Is your relationship toxic? - feelya

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Dealing with relationship issues and its mental health implications
6 min read

The delirious feeling of being in love is one of the most fulfilling emotions humans can feel. 

Adoring someone – and being adored in return – is an intoxicating, self-affirming, sensation. It’s like basking in the sun.

People in love can seem woozy with love and calm and contented. Love is so deep an emotion it can have a powerful physical effect. Attraction can trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good chemicals. Sex and physical contact can release endorphins, which produce a feeling of being peaceful and secure. 

Loving someone, and allowing yourself to be loved, is also an act of trust. 

True love is more than mutual physical attraction, amazing sex or falling ‘in love’ with someone you think is hot. That’s all good too. But actually loving someone – their very essence – is far more than physical desire. It involves an intimate bond and revealing who you really are. True love means unlocking the box inside your soul where your real feelings, emotions and secrets are hidden and allowing that special other person access.

Really knowing another person means confiding in them, counting on them, and appreciating them despite their foibles, idiosyncrasies and bad habits. In fact, loving them all the more for them.  

In good relationships, that trust and intimate knowledge of one another can be the bond that keeps love alive – long after sobering up from the intoxication of terrific sex.

You can often see that kind of mutual admiration in couples that have been together for a long time.

One such couple met in the sixties at the height of cool. Stylish actors, they were part of a racy set in London and New York and were on the guest list at the trendiest parties. More than 50 years on – and still partying, though more soberly – he has hung up his leather jacket and she has traded in her mini skirts and killer heels for tweed and hush puppies. But even as wrinkly septuagenarians, friends remark on how in love they still are. 

What is the answer to their enduring love, wondered one friend recently? The answer was obvious really. Fifty years on they still looked at each other adoringly, and complimented each other without thinking. She laughed at his jokes and stories – even though she had heard them hundreds of times. She basked in the attention he received, and he continually told people what a wonderful wife he had. 

The secret of their enduring relationship was that, not only had both supported each other in good times and bad, neither had ever taken the other for granted. They appreciated how lucky they were to be with each other. 

That is not to say they savoured every moment. A certain amount of crockery was broken and doors slammed along the way. But arguments and disagreements were just blips in their marriage and didn’t dent the solid foundation of their relationship. 

But what about relationships where no such mutual respect exists or that trust and intimacy has been abused or compromised? Where people find themselves letting their guard down in the hope of love, and finding themselves emotionally bruised as a result?

One of the most hurtful things a person can experience is betrayal by someone they love. 

All relationships have their own chemistry and rhythm, unique to the people involved. But a simple barometer of a good relationship is does it make you feel happy being with your partner, and good about yourself? 

In one relationship that endured for seven years, the woman – a sociable, professional – found her self-confidence gradually eroded as her partner who she was deeply in love with, continually put her down.

He continually compared her adversely to female friends of his: she was putting on weight, not witty enough, embarrassing in company and had a horrible dress sense, according to him. None of this was actually true, of course. She was actually a well-dressed, slim and intelligent woman who could hold her own in any room.   Her partner’s campaign of eroding her self-confidence was more to do with his inadequacies than her own, as her friends pointed out to her. But she felt wretched throughout her relationship – particularly when his cutting remarks were made in public. Even eating a slice of cake at a birthday party became a trigger for a string of cruel remarks about the size of her thighs and bum. She felt her self-confidence ebbing and she became shy and withdrawn. Eventually, she ended the relationship.

A bad one you might think. Good riddance. Well no, in every other aspect it was a successful relationship. He was handsome, successful, good looking and often very kind. But he took his girlfriend for granted and undermined her – and because of this she felt awful about herself. In retrospect, she wished she had not kept it going for seven years, focusing on his good points and hoping things would change.  She knew deep down she was not valued by her boyfriend, and never would be. But it took a dramatic discovery – that he had cheated on her repeatedly – for her to finally end it. 

A toxic relationship can have a corrosive effect that can undermine your sense of self worth. It can be difficult to spot, as our default setting is to hope for the best.

One woman straight out of school married a man who offered her the life she imagined she had always wanted. They had two children she loved and the lifestyle she wanted, but at great personal cost. The man was controlling in every aspect of her life, from the clothes she wore to the food she ate. He stopped her pursuing her education, the career she wanted, and even refused to give her her own set of door keys or keys to the car. Her life was wretched and she eventually left him, but only after years of misery. Later, he admitted he had never loved her. 

We all deserve love in our lives. Combined with physical attraction to your partner, love can be self-affirming, thrilling and exciting. 

It is the most precious of emotions. But should our quest for love require us to forfeit our happiness? 

In all relationships there are hurdles and bumps and disappointments. And let’s face it – absolutely no one is perfect. 

If you are hoping to marry a comedienne/underwear model that parties until dawn every night and makes cakes for your mum, good luck! Or if you are waiting for a charming, wealthy and handsome prince of fairy tales or a dashing, muscular Highland warrior to fight off a regiment of dragons to rescue you from their clutches – you might be expecting rather too much.  

Hey, we can all hope. But in the real world finding a soul mate that you look forward to seeing at the end of the day is an accomplishment. 

Sometimes the person who loves you may turn out to be someone you don’t expect. Perhaps they won’t tick all your boxes for good looks or career, but if they make you feel truly happy – and if you really miss each other when you are apart – that is a firm indication you are on to a good thing.

At a party, do you ever glance at them across the room and think ‘they are mine – and I am lucky to have them’? Do you think, ‘I am proud of them, and I want to see them later’? Yes?  

Don’t forget to tell your loved one how great they are. We all bask in praise, and hearing it from someone you value means a lot.  When did you last tell your partner they looked great, or did something wonderful, or were just all round superb, or sexy? Complimenting them on a meal or an achievement at work or a job well done can add to the sum of their happiness – and yours.  

Remember, taking your partner for granted can happen gradually and by stealth. People need to be reminded they are adored, cherished and appreciated.  

That’s how you keep love alive.  

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