A relationship is a living, breathing thing. It expands and contracts, changes and grows as we move through our lives. Change is inevitable. And with those changes come ups and downs. Couples fight. We hurt each others feelings. That is normal.
Some relationships have serious and obvious problems. Physical abuse, endless repetitive disagreements, constant criticism…dealbreakers. These are the worst relationship behaviors.
But there is another tier of misery. The one where you say things like, it’s not like he hits me. He isn’t out drinking every night. We don’t fight every day. You find yourself wondering if it’s really bad enough to leave. Do you just expect too much?
And what if you just aren’t sure?
“A poisonous relationship can alter our perception. You can spend many years thinking you’re worthless. But you’re not worthless. You’re underappreciated.” — Steve Maraboli
Being inside a relationship is like a being in a state of altered reality. It is a private world. When someone has stayed in a bad relationship too long and finally breaks free, you often hear them say I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.
Sometimes, we have to take that jump, to remove ourselves from the situation before we can see it for what it really was. So the million-dollar question is how do you decide?
Let’s ask some questions to clarify where you stand.
#1 Are you are wondering if your relationship is “normal”?
If you are questioning the relationship, you need to recognize that as a valid feeling. Your subconscious is speaking to you, telling you something is off. Unhealthy relationships always come with rationalizations. You feel frustrated and disgusted at being disrespected and mistreated…and then you start making excuses for your partner’s bad behavior.
Understand that even in the worst relationships, there are good moments. But our primary relationship is where we grow, thrive and become the best version of ourselves. They are where we choose to spend our lives. And when that relationship is great, you don’t wonder.
#2 Are you are happier when you are not together?
You feel relieved when they are busy doing something else. If you walk in the house and realize you are alone your heart soars at the thought of freedom. We all need alone time and enjoying it is not, in itself, a bad thing.
It is easy to rationalize that you are an introvert or that you just value time by yourself. But pay attention to how you feel. Having some time alone is good, being overly excited about finally being free it is not.
#3 Do you feel drained in their presence?
Balance in relationships is essential. At certain times in life, one person may require more help and support. We get sick, a parent dies, big life-changing events will happen.
But your partner shouldn’t be an exhausting drain on you all the time. Being in their presence should feel like a relief, not a burden you need relief from carrying.
#4 If they aren’t doing it, are you?
In a relationship, we all make sacrifices. When those sacrifices become one-sided, your connection will suffer. Things turn toxic when you find yourself not being allowed to do anything your partner isn’t interested in.
If you want to do something your partner doesn’t enjoy it, will you still go? If the answer is no you are in serious trouble. It is simply another form of criticism, a sign that who you are as a person isn’t good enough. And that you aren’t allowed to be yourself.
#5 Have their problems become your problems?
When you show up ready for partnership, it means being willing to listen and actively participate. There is a balance in good relationships. When you really need something, your partner is there for you, helping. Even if that help is nothing more than moral support.
When you find yourself providing all the support and getting nothing in return, you have crossed a line. You can’t provide help for every minor crisis and be left alone to figure out your own issues. That is the toxic path to feeling disconnected and alone.
#6 Do you hide the truth of your relationship?
When you have a serious relationship problem, you never share it with anyone. You tell a story to the outside world that is simply not an accurate representation of who you truly are as a couple and the frustration you are experiencing.
Look at your social media feed. What are you portraying to the world and does that match how you really feel? At the core of the problem is shame. You know you are in a relationship that does not live up to the standards you should be maintaining in your life.
#7 Do you hide parts of yourself?
You have the pervasive feeling that if you dropped the facade, it would be over. Over time, it has become clear that your partner doesn’t love the “real you”. So you hide the parts of yourself you know they don’t want to see.
You scramble around trying to make them happy. But you never feel like anyone even knows the real you. Even when you are being yourself, your partner doesn’t get it or doesn’t care. The truth is you can feel more alone in the wrong relationship than if you were actually alone.
#8 Do your friends and family like your partner?
The people who love you always know. In an unhappy couple, you may find yourself losing more relationships outside your partnership over time.
People don’t really want to spend time with you anymore because it is simply too hard to witness the effects of a bad relationship. They can see it in the look in your eyes. Do you light up when you are around this person or are they drawing the life out of you? Think about it. If your people don’t love your partner, it is probably for a very good reason.
#9 Do you think if-only…
When one or both partners is always thinking the relationship would work if you would just…change. Relationships take place now, in this moment, in every moment. They aren’t hypothetical wishes for the future. They are a daily decision to show up as the best version of yourself.
Love grows and changes over time, but one thing remains constant. You are intrigued by the person you have chosen. Wishing for something different than exactly who they are only means one thing…this one was not meant to be.
Relationships often feel complicated when they are bad. But the truth is, you already know how you feel. Either you show up in your partner’s presence and feel happier, lighter, like your world is expanding just being in their presence…or you show up and feel the weight of the relationship responsibilities. We all have a finite amount of resources to devote to any area of our lives. When a relationship is sucking up every bit of strength we have just to keep it alive, you will suffer, your passions will suffer, every other relationship you have will suffer.
“The quality of our relationship determines the quality of our lives.” -Esther Perel
There is a significant difference. You can look at all the signs, do the math and work the balance sheet. But at the end of the day you should feel relief knowing you get to spend your life with the perfect person for you. The person who knows you better than anyone else…the one who loves you at your best and can laugh with you at all your flaws. Anything less is less than you deserve.
Listen to your gut. Letting go can be the scariest decision you ever make. But from that place of vulnerability we open ourselves to the greatest expansion in life.
You are so free you can choose to be bound. But you don’t have to.