I have been with the same partner for many years and have tried to make our relationship work, but it seems like the longer I am with him the worse I feel about myself. He makes fun of me when I say what I think and then thinks I am ridiculous because “I can’t take a joke.” We used to have some good conversations but now I can almost never find the right time to talk about anything. I don’t want to leave but my life feels like it is closing in on me. Any ideas?
Your descriptions of your relationship certainly qualify for many of the definitions of a toxic relationship which means that the relationship instead of helping you to live your best life, the relationship actually diminishes your sense of self worth and ability. Being with someone who has no respect for you and belittles what you do, say or think makes living a satisfying life incredibly difficult.
Often both people in a toxic relationship have low self esteem and little sense of their own self worth. Many people grow up in families where these kinds of relationships are the norm and creating them in our adult relationships is easy because they are so familiar and often because we continue to try to resolve our childhood issues in our adult relationships. People often hurt each other in relationships to ease their own pain and don’t even see that they are doing it.
People accept these kinds of relationships as normal because they don’t believe they are deserving of anything better.
Although all relationships go through difficult periods of conflict and disappointment, relationships that weather these difficulties share some important qualities that toxic relationships don’t. Mature and growing relationships are a reflection of the well being of each individual in the relationship. The process of working through problems does not start and end with blaming and belittling one partner. When each person brings their own self -respect to the conflict, there is an opening to look at the problem not point the finger at each other.
Fear is a driving force in many if not most toxic relationships and often the fears that are driving the relationship live between the partners unnamed. Whether the fear is of not being good enough, or losing control or of change, the unwillingness or inability to look at and name what is happening between you can become the elephant in the room which can consume the relationship and both partners. Having the courage to bear witness and describe your experience with your partner is crucial to any chances that you have of redefining how you relate to each other.
The truth about all relationships is that when either partner decides that they are no longer going to participate in the relationship as it exists, both partners are forced to shift or the relationship will end because there is no more room for it. It is easy to get caught in seeing your partner in just one negative way. Make sure that you have a realistic view of both the positive and negative aspects of your partner and relationship and acknowledge both as you approach your needs to have the relationship change. Seek out a unbiased third opinion about your relationship so that you know your views are grounded in reality.
By taking responsibility for your own feelings and your participation in the toxicity between you, you will be more able to do the challenging yet satisfying work of setting firm boundaries around the way you are willing to relate and communicate. Know that the heart of any relationship begins with your relationship to yourself and honor it. By remaining focused on your own inner work and keeping your commitment to your own self worth, your relationship will adapt or find it’s end.