Please read this disclaimer before reading this story.
DISCLAIMER: In this series, we will be covering stories on Toxic and abusive relationships. This may be a triggering topic for some. This particular story mentions instances of gaslighting. There is also mention of infidelity. Kindly remember to be mindful of your mental well-being and that of others when reading and sharing this story.
I could never tell my ex-partner how I was feeling. I’d say one word, and the relationship is over. One of the things that is so hard when you are in a situation like that is that they gaslight you. That happened a lot. I would express my feelings about something, and it would just turn into this thing of me being the problem. It was common to hear things like, “You’re overthinking it. Why are you making a big deal out of nothing.”
Once there was an interaction between him and another woman on Twitter, and I remember thinking that it wasn’t okay, and I told him as much. It turned into, “Why are you being jealous? Why are you being possessive?” In the end, I did find out that he was cheating on me with her, so go figure!
There was also the other side of it where he would say to me, “If you can’t trust me, I’m out.” The fear of losing him made me feel like I shouldn’t say a thing.
What happens to you in a toxic relationship stays with you to the point where when you get yourself into a new relationship, you’re never quite secure. Even now, I am about 18 months into a new relationship, and if my boyfriend is quiet or wants his space, I’m like, “This guy is breaking up with me.” Silence, for me, was a weapon used to suggest that I was bad or I was wrong.
I am in therapy, and it’s taking a lot of work every single day to fight against what I had been left with. I don’t know if these things will ever get to a point where they entirely leave me, but right now, I should say it’s pretty loud.
My current partner gets it, and he tries to be communicative. I remember telling him that when he needs his time and needs to be quiet, he needs to spell it out to me. I need him to say to me, “You haven’t done anything wrong; nothing has happened. I just need some space, or I just need some quiet time.” He does that, but I can also see that when he’s quiet and I ask him if everything is okay and if I’ve done something wrong, there’s frustration there at some point.
I think what ends up happening is that, at some point, the person you’re with, understandably, may turn around, and retort, “I’m not him. I feel like I’m being punished for what he did.” Nobody ever wants it to get to that point.
My boyfriend and I are in a long-distance relationship, so this is especially true when we are together in the same country. So, yes, my boyfriend is supportive, but I’ve learned that in the end, if you’ve been in an abusive situation when you go into a new relationship, you need to be in therapy if you can afford to. You also need to run things by your friends. You cannot expect your partner to carry the burden fully – it’s not fair on them. You must take responsibility for doing the work around it at some point.
I feel like I have to unlearn about 80% of things from my toxic relationship, including the fear of saying when I’m not okay with something. In my current relationship, it comes as an absolute shock to me when I tell my boyfriend that I’m not okay with something, and he understands. My boyfriend always says to me, “Why do we always end up in a situation where you ask me if I’m breaking up with you?” Learning to find your voice again in a relationship when you’ve been quiet is among the hardest things.
I think a healthy relationship requires healthy communication where you can tell each other anything and everything without the fear that the person will blow up on you or that they’ll leave.
Trust is also important. The confidence that you can leave your mobile phone outside and your partner won’t go through it, and that you won’t feel the urge to go through their phone because you know there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.
I think a healthy relationship is two people meeting each other where they are and having the patience with each other to grow in different areas of life. Being able to be yourself with no pressure or expectations to be a certain way is a huge thing. Being with someone who doesn’t shame me for my perceived failures is key.
For example, my boyfriend is very financially savvy, and I’m totally careless, and I see his patience with me on that. I am more emotionally intelligent than him, and I have to be more patient with him because he doesn’t always know the right thing to say straight away. So giving each other space and meeting each other where you are is needed.
You should also be curious about what each other’s sense of safety is. Ask yourself, “What makes this person feel safe, and what doesn’t?” Then, go out of your way and try to the best of your ability (as long as it’s within reason) not to make the other person feel unsafe.
In the early days of my relationship, I’d ask my boyfriend if he was going to be away and quiet for a few hours to message me and let me know. He’d send me messages and say things like, “I’m going into a meeting now, so if you don’t hear from me for a few hours, this is why.” That really meant a lot to me, coming out of something traumatic and going into something new.
The thing is, you have people who if you request something similar of them, they’ll blow up or fail to understand why. It’s not a big deal, but knowing what makes your partner feel safe and going out of your way to give them that is so underrated in terms of relationships. No one is saying that it’s appropriate for me to tell my boyfriend that I’m not okay with him having female friends because it makes me feel unsafe. That’s unreasonable and controlling. But it’s with other smaller things.
The minute I knew I was in trouble in my relationship with my ex, I started going to therapy even though I couldn’t leave the relationship. More than anything, though, I’d advise someone to sit down and reflect upon what safety looks like in a relationship for you and see if your partner is meeting those needs.
When you have a partner, your value goes up in society – people treat you differently. We often stay in unhealthy relationships because of low self-esteem and societal pressure. I have a friend who has gotten into a relationship in which you can clearly see her man is not suitable for her, but she’s not leaving. She is settling because she says she needs to be married. I can’t even judge it because I get it. When I’m going about my life now, and people ask, “You’re not married?”, and I respond that I have a boyfriend, I get left alone at least because I’ve got someone. It was different two or three years ago when I didn’t. And many times, especially in this social media generation, we all want to put up photos with “bae.” It doesn’t matter if “bae” is doing whatever he is doing; you just want people to see.
So you have to look and examine the reasons why you are in that relationship. Ask yourself why you’re allowing someone to treat you a certain way. Is it fear of being lonely? Is it low-self esteem? What is it?
When I look back on my situation, my friends could have said anything to me, and I wouldn’t have left. I needed to take a look at myself and examine why I was in that situation. What need was he meeting? Because you’ll quickly find that he may not be meeting any of your needs. You may not leave, but it’s important to have that knowledge.