Awareness within a toxic relationship

Over the past few posts, we’ve been discussing awareness while in the midst of pain and tough times.  As humans, we develop methods and patterns (good, bad, or otherwise!) for dealing with (and understanding!) the various situations we encounter.  Today’s post is about becoming aware of the cyclical nature of most confrontations when in a toxic relationship.

Recently, I was conducting one of my divorce story interviews and an “ah ha” moment came to me. 

A few weeks ago at a networking event, I met this artistic business woman named Lee.  At the event, we had a brief conversation and connected as we both have goals of helping others in our businesses.  Plus, I could tell from the start that Lee really got what I was doing and seemed to have a deep understanding of divorce, society, and behaviors. 

I was excited to talk with her in depth.  Our conversation actually did not end up following my script of questions.  I’m so glad I didn’t stick to the questions, as we ended up getting into some really good topics. 

A topic that has come up in multiple interviews is that when we are in a toxic relationship, it is very difficult to see the writing on the wall while you are in the midst of the relationship.  This seems to be a common pattern. 

It is only after distancing yourself from the situation that you can really see what was going on, or even see the person’s true colors. 

Personally, I rationalized many of my ex’s behaviors and accepted them as my reality, saying things such as, “That’s just how he is,” to accept what I didn’t like.  I didn’t see the behaviors as hurtful or toxic when I was actually in the relationship, even though I certainly had feelings of hurt and felt trapped. 

It often felt like Groundhog Day, as there were certain little things that would irritate me beyond belief on a daily basis.  I didn’t feel respected or appreciated for my role in the family as a stay at home mom.  For example, unless there was an important work meeting for my ex, he would sleep in and go to work when he was ready.  His boss/ office didn’t seem to mind as long as all of the work got done.  However, working 11AM – 7PM, and then back to the office at 9PM isn’t exactly conducive for family life. 

I was the one up in the morning taking care of the kids all by myself and getting everyone ready for the day.  This was often a big task as my children are 5 years apart.  This encompassed juggling a baby and a young school aged child and trying to accommodate their different needs.

After getting everyone off to school, I would get back home to my cold coffee, put away the dishes and then get into whatever other tasks I had lined up for the day.

Notoriously, shortly after starting my next task my ex would emerge from the bedroom saying, “I’ll be ready to go to work in 7 minutes.”   This was his way of asking me to drive him to work.

This would irk me as I passed his office driving the children to school in the morning (it really could have been one round trip), and he wanted me to jump to meet his needs regardless of what I had on the table.  He would claim that he was willing to just walk to work if I couldn’t do it, but it was much more in how this request was communicated. 

It lacked common courtesy.   

This abrupt request would make my skin crawl each and every day.  If the approach was different, and if it was communicated in advance to provide a little planning, it actually would not have been a big deal.

The Ah Ha:

This was a pattern or cycle of confrontation.

In my non-structured interview with Lee, I asked her, “How do you recognize the pain & patterns when you are still in the relationship?” 

She said that patterns are cyclical.  It is the same conflict over and over again.  You keep hitting the same brick wall. 

Her recommendation was to journal every day to document what you are going through, as this will help you identify the patterns of behavior.

In her own situation, she thought that the big blow up fights she would have with her ex only happened 4 times a year.  As fights do happen in a marriage, it didn’t seem that bad.  However, her perception as compared to reality was very different.

When she looked back at her journals, she saw that the crazy fights were actually every 4-6 weeks, year round!

Another insight she brought was that when you are in a toxic relationship, you are in survival mode and thus very present.  Any journaling done while in the relationship captures your present state and raw emotions.

Let’s take Lee’s advice to become aware of the patterns of behavior.  If something is happening over and over again, perhaps it is part of the issue.  Using a daily journal can help you pinpoint the issue as our perception is not necessarily the reality of the situation.

Was there a pain pattern in your life that took you a while to recognize?

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