Its valentine’s day today and world over couples are celebrating their undying love for each other. Candle lit dinners, hearts, chocolates, cakes, teddy bears, wine and unbreakable promises are flowing in abundance. And yet my heart goes out her, who is probably sitting alone somewhere, entangled in a complex web, wondering where all the love went. And when did love start getting replaced by toxicity? And she is wondering if this is all her fault or if she could do something to go back to happier times? Perhaps she is not good enough? Maybe she needs to change herself to win back some love, some care? So today I am writing to her, to tell her that she is not alone and that there is love all around her, she just needs the courage to pull herself out of this. That there is someone holding out their hand for you…….take it.
A relationship gone wrong
….And they lived happy ever after. Isn’t that how all fairy tales end? Don’t you wish life was a fairy tale too? Unfortunately, not. I don’t have the statistics but a fairly large number of relationships end up as unhappy or toxic for one or both and this number has increased multiple times since the pandemic. From loveless marriages to emotional and physical abuse – there are a host of complicated issues and no easy way out.
If you are unhappy in your relationship, start with trying to understand what is going wrong. Is there a difference in expectations? Or are you both just too different? Or if the situation is much darker, you may be a victim of abuse.
I am no professional therapist, but I interacted with those who are and let me share what I learnt. Ruchi Phool, a holistic therapist and wellness coach, says many times a gap in expectations leads to dissonance in a relationship. And these expectations come from conditioning, “we are a sum total of what has been passed on to us from generations”, she says. Often, our expectations are colored by societal conditioning – ‘sarvagun sampann ladki’ (the perfect girl) or the knight in shining armor. New media, movies and advertisements contribute to creating unrealistic expectations. Ruchi says in jest that Bollywood has a lot to answer! We need to be able to separate reality from fiction and no relationship or person is ‘supposed to be’ a certain way.
“Understand your partner as a person and not in relation to you”. They might not have the qualities you dreamt of in a partner, but there may be other qualities you can appreciate as you understand them. “Love begins when one addresses their partner’s needs and wants”. Develop trust and respect – the foundation of a long-lasting relationship and gradually the emotional connect will take root.
But what if it is not just misdirected expectations?
Often it takes time for the victim to even realise that are being abused – especially when it is not as obvious as physical abuse or you are still in love with that person. Sustained abuse – verbal, emotional, physical – has the capability of affecting the victim’s physical and mental health. Commonly, she would find herself inadequate, useless or even deserving of the abuse. A loss of confidence, despondence and in general a lack of desire is one of the common symptoms. There are also physical symptoms like a panic attack or anxiety – “I just feel very heavy in my heart, like I can’t breathe and will suffocate”, said a friend.
Don’t ignore any of these symptoms
First of all, find out if you are being abused and evaluate your situation – whether or not there is a way out or if you are at the point of no return.
Prachi S. Vaish, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, says it is very common for a person to not even realise that she is being abused. In a blog post, she identifies the different kinds of abuse, which I am sharing below briefly:
Physical abuse – easiest to identify, includes not only direct violence such as hitting, punching, kicking etc. but also situations in which you are physically distressed – e.g. exposure to extreme weather, sleep or food deprivation.
Financial abuse – not letting you take charge of your own money, controlling your expenses, accounts, not giving you enough money for yourself
Social abuse – negatively affecting your relationships with friends and family, steering you away from them, controlling your interaction with the outside world
Emotional abuse – includes making you feel unworthy, that you are not giving enough to a relationship, demeaning you, treating you with contempt, publicly or privately criticizing you, faulting you for their behavior, threatening to take away people and things you love (e.g. children) It also includes verbal abuse – verbal abusers often use ‘constructive criticism’ to lower the self-esteem of their partner.
Another form of emotional abuse that Ruchi highlighted was neglectful behavior – when your partner neglects you but continues to enjoy life in his own social circle – keeping you away from it and showing off to you. The partner could also be playing mental games – with the purpose of controlling you – love you for some time and then suddenly withdraw – long periods of silence and resentment – to make you come back to them begging for forgiveness and love.
“Why doesn’t she just leave?” – someone might say….
For someone who has not been in an abusive relationship – ending the relationship and walking out might seem like a logical solution. But that’s never the case. As a society we first need to understand why it is so difficult to break out of an abusive or toxic relationship and only then can we help someone.
- As a society, we tend to normalize abusive behavior and it is difficult to even recognize abuse. An abuser may come off as a nice, gentle person outwardly
- Any kind of abuse demolishes the self esteem of the victim, which makes it that much harder for them to change the status quo. And in case of social abuse, victim does not even have people to reach out to.
- The victim might not be moving out due to fear of harm – if they are being threatened.
- Guilt is a common reason that makes victims accept their situation. They believe they are the root cause and continue trying to change themselves instead of the situation
- Often, the victim keeps hoping that their partner or the situation will change for the better – plus the societal stigma and humiliation of a failed relationship stops them from calling out
- Finally, if the victim has children or is financially dependent then it becomes that much harder to take that step.
What can you do if you are in an abusive relationship?
I was talking to an acquaintance and one thing she said stayed with me – “don’t ever think that you can change them or reform them” and she is right. I know you love that person and can find a hundred excuses for their behavior, but be sure that whatever you may do – try to change yourself, behave in a certain way to please them – become ambitious, or tone down your ambitions, dress or behave differently – nothing will change that person. And you might already know that – after having unsuccessfully tried for many years. You need to believe that YOU ARE NOT AT FAULT.
Admit that your relationship is toxic and try to put a stop to the behavior: Acknowledge that you are being abused and the ways in which that is happening. Come out of your denial. Know that certain are behaviors are not acceptable. If you feel strong enough to do so – tell your partner in clear terms that this is not acceptable behavior. This is likely possible if you have identified abuse early on in the relationship and your self esteem is preserved.
Keep a journal: write down incidents of abuse and how they affected you. Doing this will not only help you see the pattern of abuse but also strengthen your resolve to act.
Distance yourself emotionally: do not let your partner’s behavior dictate how you feel.
Surround yourself with people who love and support you: Reach out. Share what you are going through with a friend, your sister, your mother. Build your support system.
Seek professional help: go for couple counselling or do it individually.
End the relationship: if you are at the point of no return, consider ending the relationship. Create a safety or a backup plan. Often in case of physical abuse, it is important to plan ahead as the days after leaving might be the most unsafe. If that is not your situation, you should still plan your next steps – financials, family and other. Put your house in order.
Rebuild yourself: open yourself to love and good things. You deserve them. Believe in yourself and the universe. In my last blog, I suggested ways in which one can overcome challenges – and many of those may help you too.
Finally, just remember that you are not alone. Just reach out and you will find love……
Please see some resources if you think you or someone you know may be in an abusive relationship:
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