After experiencing a toxic relationship (9 Relationship Red Flags) navigating the dating world can be overwhelming and frankly scary! There is a lot of shame around experiencing abuse though statistics suggest nearly 60% of women have experienced physical abuse and roughly 29% have reported having been in an abusive relationship (according to a Glamour survey on abusive relationships in 2011). It can be difficult to talk about abuse especially since so many people tend to question those who come forward (“Are you sure it was abuse?” “Don’t you think you are overreacting?” “He always seemed like a nice guy to me…“). I hate this mentality!!! There are so many forms of abuse and they are all wrong and they are all damaging (read about the signs here). If you’ve spent any amount of time in an abusive relationship (emotional or physical) it is likely you’ve become accustomed to less than stellar behavior from a significant other which makes the beginning of a new relationship…tricky.
Ideally everyone who has been through an abusive relationship could receive counseling should they want/need it, however that is not always possible. Speaking from personal experience alone it took me several months of dating to relearn what sort of behavior was normal and healthy in a relationship. Though I would have liked to work with an actual therapist (I am SO pro-therapy)it wasn’t an easily accessible option for me but I did a lot of rehashing and coping with friends, through this blog (thank you!) and ultimately relearning the treatment I should accept through intense introspection.
After an unhealthy relationship I was quite fearful of men though I didn’t initially realize it. I would constantly hide my phone from guys I was on dates with (even though I was doing nothing wrong) because my ex had consistently searched through my phone and become irrationally angry over conversations with friends, old Facebook messages and pictures with male friends. I had spent so much time crying and fighting over this invasion of privacy I continued the habit of “guarding” my phone long after the individual was no longer in my life. I didn’t realize that my ideal partner (and any normal person) would not become upset over these non issues. Likewise I had become accustomed to a significant other critiquing my choice of clothing (“that top is too revealing“) and continued to alter my behavior to this expectation (though there was no need)! When I met a guy who respected my style, friendships and individuality I was so elated I was practically breathing out confetti. It took a friend pointing out how sad my excitement over traits that should always be the norm for me to realize I was still recovering. Although I was no longer physically afraid of my ex I hadn’t yet reformed my expectations. I still expected every man to treat me the way an abuser would. I still had the mentality of a victim in the sense that being treated with respect felt like I had won the lottery instead of a basic standard.
Over time these unhealthy tainted expectations began to unravel and I faced a new challenge-learning to trust myself and my own decisions when it came to healthy relationships. I realized a healthy relationship wouldn’t demand I give up time with my friends or mandate I burn all my crop tops. I realized the type of boyfriend I wanted wouldn’t threaten to cheat on me as “punishment” or use my insecurities and negative life experiences as leverage whenever possible. It took time but I am more the girl I used to be before the abuse (the girl who believed in the ability to trust and to love) then I ever imagined I could be again. I will never be the same girl I used to be (the girl who views love in such a carefree fairytale light) my experiences have carved and molded me (as they should) but I have readopted the healthy expectations I held before. I’ve come to demand respect rather than pop the champagne when I receive it. This post is not to say I don’t appreciate the love and respect I find in my current relationship (just the opposite it means the world to me) but rather that I will no longer accept the alternative treatment.
How is it that relationships turn toxic? What role do we play in preserving the “pure-ness” of the energy between two people? I certainly believe a relationship can become toxic without abuse (though abuse is the focus of this particular anecdote). There isn’t a magical potion or secret to a perfect relationship and I certainly don’t expect to be the one to find one. I’ve come to the conclusion that healthy relationships are all about open communication and mutual respect (love is respect!!!). Open communication and mutual respect have different meanings and interpretations to different people which is why I think it is crucial to continue to check in with yourself (and your partner) to ensure that your needs are met. I swear letting those unhappy feelings fester is NEVER a viable solution in the end.
What are your “must haves” in order to maintain a healthy relationship? How do you think you build a solid foundation? How do you maintain it? There are no right or wrong answers! I just love hearing everyone’s perceptions and advice on love and dating.
P.S. Over the past year it has meant the world to me that some of you have supported me as I left an abusive situation. It has also meant more than you can possibly imagine that some of you have shared pieces of your story with me. I truly believe that victims of abuse are NOT weak and I believe one of the most empowering things we can do is to share our own stories in whatever medium (and with whoever) we feel comfortable. Thank you for those of you who were brave enough and comfortable enough to share that part of you with me.