How many relationships do you have in your life and how well do you manage them?
From the moment we are born, we enter into relationships. It begins with our mother, father, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews & nieces, carers, or nannies. By the time we reach adulthood, we can add friends, partners, lovers, colleagues, teachers, mentors, and acquaintances to that list.
Some people come into our lives for short periods of time, others for longer, and several are with us for the long haul. We are made to relate to others — it’s part of our genetic makeup and a necessary survival skill. So, here’s the biggie; why do we have so many relationship problems?
That’s a very good question, considering the difficulties we face in this area, and the answer may surprise you. You see, ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy’ relationships have more to do with you than with the other person.
That’s not me pointing a finger at you; it’s an insight that will empower you to establish healthier relationships once you have read through this article. But it is going to take some re-positioning of your attitude towards others and a rethink of how you contribute to your relationships.
Go online and you will find thousands and thousands of blogs, articles, research papers, and inspirational videos by experts from all fields talking about how to establish healthy relationships.
I’ve got to say that most of them seem to focus on the typical love/romance types, which may be because so many people struggle in matters of the heart. We will get to that subject a bit later, but it’s not the only kind of relationship that people have problems with.
Many are estranged from their parents or children, experience high levels of conflict or toxicity in the workplace, and there are also a lot of us who can’t seem to establish any kind of meaningful relationship with others whatsoever.
The Beatles once said that ‘all you need is love’, but that’s not quite right. You need a whole skill set to establish strong, healthy relationships that are enriching and meaningful. There is so much literature about what makes a good or bad relationship and different theories on how to improve on them that I could fill another book on the subject.
But for the purpose of this one, which focuses on self-love, we are going to take a closer look at setting boundaries and how to deal with toxic relationships. You may have experience of the latter and know just how destructive they can be, or you could find it hard to set healthy boundaries with family or friends and this can cause a great imbalance in your life.
Types of Relationships
What is a relationship? Quite simply, it’s an association, connection, interaction, and bond between yourself and other people. Broadly speaking, there are four main types: family relationships, friendships, acquaintanceships, and romantic relationships.
You could have good or bad experiences with one or more of these, which contributes to how you approach new relationships. How we relate to others becomes a pattern that is set very early on in life and although not permanent, it can be extremely difficult to establish new patterns later on.
Perhaps it is one of the hardest things to do because it requires a high degree of emotional intelligence and a sincere willingness to change if you feel the need to.
That’s why you are here though, so I know you are ready to go for it.
Our family ties are complicated and come in many different shapes and forms. While the ideal is to feel love and closeness with our relatives, this isn’t necessarily the case. We don’t always get the guidance and support that we need and may grow up with an absence of boundaries or discipline.
This can cause a lot of insecurities in later life that lead us to form relationships for all the wrong reasons. For women, a lack of a positive male or female role model while growing up can make it difficult to know how to be a mother, wife, friend, and partner.
In a stable home, conflict is usually short-lived and part of the daily dynamic, but if it is constantly present, it can create an unhealthy feeling of insecurity and low self-esteem. It can even be adopted as the blueprint for our own relationships in adulthood.
For good or bad, family ties are lifelong, so it’s beneficial to work on making those relationships as sound as possible to give you a continued source of support.
Unfortunately, for a myriad of reasons, this isn’t always possible. The question is, how do we react to negative relationships with family members and overcome their impact on our well-being and bonding abilities with others?
How many good friends do you have? Are you closer to some than others? Does that matter? Unlike our family, which we are born into, we can choose our friends and they are usually people who we trust, respect, care about and confide in.
This kind of relationship needs to be built on reciprocal honesty, trust, and loyalty because if they don’t exist, the friendship will end after a while. We tend to feel closer to older friends but there are no hard and fast rules to this.
At the end of the day, it all depends on how much you deem someone to be a true friend or not and you can choose to continue the relationship or end it if you feel betrayed, let down, or hurt by them.
How many people do you meet regularly who are not friends or relatives? You could have neighbors who you say hello to every morning and never take it further than that. Possibly, you work with people that you don’t know well at all but you are probably polite and courteous in
such cases and don’t have any particular conflict with them or emotional engagement.
This kind of relationship is the one that concerns many of us because it is an extremely intimate, emotional, and physical bond. In such a relationship, whether that be short-term or long-term, it must be reciprocal and can even be life-changing.
Mutual attraction, a feeling of being in love, and the sense of a strong connection usually lead to an exclusive relationship in which both partners desire to share their lives together. The secret to successful romantic relationships is said to be love, trust, respect, support, acceptance, and shared interests, which often leads to having children together and a lifelong commitment. Well, it doesn’t always work that way, as you know, but that’s a general idea.
Perhaps because romantic relationships occupy all of our thoughts, emotions, and even hopes and dreams, they are so important to us and usually, we will do whatever it takes to make them work.
And that’s the first problem. If one side is not as invested, trustworthy, or capable of committing to making a go of it, the relationship can become a minefield. Conflicts can easily arise, emotional pain can deepen and all sorts of insecurities can rise to the surface.
In many cases, the relationship is based on an imbalance right from the beginning or can become toxic as it develops. In this case, one or both partners can exhibit behavior that is detrimental to the other and there is the potential for the relationship to become extremely harmful. It requires a substantial amount of hard work to turn this kind of issue into something healthy and often, the best option is to walk away from it altogether.
As a relationship quote says, “To know when to go away and when to come closer is the key to any lasting relationship.”
What Is A Toxic Relationship About?
You may have developed a toxic relationship with a partner, family member, or even with a friend. It doesn’t only happen in romantic relationships, although this is what most people think of when the phrase comes to mind.
No, your interaction with your parents, siblings, or best friends can be described as toxic if they manifest certain behaviours. What is important to remember is that two people make up a relationship, so you are just as responsible as the other person for continuing it.
To put it another way, it takes two to tango, and any negative relationship that you maintain is made up of two parts — you and the other person. So, what are some of the traits of a toxic relationship? Let’s have a look at the bullet points below, and see if you relate to any of them:
A toxic relationship is characterized by behaviors on the part of one partner that are emotionally and often physically damaging to the other.
A toxic relationship damages self-esteem and drains energy by excluding mutual care, respect, and compassion.
A toxic relationship is not based on an interest in the other’s welfare and growth or a shared desire for each other’s happiness.
A toxic relationship is not a safe place. It is a breeding ground for insecurity, self-centeredness, dominance, and control.
A toxic relationship can end up being very dangerous to one’s emotional and physical well-being.
A lot of what I describe above can be very subtle at first. You may not notice certain behaviors at first, or give the other person the benefit of the doubt when they belittle you or try to demean you. After a while, as the cracks become more obvious, you may fear for your sanity or even your life and could feel controlled, unable to break free. If you are experiencing any of these examples in a romantic relationship, here’s my advice — get out NOW!
You aren’t going to change the other person’s behavior and the longer you stay, the more you feed their toxic ego. Make no mistake; such relationships don’t end well and at best, you will be left feeling stripped of your self-worth and esteem.
This kind of damaging scenario can also be experienced with controlling friends and even colleagues so you need to be aware of that and seek help if you feel unable to deal with it alone.
When it comes to experiencing toxicity from a parent who has spent years trying to undermine, dominate or control you, you will need to make some pretty tough decisions.
As an adult, you have the maturity to decide which people are causing you damage and need to remove yourself from their influence. That doesn’t mean that you stop loving your mother or father, but simply that you refuse to be a part of this toxic tango that has been going on for so long.
You may feel pressured to give in to emotional blackmail but if you want to practice self-love, the first thing you need to do is protect yourself from those who don’t care about your welfare and are only interested in satisfying their own needs. That has to stop!
Women tend to come off worse than men in toxic relationships (although men can also be victims) and are more susceptible to domestic violence.
Recent studies reported in woman’s aid org UK show that “women experience higher rates of repeated victimisation and are much more likely to be seriously hurt or killed than male victims of domestic abuse.”
In addition, “women are more likely to experience higher levels of fear and are more likely to be subjected to coercive and controlling behaviours.” Needless to say, it is vital that you seek professional help and support if you are a victim of domestic abuse.
You may experience some of the following and need to recognize those feelings for what they are: bad for your well-being, self-esteem, and happiness.
- You feel bad all the time
- You feel empty and weak
- You’re forced into conversations where whatever you say is used against you
- You avoid saying what is on your mind to dodge conflict
- You find yourself having to make compromises all of the time
- You are afraid to say no to anything
- You are always made to feel in the wrong
- You feel that you are fighting to save this relationship alone
- You are the victim of physical or verbal abuse, or both
- You are witness to too much passive-aggressive behavior
- You can never resolve any of the problems
- You are made to feel culpable and guilty
- You have no privacy
- You are subjected to lying
- You have no say in any decision-making
In terms of trying to deal with a toxic relationship, there are some things you can do which may salvage the situation and if they don’t work, reach for the door. Some examples of useful strategies are as follows:
- Showing a willingness to invest in the relationship
- Encouraging self-awareness and self-responsibility
- Shifting from a blaming to an understanding perspective
- Suggesting outside help
Often, toxic relationships occur when long-standing issues in a relationship remain unaddressed, and there are some strategies to help turn that around:
- Don’t focus too much on past events and resist the urge to throw mud
- Try to see any underlying reasons why your partner may be acting in this way You aren’t making excuses for them, but it will give you an insight into their trigger points
- Be open to therapy, either alone, or as a couple
- Find support by talking to a close friend or joining a support group
- Practice positive communication instead of negative accusations and criticisms
- Take responsibility for your own actions in prolonging this unhealthy situation
- Be prepared to part ways
Instead of being a victim, it is important that you move on in your life, which can be very hard to do if you have suffered from a damaging relationship. It will take time, but the benefits are definitely worthwhile.
Once you begin to feel stronger, you will be less likely to put yourself in that situation again in the future.
Being part of a couple is not always easy and there are bound to be differences of opinion and arguments from time to time. In the best-case scenario, it is these small tensions that can lead to a stronger, closer bond with a mutual desire to improve the relationship. Your happiness doesn’t depend on someone else but it can be greatly enhanced if you are in a warm, loving relationship.
Years ago, women were economically dependent on their husbands or partners, in the days when it wasn’t acceptable or usual to seek employment outside of the home.
Thankfully, that has all changed, although it is still very common for women to find themselves in codependent relationships, in which they feel that they cannot function as autonomous individuals.
There are many reasons why this may be the case, most of which are probably related to their upbringing. Perhaps you recognize yourself as you read these words and if that is the case, hopefully, you can take something useful away from these pages.
You may not realize that this even describes you and your relationship because you have never thought about it before, and that’s fine. If codependency does resonate with you, I am going to provide you with some strategies to overcome it.
Often, it is a role that women slip into, partly because they are influenced by gender-related expectations of what a wife or partner should be like, and partly because they haven’t worked on their inner insecurities and fears.
Codependency is actually emotionally and mentally debilitating because it assumes that you cannot function from your innate self, and your thoughts and behavior are organized around another person. You may be greatly affected by another’s behavior or even obsessed with controlling it.
You may be manipulative or aggressive with your partner or take the role of a victim or martyr and he/she may do the same. Some other manifestations of codependent behavior include:
- Feeling that your partner is overly giving, fixing, caretaking, serving, and speaking on your behalf
- Constantly having decisions made for you
- Feeling that your personal growth is being limited or an inability to be involved in your own life
- Suffering from conditions such as anxiety and depression
- Avoiding emotional or physical intimacy
Do you feel that you are experiencing any of the above in your relationship? You are not alone if you do, and not to blame for getting into this kind of behavior pattern. It takes a lot of soul-searching to find out why you are putting yourself through this and being aware of your inner feelings is crucial if you wish to redress the balance.
That’s why self-love is so important because when you have it as your mantra, it will always act as an anchor, guiding you back to what is best for you. If you can work through why you feel the need to surrender your independence and autonomy in a relationship, it will help you to create a healthier stance towards both yourself and your partner.
Think of it like being on a sailing yacht which can easily be blown off course if you aren’t in control. You need to be able to drop anchor now and again to avoid being totally lost at sea.
My friends Todd and Miriam had been married for 15 years. They used to express openly how they did everything together and wouldn’t dream of doing anything apart, such as going on holiday without each other.
They are the kind of couple who finished off each other’s sentences, ordered the same dishes at restaurants, and even seemed to colour-coordinate what they wore, (although I’m sure that was just a coincidence.)
It came as a great surprise to me when I heard that they were going through a divorce because they had always seemed to be the ‘perfect couple’. When I caught up with Miriam recently, she revealed how stifled she had felt in the relationship, and how she was desperate to find her independence. It’s a funny old world, but I can perfectly understand why she felt that way. You see, there are three units to a relationship — you as an individual, your partner as an individual, and both of you as a couple.
When the ‘couple’ element overwhelms the ‘individual’ element, then you lose the part of you that relates to your identity.
This is a very common pattern in relationships and one that is difficult to undo yourself from if it happens to you. But it can be done. It involves understanding any attachment issues that you may have and taking a step back every now and again for an ID check. We all want to be in loving, secure relationships, but that doesn’t mean having to sacrifice your wants, desires, and independence to attain that.
In a balanced relationship, warmth, compassion, and understanding are abundant. There is room for personal growth and an acceptance of the other’s shortcomings. As both partners have a healthy level of self-esteem, no manipulation or conflict arises from insecurities.
Forgiveness and apologies are common and a genuine effort is made by both to improve and enrich the relationship. Most of all, there are clear distinctions between you, your partner, and the couple that you are together.
This can only happen if you nurture your self-esteem, deal with your insecurities and develop confidence in your abilities and qualities.
As you can see, it all comes back to how you feel about yourself again. This is the one abiding truth that you need to embrace if you wish to have a fulfilled, content life.
Luckily, there are strategies you can adopt to increase your levels of self-love, and ultimately be more prepared to enjoy a loving relationship with someone else.
- Be assertive when you want to express your emotional needs and state them clearly without being aggressive
- Don’t take things too personally. An off-the-cuff remark or comment isn’t always a personal attack on you
- Don’t slip into the victim role because you are not. You are responsible for your actions
- Be prepared to trust in your instincts more, and allow yourself to trust others too
- Accept your flaws and recognize that no one is perfect
- Be mindful of your inner dialogue and reactions to that
- Stay true to your core values and don’t let them be overshadowed by your partner’s values
- Be open to change and to work on self-improvement. No need to try to change others — that’s not your job
- Take time each day to reflect, which can be in the form of meditation, or just sitting quietly for a while and allowing your thoughts to pass by, like fluffy clouds
As I said at the beginning of this article, mastering relationships isn’t so much about changing or controlling others. It is more about being aware of yourself, acknowledging your values and needs, and being prepared to develop greater self-love.
Once you have done that, you will find it much easier to manage all of the relationships in your life and to build strong, healthy bonds with others. Remember, you are your anchor on the sea of life; a role too important to leave to anyone else.
To continue the theme of romance, you might want to learn about how to write a love letter to yourself. It may just be the most empowering letter you have ever written, so get your pen and paper ready!
Having healthy and loving relationships with others begins with loving myself.