGH. But I do love him too. Such a charmer and seducer. Deciding whether to stay or go. It’s been consuming me and preventing me from recovering fully from depression. Knocks me down every time. Wow, I wish I could introduce these two.

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TB

I know it feels like love but it’s not. He’s being unfaithful and tearing down who you are while taking from you what he wants. That’s not love, you deserve so much better. And I bet you’re insanely great-they pick great women and tear them down. You should tell the wife, she has a right to know and I bet you it’s worse behaviour at home because if he’s treating you this way getting what he wants-he’s most likely emotionally abusing her to the max.

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Carl P

My wife of 22 years has now decided she wants a divorce. I wanted to fight for the marriage said I would change and do the things that I had not been doing, she said she bows I will change. I mentioned marriage counselling and she said that’s a waste of time, so completely given up on us I am devastated and feel so low. I am not sleeping as my mind is so wired I go to sleep thinking of it wake up thinking of it. I have lost 6kg in weight and not eating enough. She posts comments on instagram saying “ Feeling Great” and seems not to care about how I am feeling. I know think that is any future relationships worth it. I think or maybe wrong there is some toxicity in this

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Melissa F

I know exactly how you are feeling, and let’s face it, it can be so overwhelming too much to even think about. Your mind is flooded with what’s wrong with me, she doesn’t care. I did exactly the same when husband of over twenty five years ghosted me at the start of Covid. I wanted to die, I thought I can never be happy, my life is over. Four years later and let me say that what happened in my marriage was a true gift in disguise. It took almost year in half to two years mind you everyone is different, what you can do is to live your best life, you deserve happiness and deserve someone that wants to be with you.

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Ibeh B

I’ve been in a relationship for 4 years.
I love my babe so much and she loves me. She was going to enter school. I was broken.
I told her that the school she is entering that she will meet another guy there cus the pressure will be too much, but she assured me that no guy can take my place and that she loves me wholeheartedly and that she loves me with passion. I was convinced that we gonna be together. The school is actually a 4 years course. She went to school and the first months we was rogue. We called everything we vibed then 4 months later she cheated on me and slept with a guy she met in school. My friends at the school told me but she denied it. I sent her the pic of her and the guy together and she then confessed that it was the truth. I was broken to the core cus I trusted her and she made me trust her but I was broken by her. I vowed never to love a girl again. After few months I met a girl at my work place. We vibed together until we started dating. The truth is that i love the girl with all my life and she loves me also. We both love each other to de core but after few months of being in a relationship she told me that she was gonna enter school. I was broken. I was sad to the core but she assures me that she will be with me and I told her about my past relationship and how it went based on this same school stuff It was really sad and I can’t even trust her again cus of what I went through in the past. I’ve been in thought for the last few days. Am down.

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Ang

I’ve was with my kids father for almost 9 years. We were together for 4 and engaged for 4 but never spoke about marriage. He didn’t want to really take that next step. I didn’t even have an engagement just a ring giving to me and said here you go. Well for the past 3 years or so. It’s always fighting always ending in arguments every day to the point where it affects my mental health. I had to start seeing a therapist. For the past 2 years I’ve had a best friend who is a male. He’s seen both sides of stories has heard the fights. Everything. I fell in love with him. We had a fight and it came out when a group of us went to a wedding for my best friends uncle. Seeing them up there and the love they shared I almost shattered because I know I’ll never have that. I know my best friend will give it to me but I can’t help but to feel guilty. My kids father is now trying but it’s like I have no more energy no more fights left. I asked for marriage counseling, tried to explain what’s going on how he has become so distant and self absorbed into his meditation that is all his life has become. I’ve almost gone thrown things in the past almost 9 years ago. That just don’t end. Mistakes were made. I wanna move on and be happy with my best friend. But I feel like I’m a piece of crap because I don’t want to work it out anymore because I can’t. I feel like a double edge sword is stabbing me and he’s the boy who cried wolf. Side note. I’ve tried to leave multiple times in the past 3 years. Different occasions. So this isn’t the first time, but my mind just finally says enough.

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Nicholas S

Bingo: “avoid saying what you want to say because ‘there’s just no point.'”

My poor excuse of a “partner” gaslights, lies patholigically and she is a textbook narcissist. It ruins all our plans but I have to get away from her. Make it worse, I am geo-fenced in to a specific location.

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Teri

Wow, this is opening my eyes.
I have been with my partner for 19 years. We are not married and I now realize he will never ask.

We got together during a very dark time in my life, about six months after my son died. I know I was unable to set clear relationship boundaries at that time and should never have entered a relationship. Within a year I became pregnant with our daughter. I have a daughter from my previous marriage who was eight when we started dating.
Over the years he does not allow any arguments, will not discuss any disagreements and will passive aggressively take digs at any accomplishments I have made. He was very strick with my oldest daughter and very lenient with the daughter we share.
He does no housework or cooking but always makes time to go off with friends.
My youngest daughter has one more year of highschool then off to college, I will be 57 and really think it will be time to go and find myself. I just don’t know if I waited way to long.

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Lisa L

Loved loved loved this article. So many valuable lessons and reminders of how to gracefully with love sever a tie that gives me less than I deserve and gives me less than I give. My so-called “relationship” is new, toxic, and I have broken up with him three times now. Though my boundaries have been boldly drawn, this article is so correct, if a person chooses to be toxic nothing you do or say or change will change that behavior manipulate them to be truthful, transparent and deeply devoted. Thank you so very very much for this wisdom, tools to cherish and continue to build my strength and value for myself.

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Teddi

Take heart. I’m 59 and I see myself in your story. It’s not too late and you haven’t waited too long. Find the courage to walk out the door and brave the new frontier. You’re worth it. If not now you’ll end the relationship in a casket. Go. Life is waiting for you. New friends and new experiences are waiting for you.

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When you can’t cut out (their worries), add in (what they need for felt safety). 

Rather than focusing on what we need them to do, shift the focus to what we can do. Make the environment as safe as we can (add in another safe adult), and have so much certainty that they can do this, they can borrow what they need and wrap it around themselves again and again and again.

You already do this when they have to do things that don’t want to do, but which you know are important - brushing their teeth, going to the dentist, not eating ice cream for dinner (too often). The key for living bravely is to also recognise that so many of the things that drive anxiety are equally important. 

We also need to ask, as their important adults - ‘Is this scary safe or scary dangerous?’ ‘Do I move them forward into this or protect them from it?’♥️
The need to feel connected to, and seen by our people is instinctive. 

THE FIX: Add in micro-connections to let them feel you seeing them, loving them, connecting with them, enjoying them:

‘I love being your mum.’
‘I love being your dad.’
‘I missed you today.’
‘I can’t wait to hang out with you at bedtime 
and read a story together.’

Or smiling at them, playing with them, 
sharing something funny, noticing something about them, ‘remembering when...’ with them.

And our adult loves need the same, as we need the same from them.♥️
Our kids need the same thing we do: to feel safe and loved through all feelings not just the convenient ones.

Gosh it’s hard though. I’ve never lost my (thinking) mind as much at anyone as I have with the people I love most in this world.

We’re human, not bricks, and even though we’re parents we still feel it big sometimes. Sometimes these feelings make it hard for us to be the people we want to be for our loves.

That’s the truth of it, and that’s the duality of being a parent. We love and we fury. We want to connect and we want to pull away. We hold it all together and sometimes we can’t.

None of this is about perfection. It’s about being human, and the best humans feel, argue, fight, reconnect, own our ‘stuff’. We keep working on growing and being more of our everythingness, just in kinder ways.

If we get it wrong, which we will, that’s okay. What’s important is the repair - as soon as we can and not selling it as their fault. Our reaction is our responsibility, not theirs. This might sound like, ‘I’m really sorry I yelled. You didn’t deserve that. I really want to hear what you have to say. Can we try again?’

Of course, none of this means ‘no boundaries’. What it means is adding warmth to the boundary. One without the other will feel unsafe - for them, us, and others.

This means making sure that we’ve claimed responsibility- the ability to respond to what’s happening. It doesn’t mean blame. It means recognising that when a young person is feeling big, they don’t have the resources to lead out of the turmoil, so we have to lead them out - not push them out.

Rather than focusing on what we want them to do, shift the focus to what we can do to bring felt safety and calm back into the space.

THEN when they’re calm talk about what’s happened, the repair, and what to do next time.

Discipline means ‘to teach’, not to punish. They will learn best when they are connected to you. Maybe there is a need for consequences, but these must be about repair and restoration. Punishment is pointless, harmful, and outdated.

Hold the boundary, add warmth. Don’t ask them to do WHEN they can’t do. Wait until they can hear you and work on what’s needed. There’s no hurry.♥️
Recently I chatted with @rebeccasparrow72 , host of ABC Listen’s brilliant podcast, ‘Parental as Anything: Teens’. I loved this chat. Bec asked all the questions that let us crack the topic right open. Our conversation was in response to a listener’s question, that I expect will be familiar to many parents in many homes. Have a listen here:
https://www.abc.net.au/listen/programs/parental-as-anything-with-maggie-dent/how-can-i-help-my-anxious-teen/104035562
School refusal is escalating. Something that’s troubling me is the use of the word ‘school can’t’ when talking about kids.

Stay with me.

First, let’s be clear: school refusal isn’t about won’t. It’s about can’t. Not truly can’t but felt can’t. It’s about anxiety making school feel so unsafe for a child, avoidance feels like the only option.

Here’s the problem. Language is powerful, and when we put ‘can’t’ onto a child, it tells a deficiency story about the child.

But school refusal isn’t about the child.
It’s about the environment not feeling safe enough right now, or separation from a parent not feeling safe enough right now. The ‘can’t’ isn’t about the child. It’s about an environment that can’t support the need for felt safety - yet.

This can happen in even the most loving, supportive schools. All schools are full of anxiety triggers. They need to be because anything new, hard, brave, growthful will always come with potential threats - maybe failure, judgement, shame. Even if these are so unlikely, the brain won’t care. All it will read is ‘danger’.

Of course sometimes school actually isn’t safe. Maybe peer relationships are tricky. Maybe teachers are shouty and still using outdated ways to manage behaviour. Maybe sensory needs aren’t met.

Most of the time though it’s not actual threat but ’felt threat’.

The deficiency isn’t with the child. It’s with the environment. The question isn’t how do we get rid of their anxiety. It’s how do we make the environment feel safe enough so they can feel supported enough to handle the discomfort of their anxiety.

We can throw all the resources we want at the child, but:

- if the parent doesn’t believe the child is safe enough, cared for enough, capable enough; or

- if school can’t provide enough felt safety for the child (sensory accommodations, safe peer relationships, at least one predictable adult the child feels safe with and cared for by),

that child will not feel safe enough.

To help kids feel safe and happy at school, we have to recognise that it’s the environment that needs changing, not the child. This doesn’t mean the environment is wrong. It’s about making it feel more right for this child.♥️

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