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I’d wager that most of us have been in one bad relationship during our lifetime. Or at least had a bad experience.
For my part, I spent three years with a guy who I knew deep down was wrong for me. It was a typical first love story. He was handsome, cheeky, and very romantic. He wrote songs for me, for God’s sake! (As an adult, that very thought makes me want to vomit, but at the time it was the most romantic thing I’d ever experienced.)
As a shy and insecure girl, I was flattered by his attention.
He was in a band, liked poetry, and would surprise me with spontaneous outings and gifts. At 19, I thought he’d become a famous rock star and we’d spend our time partying on a tour bus, with me wearing a 70s-style fur coat and flowers in my hair. (Yes, I was and still am a big fan of “Almost Famous.”)
I’d never been in love before, and the intoxicating effects were more addictive than any drug. We were obsessed with each other. I thought we’d be together forever. This is the image that I clung to and focused on when things got bad.
I made endless excuses for him. When he wouldn’t contact me for days on end, it was because he “valued his independence.” When he stood me up on our second anniversary to go on an impulsive vacation to Egypt, I told myself that we didn’t need anniversaries to prove our love.
When he cheated on me the first time, I’d like to say that I cut him out of my life, got a new haircut, and moved on with my life (with “Respect” by Aretha Franklin as the soundtrack).
Alas, the reality is that I was heartbroken, truly destroyed. But I took him back after a measly two weeks. Bad romance, pure and simple.
Why did I react this way? Simple. I was head over heels in love. My brain had been hijacked by it.
As an adult (supposedly), I see this hijacking happen all the time with both young girls and boys. They often stay with someone out of habit or fear and accept ill treatment because they believe it’s the price of love. That’s what popular culture leads us to believe. And it’s wrong.
Typing here at my computer, I can’t advise whether the relationship that you’re in is a good, middling, or toxic one. However, I can suggest things to look out for:
- Do your friends and family not like them? The people closest to you often speak out from a place of genuine concern or evidence of ill treatment. They may not always be right about things, but it’s worth considering their concerns.
- Do you spend over 50 percent of your time fretting about your relationship? Worrying, overthinking, losing sleep, or crying often aren’t signs of a healthy relationship.
- You don’t trust your partner when they leave your side. Relationships are built on trust.
- Your partner is physically or emotionally abusive. If you aren’t sure that you’re in an abusive relationship, there are signs to look out for and avenues to getting help.
The end of my story is very positive. Nothing dramatic happened. I just had a light bulb moment.
I saw what one of my friend’s relationship was like and suddenly realized how different it was to my own. She was respected and treated with care. This was something that I deserved, too, but was unlikely to get from my then-boyfriend.
I won’t say that the breakup was easy, in the same way that cutting off a limb isn’t easy. (The film “127 Hours” made this apparent). There were tears, moments of doubt, and a deep fear of never meeting anyone again.
But I did it. And looking back, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
1. Block their number
Or do what Dua Lipa does and just don’t pick up the phone. If you worry about losing self-control, then give your phone to a trusted friend or family member. This worked very well for me — it removed the temptation.
2. Go away for a few days
If possible, it helps to get away, even if it’s just visiting friends or family. Aim for a whole week if you can. You’ll need support during this initial stage.
3. Allow yourself to cry and feel wretched
You’re not weak, you’re human. Stockpile on comfort items like tissues, comfort food, and a Netflix subscription. Cliché I know, but it helps.
4. Make a list
Write down all the rational reasons why you shouldn’t be together and put it in a place where you’ll see it regularly.
5. Keep yourself distracted.
I redecorated my bedroom when I went through that breakup. Keeping my brain distracted and my hands busy (plus changing what my environment looked like) was very beneficial.
Life is too short to be with someone who doesn’t treat you with love and respect. Be smart, be brave, and be kind to yourself.
Claire Eastham is an award-winning blogger and best-selling author of “We’re All Mad Here.” Visit her website or connect on Twitter!