Unhealthy love relationships abound, and I’ve made it my mission to help people avoid them. As a psychotherapist specializing in breaking toxic relationship habits, I’ve compiled my list of down and dirty tips for ending the cycle of bad relationships.
First and foremost, keep your eyes wide open! When a relationship begins, during that first blush of enchanting lust, these are the two most important things to remember:
Wait 30 Months. What??? Regardless of how amazing and real it feels, do not agree to get married or pregnant for at least two years, if not longer. Why? Neurobiology.
The I-can’t-live-without-you-we-are-soulmates feelings are simply the result of feel-good organic chemicals soaking your brain. These chemicals developed through evolution to keep paleo men and women together long enough to procreate and get a child onto its feet. After that, the paleo man likely went wandering off to greener savannahs to find a new paleo woman.
The effects of these chemicals gradually diminish over the course of about 30 months on average (Lorber, et. al, 2015). Until then, do NOT get into anything that will take you a lot of money to get out of, such as marriage (divorce), children (child support).
Heed Red Flags. In my counseling practice, I talk to a lot of good people in bad relationships and find there are always red flags at the beginning. Always. The problem is when we don’t pay attention to them.
When you see a red flag, walk away. Yes. You must walk away.
It won’t get better because your beloved should be on his or her best behavior in the beginning. Leaving is especially difficult if you are be a caring, sensitive, optimistic person who believes that there is good in all people.
In fact, I would bet that this is where your problem lies. If you continue to get into relationships with bad partners, you probably stay around too long, hoping your partner will improve. You believe them when they say they will change. Your optimism keeps you engaged.
Do yourself a favor: cut bait! Walk away.
Watch for Red Flags
My Web site, www.jillannnelson details how red flags manifest. They include poor boundaries, lies, jealousy, career issues, past relationship issues, family relationships, money issues, moving too fast, expressing love too soon, keeping commitments, and housing issues. Keep your eyes open for these big ones:
Lies. Leave a liar immediately. Lying is never acceptable because it involves one person manipulating another person’s sense of reality. Lying takes power away from the person to whom the lie is told, and places power into the hands of the liar. The liar manipulates the victim’s reality and they have no means with which to make an informed decision.
Manipulation. Leave a manipulator immediately. “If you don’t do X, I will Y” is manipulation, as is the silent treatment, feigning suicide or pregnancy, “gaslighting,” and withholding information. Manipulation is a power play, putting you in the man down position and the manipulator as man up. Relationships aren’t about power, but instead should be equal and mutually fulfilling.
A False Self. Does everyone else adore him while he’s an abusive jerk at home? He is likely a narcissist who puts on his False Self mask in public. Dear optimist, beware: that dark, nasty side is who he really is. Don’t hold out hope that you will be able to have that person in your home, because it doesn’t really exist. It is a mask, a ghost, a figment of his imagination. The narcissist’s True Self is the abusive jerk you know and fear.
Another lover or relationship. Did you discover your lover cheating with another woman or man? Were you the other woman or man? The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and if she’s cheated once, the likelihood of it happening again is very high. In fact, abusive narcissists are known to have two to three simultaneous “lives” in multiple relationships at the same time. Just like the old say goes, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
How to find The One
Once you’ve cleared these hurdles, what can you do to get the best chance at a healthy, fulfilling relationship?
Make a list. Figure out YOUR needs. I’m not talking about looks, common interests, or culture. I’m talking about what nurtures, encourages, eases, and fosters your peace of mind and happiness? This task means getting real with yourself and telling yourself the truth about what really is important to you. Make a list and keep it handy.
Shop and compare. Use that list when you meet a prospective date and see how they match up to your needs. What often happens is we hope to fit into their lives or we simply just see how it all works out. Wrong! Don’t waste your time with someone who doesn’t sync with your Self. And certainly don’t waste it on someone who is throwing red flags all over the place.
Observe conflicts. Pay attention to you and your partner’s behavior during conflict - and you WILL have conflict. That’s healthy. If you and your partner can handle conflict responsibly and there are no red flags, take a couple of years to get to know each other. What are your partnership pitfalls, and are you both able to address them satisfactorily? How you handle conflict will be an important determinant of your relationship’s success. For more information about the neurobiology of conflict, read my blog from December 2, 2015, here.
These steps should get you pretty far down the road toward healthier relationships. If you need a guide along the way, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org I’d be happy to join you!
Lorber, M. F., Eckardt Erlanger, A. C., Heyman, R. E., O’Leary, K. D. (2015). The honeymoon phase: does it exist and can it be predicted? Prevention Science, 16(4), 550-559.