Looking back at the last couple years of my life as a single person feels pretty good. I am strong, free, independent and emotionally stable. I can recognize the ways in which my previous relationships were abusive. (Gaslighting me, controlling who I spoke to, where I went, my finances, etc.) And I understand now more than ever what I deserve.
However, that was a journey I took on my own. No one explicitly came to me and expressed their concerns about my relationships. Who knows if I would have listened? Regardless, I feel a bit salty about the lack of intervention. Because if we see something, we should say something, right?
Well, someone I love is in an unhealthy relationship. Let’s call them M. The relationship is 17 years “strong,” but M has flirted with leaving multiples times over the past decade. The couple break up often, so it is difficult to take them seriously. M’s partner lacks emotional regulation, drinks excessively, has threatened M’s children with violence, and generally does not support or respect M. M makes excuses for the partner half of the time, spending the other half of the time complaining and expressing frustration. Devising scenarios where the relationship ends.
From a personal standpoint, I find interacting with M’s partner exhausting. I am never sure if they are going to be friendly or cold toward me, as this tends to depend on whether they are drinking. As someone who has anxiety, I experience increased fear and nervousness around them. They have ruined holiday gatherings with their alcohol-induced tantrums. And yet I must share space with this person if I want M’s company in their own home.
This isn’t about me, to be sure. This is about M.
During my work in therapy, I learned to accept what I can and cannot control. (This is an ongoing process, of course.) If M wants to continue the relationship, that is their choice. But I do feel it is acceptable to tell them how I feel.
So, I’m currently chatting with others close to the couple who feel the same way. Of vital importance is the manner with which we address the topic. We must be kind, patient and mindful not to criticize. We remind ourselves that we cannot enter the discussion with an expectation that M will terminate the relationship. Rather, we are prepared for the conversation to go numerous ways. For example:
M may become angry and leave the discussion. If this occurs, we will reiterate to them that we are here for them should they decide to revisit the topic.
M may refuse to acknowledge the relationship’s toxicity, and choose to stay. If this occurs, we will again reiterate to them that we are here for them should they decide to revisit the topic.
M may hear what we are saying and admit that it is time to terminate the relationship. Getting out of an abusive relationship is difficult, particularly with so many years attached. Therefore, having resources, support systems and a plan in place are critical to the completion of the dissolution. M will have to commit to leaving, accept support and help from others, forego trying to “stay friends” with their ex-partner, and perhaps most difficult, give themselves permission to not feel responsible for rescuing or saving their ex-partner.
If you see something, say something. If you know someone in a bad relationship, express your concerns. And to be sure, looking in from the outside is draining. Caring for others requires prioritizing self-care.
Ultimately, everyone deserves a loving, safe relationship. I have been single for more than two years now, and being alone is much happier than settling for less than what I deserve.
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Photo: Rowan Chestnut via Unsplash