Is Your Relationship Toxic?
Okay so guys, I’ll be super honest. I have been exploring this topic as much for myself as I am for you. I kind of view myself as an observer of humans, like everything I witness about people is an experiment in human psychology. And in the past few months, given the circumstances that occurred in my own love life, I noticed that many people in my life are quick to tell me if they feel my relationship is “toxic.” And that’s not to say I haven’t done the exact same thing to people I care about, label their relationship I mean. I can vividly remember myself telling a friend her relationship was toxic. But now that I’m on the other side of things, I am starting to realize the word “toxic” gets thrown around so much these days that it is becoming a blanket term for any relationship that is difficult. What even is toxic? What is the difference between “toxic” and “difficult?” And is it worth being explored? I think yes, absolutely yes and it is a key to becoming a healed and fulfilled human being.
I started writing this piece almost three weeks ago. I was wrestling with the questions I just asked, but like I always do when I don’t have an answer – I procrastinate. And I trust that creative procrastination and the Universe will come together to supply my brain with an answer that is true.
The answer I needed? The answer I prayed for? Was this:
How does someone know whether a relationship is toxic or just difficult?
I had been going through my own relationship woes, and as always, the opinionators (this is what I named the people who give me their opinions on my life without me asking) spoke up very quickly to tell me I was in a toxic relationship. But that answer didn’t feel right. You know when you just have a gut check about something? I had one. Labeling my relationship “toxic” because I was hurting and uncomfortable felt like taking the easy way out. I just didn’t know why, but I listened to my gut instead of the opinionators. Mostly I trusted my gut because all the fears I was having about my relationship were just that – fears. And I know that fear is not truth. These fears were taking place inside of me, and had nothing to do with my partner. And I know well enough about boundaries that if something is exclusively happening inside of me and I am projecting onto my external circumstances, I am just deflecting an internal problem external things so I can take the easy way out and not do the work on myself. If a tree limb falls in my yard, it is my job to pick it up, not my partner’s.
I knew that nobody knew what was going on inside of me except me. No one knew my relationship like me. No one knew the anxiety I was experiencing like me, or heard the fear stories that were going through my head. And most of all, no one knew how much I adore my partner, how connected our souls are, except the two of us. So I prayed. I prayed that God would give me wisdom because this was the first time I had decided to turn inward during difficult times in my relationship, to say “God, what is going on with me?” instead of blaming my fear on the relationship itself.
For about two weeks, I got nothing. But I kept following my gut and loving hard and turning inward instead of projecting outward. Then, I found Gabby Bernstein’s book “The Universe Has Your Back,” and without knowing why, I just hit the “purchase” button on Amazon out of instinct. It took me about three days to actually open it, but a few pages in, I was like holy shit. Here is my answer.
In the first chapter, Gabby told the story of her friend Lance. Lance was a former alcoholic two years into recovery. Lance had picked up the insecurity somewhere along his developmental years that he was not smart enough. He worried constantly that he just didn’t have the brains for his job, or to fit in with his friends or to get a date, and he masked this fear with addictive behavior like alcoholism and workaholism. But two years into his recovery, he entered a relationship with an amazing woman. She cared for him, respected him, and was a wonderful partner. The catch though? This woman would make passing comments that triggered Lance’s fear. She would joke about how he wasn’t “up to speed” on the news, and Lance would get thrown into a frenzy. He came to Gabby saying he thought he needed to leave her, that he just couldn’t do it, that it was too difficult. And Gabby’s response?
“Don’t run away from your assignment.”
Holy. Shit. Wow. Just. Wow. Lance had asked the Universe for healing, and the Universe gave him a relationship with a woman who helped him shine light on a place he still needed to heal and release fear from. Sometimes pain can be our biggest indicator of the places we need healing. Lance still had work to do on releasing that old fear story that he wasn’t smart enough, so he started praying, “Universe, help me to perceive this fear through the teacher of love.” Soon, Lance was standing strong on his own two feet. He believed in himself and loved himself enough to joke back with his girlfriend. Lance stayed in his divine assignment, he accepted it, and he let it heal him. Wow.
This story sounded like truth to me. What if the parts of our partner we are perceiving as difficult or painful are actually mirrors? Helping us to see the parts of our souls that still need healing, or the fear stories we still need to let go? And the funny thing about assignments is that they will keep showing up until you answer them whether you leave that relationship or not. If you run, it will show up in another relationship. I know this because when Gabby said this in her book, I thought about the many failed relationships I had run away from and I saw that all of them felt the same. They felt like fear. And that fear was always triggered by the same thing: any time my partner was silent or not as responsive as usual, I felt emotionally rejected and just left. And looking back now, I see where this story came from. Emotions were not allowed in my home when I was growing up. If I cried, I was sent to my room, or yelled at, or shamed for being weak. Fortunately, my parents and I have healed this part of our relationship. We have learned to be open and vulnerable with each other about how we hurt, what our triggers are, and how we receive love. But that fear story still remained in my heart for some reason and was triggered in romantic relationships. I see now that those relationships were assignments, the Universe begging me to turn inward and ask for guidance and healing and be brave enough to wait for it. And this time, I decided listened. Thank God, I listened.
I realized that when my partner was going through hard times in his own life, and needed to take time for himself, it triggered that familiar feeling of rejection in me. It was so painful, and my immediate reaction was to want to leave before I was left, even if only emotionally. So after I recognized this fear, I let myself feel that fear and pain and in my meditations, and then I released them. I asked the Universe to replace them with a love story, and this is the thought I got in return: “I am so grateful that I love someone enough to care about them so deeply. Love is a blessing, and I am going to show up for my partner right now because I know he needs someone to lean on.”
And what a relief that was, to recognize fear, release it, and replace it with love. I had chosen bravery, courage, and love over fear. (Interestingly enough, as I was writing this sentence I opened up my phone and saw a post from @humblethepoet that read “We can endure discomfort, more than we think. I would normally have tapped out after the first sign of challenge, but breathing allowed me to go past that. It’s life. Things get tough and we run back to the familiar and comfortable. Sitting in ice (discomfort) showed me that I’m capable of more…” My God, I love when me and the Universe are in synchrony.) I truly believe that God, the Universe, whoever you want to call the higher power that gives us life, has our best interests and highest potential in mind. I lean towards that wisdom and pray for its guidance and strength and love, even in and especially my closest relationships. I know that when I lean into the Universe’s wisdom, love will always win.
And so my point is this – maybe we should reevaluate what we are labeling as toxic in a relationship. Is your partner abusing you? Mentally, physically or emotionally? Are they neglectful, deceitful or hurtful? And do these actions last for a prolonged period of time with no explanation? Then yes, your relationship probably is toxic. BUT, if what you are feeling is internal discomfort triggered by one or two of your partner’s actions, maybe the relationship is not toxic after all. Maybe you should talk to God before you talk to your friends (learned that lesson the hard way) and ask for loving guidance because this is a divine assignment to heal a broken part of yourself. Maybe you can open up to your partner about that fear you are experiencing. Because the beautiful part about opening up is that it gives your partner the opportunity to open up too. When I opened up about my discomfort to my partner, yes, it was awkward and painful, but it gave him the space to tell me he was going through something hard and that he needed me. He was just too afraid to tell me before because he didn’t want me to think he was weak. I remember looking him in the eyes and saying “I see nothing but strength.” And we both cried because we both felt like our hearts were broken wide open for each other. It was incredibly healing for both of us, and there was so much love that came from that experience.
Accept your assignment babe. The Universe has your back. You can do this. You can choose love.