So Toxic: Harmful Relationship Patterns

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Registered: 03-26-2003
So Toxic: Harmful Relationship Patterns
Mon, 09-03-2007 - 1:56am

So Toxic - Harmful Relationship Patterns…

My boyfriend has a dog that likes to chew on grass. I guess it's common among dogs to like chewing on grass, in much the same way that they also like to drink out of toilets or sit on the couch when no one's home. So his dog chews on grass, and sometimes gets clumps of it stuck in her throat. This causes her to retch a little until the clump is dislodged. I imagine this can't be fun or safe for her. But then, minutes later, she will find a brand new patch of grass, and the eating and retching begins all over again. My boyfriend and I shake our heads, smile, and think, "Silly dog."

But dogs aren't the only ones who are silly. Humans are silly too, and even though we don't generally chew on grass, we do engage in harmful patterns that result in our unstable well-being. Humans are probably the most spontaneous creatures in the world, but they're also creatures of habit. And once these habits are established, they are often very hard to break. We'd like to think that we're above all this, but the truth is that we sometimes ignore or repress the warning signs. We can see it in others, but it's always different for ourselves because we're the exception to the case.

Or are we? Even though each relationship is unique to the individuals who are engaged in them, there are toxic patterns and warning signs that are actually very common. These patterns of behavior are all invoked in the name of "love," even though there is very little love actually involved. In all actuality, this is probably just "immature" love.

The more exciting version is romantic love, which tends to have high physical arousal levels, high fantasy levels and often a touch of jealousy. Romantic love tends not to last and, as it fades, either the relationship ends or the love changes to mature love.

Mature love is above and beyond physical lust and is characterized by a strong communicative relationship of openness, is high in caring and intimacy, and typically endures. Therefore, a key factor that determines whether romantic love transforms into mature love is the compatibility level of the two people.

In order to engage in a true relationship, psychologists say that both romantic love (which is really just lust or "immature" love), and mature love (which is really just emotional love) must be present. In most toxic relationships, the only component truly present is the romantic, infatuated part. To graduate to a higher level, one must go beyond the infatuation and romanticizing of a new relationship. But if certain patterns are present, there will be no advancing. Instead, there will be a lot of tear shedding and heartbreak.

The Patterns

The (Don't) Look Back In Anger

What It Is: Jill has been hurt in the past and cannot understand why men always let her down. When she meets and dates Jack, she will displace all her anger and hostility towards him. She will think he is going to let her down, and in turn will pull away from him or treat him badly.

Long Term Effects: Eventually, Jill's passive-aggressive hostility will turn Jack off. He will either think everything is his fault, or that because Jill's been hurt in the past, it's justified for her to treat him badly. It's not.

The Rx: Jill has entered a relationship with preconceived notions of how Jack will act. After all, he is a man, and men all act the same, right? Wrong. Jill should always start with a clean slate, and if she can't, it's not the right time to enter a relationship.

Cross-Referenced With: The Psychopath

The Roller Coaster Engineer

What It Is: Jack loves the drama, and when things seem to go well with Jill, Jack will pick a fight or find fault with Jill. This addiction to drama will result in a turbulent relationship. The downs will be as fantastic as the ups. When Jill prods, Jack will explain his unbridled outbursts as a result of his obsessive love for her.

Long Term Effects: The drama will engulf the couple until there will be nothing left to do but fight and make up. Jill will always be looking over her shoulder, trying not to upset Jack. She will start to believe that he gets upset because he loves her so much. She will start to think she deserves whatever Jack says to her. She doesn't.

The Rx: There is no fix for this type of relationship, except extensive and expensive couple's therapy. If the drama is all Jill has left, then it's time for her to move on.

Cross-Referenced With: The Wrangler, the Green-Eyed Monster, The Psychopath

The Lobster

What It Is: Jill is in a new relationship when her ex-boyfriend, Jack, comes back into the picture. He reminds her of all the good times they had, and tells her that he still loves her and wants to see if they can have another go at the relationship. Jill is flattered an enamored by his words, agrees, and dumps her current beau. This is the third time they've gotten back together. In another month, Jack will tell her things aren't working and will disappear again.

Long Term Effects: Not only will Jill not be able to move on with her relationships, but she'll be in anguish over why Jack keeps on being in her life. The reason: because he can.

The Rx: If Jill is intent on being with Jack, she has to realize that she cannot give him the pleasure or power of disrupting her life at will. If she stops letting Jack do this to her, he will either finally leave her alone, or realize that he cannot keep jerking her around because he will lose her for good. If it's the former, Jill will know Jack was never intent on pursuing a real relationship.

Cross-Referenced With: The Commitment-phile, The Voluntary Doormat

The Wrangler (a.k.a. The Puppeteer)
What It Is: Jack likes to tell Jill what to wear, who to hang out with, and what she can order at restaurants. He will monopolize her time and insist she spend every waking moment calling him or being by his side. This is because Jack really, really loves Jill and cannot bear another moment without her.

Long Term Effects: Jack doesn't really love Jill, or else he'd let her have a life. What Jack is really after is full control of the relationship, probably because he doesn't have control over much else in his life. After a while, Jill will feel smothered. But she will be so used to it by that point that she will try to justify it to her friends and family, and to herself. Jack will keep on exerting his control over her and blow up when she resists. Since Jill has grown to depend on him, the threat of losing Jack will ensure that she caters to his every controlling demand.

The Rx: Jill needs to wake up and smell the emotional abuse. When is it ever healthy to let someone control your life? Jill needs to put her foot down and stop giving in to Jack's tantrums. If things don't change (and they rarely do, since this stems from Jack's insecurities and distorted views of love, which Jack will never admit), it's time to say bye-bye to this controlling jerk.

Cross-Referenced With: The Green-Eyed Monster, The Emotionally Dependent

The Green-Eyed Monster

What It Is: Jill would be the perfect girlfriend, if it weren't for her jealous freak-outs. She won't allow Jack to talk to anyone without a Y-chromosome, and will question everything Jack says or does. Even if Jack so much as smiles at a waitress, Jill will tear his head off. Sometimes she won't come out and say that she is jealous, but will find other ways to manifest her outrage, such as extra helpings of attitude or spontaneous silent treatments. If Jack guesses correctly that she's upset he spoke to his best friend's roommate at that party once, she will deny it and proceed to passive-aggressively yell at him for not getting her a drink at said party, or some other lame excuse. She loves it when people say in movies, "If I can't have you, no one can."

Long Term Effects: Jack will start to cut off all the women in his life and will spend all this extra time constantly assuring Jill that she is the apple of his eye. This will wear him down eventually, and he will grow bored and tired of constantly holding her hand. This smothering behavior will lead to hostile feelings.

The Rx: Jill needs to get over her insecurities or else nothing will ever be good enough for her, and she will lose out on many great relationships and the caring men in them. And Jack is better off being with someone who is more emotionally stable.

Cross-Referenced With: The Wrangler, The Psychopath

The Psychopath

What It Is: Jack's had a rough day at work. He comes home and immediately starts yelling that Jill is a slob who never cleans up after herself, although the only thing Jill is guilty of is not using a coaster. He will also kick her dog. Jill goes into hiding. Later, Jack will be back to his old self and will wonder why Jill is being so distant. When she brings up his mood swings, he will revise history by saying that he never raised his voice. Or he will apologize for his outburst and blame it on work. This will comfort Jill. The next day, Jack's car will break down and he'll come home and take it out on Jill again.

Long Term Effects: Jack's crazy mood swings and displaced anger will scare Jill to the point that she'll avoid him. Instead of comforting him on bad days, Jill will just let Jack stew in his own juices. This, in turn, will make Jack think that Jill doesn't care. But what she really doesn't care for is his attitude.

The Rx: It's very easy to become upset and take it out on the ones who love you the most. What is not acceptable is using others as your personal punching bag. Jack has to learn how to control his rage problems and to understand that displacing this anger on others won't solve his deeper issues. Jill needs to learn that it's normal for someone to have a bad day, but what is not normal is for someone to lash out based on something that is not even remotely her fault. If the mood swings don't subside, they will only escalate. Jill needs to walk away before any further damage is done.

Cross-Referenced With: The Roller Coaster Engineer

These Boots Are Made for Walking

What It Is: Every time Jack and Jill have an argument, Jill threatens to leave Jack. Since Jack doesn't want to lose her, he will apologize and drop the whole thing, even if it isn't his place to apologize. If he doesn't give in to her idle threats, Jill will break up with Jack, and then want to get back together once she cools off. This has happened three times in the last month.

Long Term Effects: Jill's bluffs will become futile, and Jack will harbor resentment towards her, even if they stay together. Her break-up trigger finger will result in problems left unresolved; Jack will try everything he can to get her to drop her infantile threats, which will include catering to her demands. Jack will be afraid that every fight they engage in will result in her threatening to leave, so he will try not to upset her, even if something is truly bothering him.

The Rx: The best way to deal with a "walker" is to stop being jerked around like a yo-yo. The threats are idle, and if someone is willing to break up so quickly over a lover's quarrel (and thereby not giving the relationship the time and respect it deserves), they weren't in it to begin with. Jack needs to tell Jill how her threats are affecting the relationship, and make it clear that her mind games will have no effect on him.

Cross-Referenced With: The Wrangler, The Psychopath

The User and Abuser (a.k.a. The Taker)

What It Is: Jill loves Jack, but she really loves it when Jack buys her gifts and picks her up from work. Her eyes only light up when he shows up with flowers and a box of chocolates. Jill is obsessed with films like Pretty Woman and Indecent Proposal. If Jack had never paid for their first date, Jill would probably not be seeing him right now.

Long Term Effects: Jill thinks that Jack can only prove his love with material things. This will either make Jack become financially strapped, or make him depressed when he realizes that she's not really into him, just the gifts and the promise of more gifts. Jack can only make Jill happy by giving her things, and Jill will be the most loving person in the world while the gifts are coming; this will result in Jack being happy that she's happy, and the cycle continues. Because Jill is confusing material wealth with emotional love, she won't realize that she's using Jack. But she is.

The Rx: Jack needs to drop Jill, stat. Jill needs to be more independent and to stop equating money with how much a person loves her, because there isn't enough money in the world that can truly equal the love that one person has for another.

Cross-Referenced With: The Voluntary Doormat

The Voluntary Doormat

What It Is: Jack wants to please Jill all the time. He never wants to upset her, and always gives in, no matter how trivial or ridiculous the demands are. Jill loves that Jack is so accommodating. She's amazed that he will do anything for her, and never gets upset when she's half an hour late meeting him or forgot his birthday.

Long Term Effects: Jack's eagerness to please Jill will cost him his spine. If Jill is a nice person, she'll realize that Jack is being a pushover and talk to him about it; if she's a mean person, she'll take advantage of his "niceness" and do even more to ensure that he's thoroughly spoiled her. There are no such words as "equal" or "respect" in this type of relationship.

The Rx: Jack needs to re-evaluate his worth in a relationship and come to the understanding that it's a partnership, not a master and manservant deal. There is a fine line between agreeing to Jill's dinner plans or choice of movie, and letting her get away with murder.

Cross-Referenced With: The User and Abuser, The Commitment-phile, The Stand By My Man Against All Odds

The Commitment-phile (a.k.a. The Emotionally Dependant)

What It Is: Jill will do anything to be in a relationship. She doesn't care if it's Jack or Bob that she's with, as long as he's a warm body she can introduce at parties as her "boyfriend." Jill's romanticizing of long walks on the beach and picnics in the park far exceed the reality of the work and compromise that it takes to be in a committed relationship. She can never be single because she hates the thought of being alone.

Long Term Effects: Jill will be a serial dater all her life. She will be disappointed if the conventional romantic things that she has come to embrace are absent in her relationship. A dozen long-stemmed roses are a universal sign of love (or so the media dictates) so if Jack gives her something else on Valentine's Day, she will throw a fit. She will blame the demise of her relationship on the fact that he can't carry out the things on her "boyfriend checklist," and will move on until she finds someone who does. Sadly, the unrealistic goals she sets out for her boyfriends will never be fulfilled.

The Rx: Jill needs to get her head out of that Harlequin novel and try dating a real person for once. Her idealization of romance and love is unrealistic, and that can only lead to disappointment and mistrust. She thinks she needs the fairy-tale, and will always hold her partner on a pedestal. But what Jill needs is to accept people as they are, and stop being the damsel-in-distress and start accounting for her own actions and choices.

Cross-Referenced With: The Voluntary Doormat, The Stand By My Man Against All Odds

The Stand-By-My Man Against All Odds

What It Is: Jill is so smitten by Jack that when her friends tell her that Jack was rude to them, she just dismisses it as her friends being overly critical. When Jack makes a derogatory remark towards Jill and Jill's friends notice, she brushes it off or makes excuses for him. Any accusation that Jack earns will fall on deaf ears, even when it's blatant that Jack needs to take responsibility for his actions. One or twenty assertions that Jill needs to open her eyes is one too many.

Long Term Effects: In a little while, Jill will find it hard to avoid her friends' interventions, and will stop speaking to them altogether, because her friends don't "understand" their love. She will be blind to Jack's actions and make excuses for him. She will become so blind and resistant to Jack's behavior that when things go sour, she will swear she never saw it coming. Jack will think he can act or do as he pleases, and take advantage of Jill's devotion to him.

The Rx: There are times when Jill needs to stand by her man, like when he's wrongly accused of something or there is a misunderstanding. But there are times when Jill needs to evaluate her relationship with Jack, like when her friends tell her that he's been spotted trading spit with someone else, or is outright rude to them. Jill needs to confront Jack on these sorts of matters, instead of turning a blind eye. If Jack is good, he will be able to see his wrongs or explain himself. If Jack is not having it and can't take a little criticism, then he should not be having Jill either.

Cross-Referenced With: The Voluntary Doormat, The Commitment-phile

The Secret Lovers

What It Is: Jill tells Jack that their relationship should be kept from their family and friends. Jill will explain this is because they won't understand, try to keep them apart, or use some other flaky justification. They will meet secretly and start lying to their friends.

Long Term Effects: Keeping secrets have a way of eating at people, and Jack will become paranoid as to why Jill wants to keep things under wraps. He will start suspecting her of cheating, or of being ashamed of him or their relationship. He'll be crushed, but probably not far off.

The Rx: Jack should never play along with this type of demand, even if Jill is very persuasive and the thrill of secrecy is enticing and exciting. Unless Jill is something like Jack's teacher, there is no reason for secrets and lies. Jack's better off being in a relationship where he is truly respected.

Cross-Referenced With: The Voluntary Doormat

There is no clear way of telling what a relationship holds when we enter it. Wouldn't it be easy to have him roll over in bed one day, with the words "doormat" or "psychopath" suddenly tattooed on his back? But most of these unhealthy relationship types manifest in later stages of a relationship, and by then it becomes harder to walk away. There's comfort and familiarity in a relationship, and the prospect of suddenly waking up without one is more daunting than we'd like to admit. And then there's the tricky thing called "love," that we sometimes think we find and we sometimes can't find when it's sitting right in front of us. Just saying the words "I love you" isn't enough to keep a relationship from self-destructing. Is it really "mature love," or is it a trick of the imagination? The mind is so persuasive that we can trick ourselves to believing it's there; the more it is said, the more it becomes real. Unfortunately, we also hear that Bush is a good president and that the Notorious B.I.G. isn't really dead, and none of these things are actually true.

Don't let a toxic relationship or a "but…I love you" get the best of you. Engaging in a toxic relationship will bring you down, no matter how strong you are. There is no such thing as a perfect relationship, but there is such a thing as a healthy one. Choose wisely and let the actions speak louder than the words.
So Toxic:
Harmful relationship patterns…

"Ignoring the facts
does not change the facts"
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