Late night text messages exchanged like thought bubbles full of emotion and emoticons. The screen enfolds the reality of the relationship. Misread warning signs and ignored writing on the wall, a relationship doesn’t turn toxic overnight.
Addiction is a funny thing. It’s all-too-common that people become addicted to the rollercoaster of a toxic relationship. Unlike other substances like alcohol or drugs, your vice can call you eight times to reach out to pull you back in.
People can disappear into a relationship and lose sight of themselves. The same elevator that I used to take to my 10 a.m. GUR history class freshman year, I took to meet with Andrew Armstrong, PHD psychologist at Western’s counseling center.
I traded in everything, including my self-worth, freedom and social media passwords for what I confused as love.
Just a couple years ago, I carried my baggage of a toxic and abusive relationship up and down that elevator every day. Addicted and attached to a boyfriend from high school, I traded in everything, including my self-worth, freedom and social media passwords for what I confused as love.
After a few years together, after pushing everyone else away, I didn’t realize how isolated I had become and how severely unstable my ex’s mental health had become until ending the relationship lead to the threat of suicide. I want to start this conversation, because there shouldn’t be shame, with mental health, of dating. It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to need some help.
Here are some things you can do to maintain a healthy relationship, and resources to get out of a toxic one:
Communication and Boundaries:
Thank you captain obvious. Often people communicate in the wrong way, sending the wrong signals. Boundary setting is extremely vital within any relationship, especially romantic. Setting those boundaries for yourself of what you’re willing to do and not do is assertive for your own health.
“I think if there is a lot of passive aggression in a relationship that can really contribute to the toxicity because it gets in the way of real communication,” Armstrong said. “I think passive aggressive behavior comes up in a relationship when there is a lot of controlling and shame.”
Communicating with someone you are witnessing in a toxic relationship can be a hard spot for a friend or loved one.
“Sometimes there is this instinct to try to fix a situation for somebody and often what’s needed is for that person to really feel heard and understood. When we approach it with a ‘fix it’ mentality it can shut off that communication,” Armstrong said.
Giving outside perspective is important and checking in with that person. For example, “Saying things like, ‘I’ve noticed that you’re getting upset a lot and you’re not really being your regular self,’” Armstrong said.
The listening part is more important than the advising part. Make it clear that if the person is unsafe or in an emergency you are there regardless.
“There is a lot of courage needed on all sides of this, for the person who is in the situation to talk about it takes tons of courage and for the people in their lives trying to support them,” Armstrong said. “It feels really risky to say, ‘How are you doing?…how are you really doing?’”
Keeping sight of YOU:
Within your relationship it’s important to stay connected with your other relationships prior to changing your Facebook relationship status. Your friends, family, classmates and co-workers care about you and want to be a part of your life just as much as who you are dating. It’s important to keep sight of hobbies or passions you have. Balance of what you love and who you love.
Leave space for yourself because after all, they are in love with you for who you are. Not who you could be with them. Be your authentic self, who you were before the relationship and the connections with other important parts of you.
That’s NOT love:
You can become desensitized to the amount of caffeine you drink a day, or the amount of fights your get into in a week. It’s important to keep perspective of how you feel about your relationship within your boundaries, and what to do when those boundaries are crossed.
“When we are feeling a sense of attachment it does the same kinds of things to our brain that other sources of pleasure do with our brain. Wanting to feel that sense of attachment can have this addictive quality, and part of what goes really wrong is even when it’s destructive in some ways or not entirely healthy, we’re still drawn to that sense of attachment,” Armstrong said.
I was the girl in the dorm hallway Skyping with her boyfriend late at night, every night. It wasn’t because I just wanted to stare into his eyes, it was because he didn’t trust me and literally had to see everything for himself.
There are people on campus who are here for you, resources like physicians, crisis workers and counselors can be found at the CACAS office, Counseling center and Health center. There are also resources off-campus for domestic violence at DVSAS.
“Reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. Help is available,” Armstrong said. “I would not want anyone to hesitate to come in. It’s confidential, they’re going to be taken seriously. ”
And if you ever feel unsafe, talk with the university police or the Bellingham police. I’ve had to make that call, it’s not easy, but your well-being should come first.