Saints and Sailors

Some Thoughts on Ending Toxic Relationships

When it comes to my romantic relationship, I’m a lucky guy. I’ve got a partner who values communication, honesty, and openness. However, as I didn’t even meet her until I was in my late 20s, I have a lot of experience in being unlucky in romantic relationships prior to that. Also, while I am lucky to have a chosen family filled with others who share my partner’s values in interpersonal relationships, I have also had many platonic relationships that didn’t adhere to that same social contract.

And those sorts of relationships suck.

I’ve spent a good amount of time in my interpersonal relationships, both romantic and platonic, that have involved a lot of waiting alone for a phone to ring. In these relationships there has often been a lack of communication and trust that has caused a great deal of stress and anxiety. Couple that with the fact that I suffer from pretty intense anxiety issues as it is and you can imagine the hell that these sorts of situations can put me through.

Of course, before I met my lovely current partner, I was much worse at finding coping mechanisms for these sorts of situations. My anxiety would often manifest itself into me goading the other member of the relationship into an argument about something unrelated to the actual issue, which is the lack of communication and openness, the cornerstones of a healthy relationship, be it platonic or romantic. And, unfortunately, sometimes these issues would create such a level of resentment that it would lead to the end of the relationship before I, or they, ever realized that the only true issue at hand was that we weren’t communicating our expectations of the other in the relationship.

Miscommunication is a pretty shitty reason for a relationship to end, yet, I’m pretty sure that it is the cause of the end of almost 99% of them.

In recent years, meaning for the past decade or so, I’ve tried very hard to live by the axiom of not saying that “everything’s working when everything’s broken.” Bottling up your emotions and not speaking about what is bothering you is not just unhealthy for relationships but for your own mental health. It is important, in order to allow for your own personal growth, that you identify, confront, and acknowledge the emotions that are causing issues within relationships. If not, you’re just going to make both yourself and your partner miserable.

Unfortunately, there are times when openly communicating what you need from a relationship will not be met with open arms by the other person/people in the relationship. For instance, if you’ve known somebody for your entire life, literally, and neither of you have ever addressed the emotional issues that cause problems within the relationship, it may be that the rifts and fissures that have been caused by the 35+ years of poor communication may cause them to react negatively when you explain to them what you need from the relationship. And then, even if they are your flesh and blood, you may find a point where the relationship is unsalvageable and you must, for your own mental well-being, wash your hands of it.

Trust me, it isn’t an easy decision to make, ending a relationship. Especially if that relationship is with a sibling, parent, or romantic partner of many years. However, if you reach a point where it is clear that the partner in the relationship is unwilling to take steps to improve communication, open new channels of emotional communication, or allow you the space and accommodations that you need for your own mental health, it may be necessary. While it will usually be a last resort, you should not feel guilty for having to make that decision. You are not responsible for their inability, or lack of willingness, to treat you as a valued and heard partner in the relationship.

Society will tell you that you are making a mistake in these situations often. If it is a sibling or parent that you have had to cut ties with, you will see many representations in popular culture that show that you should always try to reconcile with them. You should not hold yourself to these standards.

First, they are fictional. You should never hold yourself, your relationships, or other people up to the standards that are set forth in fictional works, or non-fictional ones for that matter, as you will inevitably be disappointed as you long for something that is completely unreal.

Second, and most importantly, nobody that made those “societal standards” have been where you are. Your relationship is unique. It is not like any other. If you cannot bring yourself to deal with the bullshit emotional manipulation of your father, then you don’t have to. You are not required to have a relationship with somebody who is actively harming your well-being, be it emotional or physical.

I know that this is all easier said than done. I have allowed toxic relationships to exist in my life for much longer than I should have because I felt guilty for taking the stand that I needed to take. Hell, I still feel guilty about taking that stand months after I finally did. But I do know that I made the right decision to end those relationships. I can see a change in my mental health, my anxiety levels, and my happiness. And I’m not the only one who sees it. The other relationships in my life, the healthy ones, have improved drastically because I am no longer devoting so much energy and emotional time to maintaining a relationship that was doing nothing but eating away at my well-being. It has been commented on by almost every member of my chosen family that has seen me since I ended the relationship.

Sometimes we have to make hard decisions in order to make our situation better. Just know that, if you need to make that decision to end a toxic relationship, the non-toxic ones in your life will be there to assist you in coping with it. After all, that is what makes the other relationships healthy to begin with.

This essay was inspired by “Saints and Sailors” by Dashboard Confessional. It is track 5 on The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most.