We all remember our first. The rush in the beginning, feeling like you couldn’t see or think straight, the way that rules and logic didn’t seem to apply to you and the idea that everyone else “just didn’t understand.” Our first toxic relationship leaves its mark. My first toxic relationship was not with a romantic significant other, it was with my best friend. We spent every waking hour speaking to each other, we got jealous when the other person grew close to someone else, we were passive aggressive and eventually downright cruel to each other. We had a nasty “breakup” that turned both our lives topsy turvy and spent over a year without speaking to each other before we both could forgive each other and move forward in our relationship with a clean slate.
I’ve survived my first toxic relationship and a few others that came along after that, and although I did not come out unscathed, I am a stronger and more self-assured person now then I was a few years ago. I have become something of an expert in reading the signs of a toxic relationship, not only through my own experiences, but also through the heart-wrenching and exasperating experience of watching my close friends enter and barely survive these toxic relationships. The signs are obvious to someone who has been through it, but if you haven’t you are left struggling with the question of whether or not this is normal and whether or not you deserve it.
Watching your best friend in a toxic relationship is like watching a horror movie where the main character keeps running towards their doom. You scream and shout, you’re angry at how stupid they are acting, you’re confused by the choices they're making, you’re sad because you know it’s hopeless and you feel resigned in the main character’s fate. I have watched so many friends try to downplay how toxic their relationships truly are that I could recite the excuses before my friends can stutter through them. “He isn’t always like this," "He’s different with me,” or “It’s my fault because I was egging him on, he’s only joking he doesn’t really mean it, that’s just the way he is.”
At our age, emotional abuse (which is what toxic relationships are built off of) goes almost entirely unchecked because we are not equipped to recognize the red flags of a toxic relationship. As kids and teenagers, we learn that physical abuse is obviously bad, but no one ever tells us that having a significant other who goes through your phone is a dangerous sign, or that someone who doesn’t “let you” go out with your friends on weekends has an unhealthy desire to control you. When boys are mean to us, we are taught that it is because they are damaged and have problems that they need to work through, and if we love them we will let them use us as punching bags to “sort through these problems.” Books, television and music all teach us that we can fix people we love, that if we put enough attention and care into them, we can make them better. Not to mention that our self-esteems are at an all time low when we’re teenagers and young adults. Everything is changing and you are always trying to measure up to whatever new ridiculous standard has been set, and finding anyone who looks at us and sees something worth paying attention to feels like a miracle.
The worst part about watching your friends fall down the rabbit hole of toxic relationships is that they seem to think you’re the crazy one. They stop coming to you with their problems, they start hiding things from you because they think you’ll “overreact” and if you do find out what’s going on, they lash out at you and push you away because they think that you’re the problem. I wish I could tell you that I’ve found the solution, the way to save your friend and make them realize their worth, and to save your friendship, but I would be lying. I have run through this cycle dozens of times with dozens of friends and every time I think I’ve cracked the case, it backfires and I am back to square one.
What I have learned is that patience is key. It is so tempting to say “screw it” and give up on your friend, but I promise you that your friend has never needed you more than they do now, whether they know it, admit it or not. Let them know that you love them, you care about their well-being and they are worth more than anything they could get out of a romantic relationship. Let them talk to you without your judgment, but do not hide your concern for their situation. There is a fine line between voicing your concern and being condescending, and the latter will assure that your friend will not listen to anything you say. At the end of the day, nothing will change until the person in the bad relationship decides that something has to change, so until then, all you can truly do is support them and look out for them. However, if you suspect that the relationship is becoming physically abusive, report it. There is no excuse for letting physical abuse go unchecked.
Watching your friend enter and remain in a toxic relationship can sometimes feel personal, it’s as if your friend is doing this just to hurt you because it hurts. It hurts and impacts you more than you can admit. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Do what you can for your friend, but do not let this take over your life as well. This is not your cross to bear. Make sure you are also walking the walk and living a healthy and emotionally balanced life because there’s nothing like telling your friends to get it together when you are just as bad, if not worse.
Take a deep breath. Be patient, be kind and be loving. Your friend is going to come out of this emotionally battered, but they will survive. We all do.
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