Are your relationships a dumping ground for toxic waste? This week we talk about the hallmarks of toxicity in relationships. Whether you've got a toxic metamour, romantic partner, co-worker, or friend, tune in to learn how to recognize the signs and break free.
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Jase: On this episode of The Multiamory podcast, we are talking about toxic relationships. These could be friends, family, romantic partners, co-workers or even metamours. To get us in the mood for this episode, I am going to read you an excerpt from a poem. You're toxic, I'm slipping under. With a taste of a poison paradise, I'm addicted to you. Don't you know that you're toxic?
Dedeker: It's really beautiful.
Jase: Thank you.
Dedeker: That was a really wonderful poem. Did you write that one yourself?
Emily: Did you just make that up on your own? Just now?
Jase: No. That's by the poet Britney Spears.
Emily: Wow. She's actually really good. Not bad.
Dedeker: Classic, classic Spears.
Jase: Yeah. It's been an anthology of female American poets.
Dedeker: Nice. Excellent, excellent. Oh perfect.
Jase: Called the Billboard charts.
Dedeker: I know that poem because it's missing, there's like one particular famous line that everyone always quotes that you didn't include. It's [sings tune]
Emily: I was like, which one? It's not a line, it's a noise. It's just a noise.
Dedeker: Okay, let's talk about toxicity, shall we?
Jase: Shall we?
Jase: We shall.
Dedeker: I feel like it gets tossed around a lot. Like we are talking about toxic relationships, or toxic friendships or toxic masculinity, definitely top of the conversation right now. I wanted to look and see what is the actual definition of toxicity. Toxicity in brief just means poisonous. As you mentioned, your poison paradise. Some synonyms include virulent.
Jase: Yes. Never known quite how to pronounce that.
Emily: It's like viral but not.
Dedeker: No, no, no.
Jase: No. Like a virus.
Dedeker: Like a virus.
Dedeker: Virulent, noxious, deadly, dangerous, harmful, injurious, or pernicious. To continue on with the dictionary definition, it's relating to or caused by poison, or very bad, unpleasant, or harmful.
Jase: As in a toxic relationship?
Emily: A toxic relationship.
Jase: Got it. If toxicity is defined by harm, this is a lot of different types of harm. This isn't just emotional and mental harm but it could also be physical harm. You are a bit like real toxic waste.
Dedeker: Exactly. That's the thing. It's just like the way that real toxic waste if it gets leached into the groundwater or into the soil, it's going to cause long-term lasting effects, cause extreme harm. Everything from cancer to any number of terrible reactions. The same thing happens when there's toxicity in a particular relationship in your life.
Emily: I was just in Maine and it was really ideal like setting. There was like a well water that apparently had arsenic in it so he was like, it's not going to kill you now but if you drink it for like 10 years-
Emily: - that might be a problem. We were instructed to drink the filtered water.
Jase: That's actually a really interesting metaphor though for a relationship where it's not like dealing with a toxic person or a toxic relationship for a day or something. It's like, you know, probably not going to do much to you but over the long-term, like continually getting that arsenic in your water-
Dedeker: It's gross.
Jase: - you know, could kill you.
Dedeker: It's also gross at the same time.
Dedeker: Also, can we clarify a little bit of what actually are the markers of toxic relationships versus non-toxic relationships?
Emily: Yes. To figure out what a toxic relationship is, I think we first have to look at what it isn't. Healthy relationships, for example, they are characterized by things like compassion, security, safety, free-thinking, sharing and listening, mutual love and caring. Healthy debates obviously, fighting or having arguments is probably necessary in relationships but as long as they are done healthfully. Disagreements that are healthy are fine and respectfulness, especially when there are differences in opinions. All of those things are what a healthy relationship is characterized by.
Dedeker: Toxic relationships then, in contrast, are characterized by a lot of the opposite of all those things or kind of like the twisted version of all those things. Such as insecurity, forms of abuse, particularly abuse of power or control of one partner over another. I've never seen this turn into a noun before but demandingness. There's got to be a better word for that.
Emily: The act of being demanding.
Dedeker: Being demanding, a selfishness, a self-centeredness, intent criticism, negativity, dishonesty, chronic distrust, demeaning comments or comments that pick apart the other person and also jealousy as well. I think it's a little bit tricky because everything in this list like we've all felt at different points in our lives. Not necessarily in the context of a relationship but we all go through periods of feeling self-centered or we all go through periods of insecurity or we've all said something that's maybe a little bit too critical to a partner.
That's why I think it can be really tricky identifying toxic relationships is because it's not just anything that feels bad means that it's a toxic relationship. Usually it means that there's something chronic, there's something ongoing, there's maybe even something that's fundamental in this relationship that is kind of keeping these unhealthy dynamics at play.
Jase: We are going to get into a little bit more about how to identify that a little bit later in the episode. Kind of like what to really look for to make that difference between something that's just like a little uncomfortable sometimes versus something that is really unhealthy.
Emily: The thing about toxic relationships is like we said before, if they happen over a very long period of time, they can actually be detrimental to your life and to your health. Apparently, there is this study that was over 12 years that showed that those in negative relationships are at a higher risk actually, for developing things like heart problems or even having a fatal cardiac episode in their life than those who are in non-toxic relationships. I guess that makes sense, I mean everyone says stress is going to kill you.
Emily: This is just another kind of way that one can be stressed out.
Dedeker: You're going to have that ongoing day to day stress that wears down your insides eventually.
Jase: Right. It reminds me of in the last episode, when we were talking about stress hormones like with cortisol, we didn't really get into it then but the idea is that cortisol is a good thing in nature. Right? Like for surviving a stressful situation like if you are trying to escape a burning building, or you are in a car crash or something like that. It's a very good thing to have that rush of cortisol because it's going to make you laser-focused and it's going to give you some extra strength and resilience and speed and things like that.
Where it becomes really unhealthy is in our modern day living in our minds a lot rather than being active and surviving predators. Those hormones that would be giving us that edge to survive instead are kind of eating away and wearing us down causing this long-term negative health effects. In this case, in these studies, they have shown that chronic stress from unhealthy relationships essentially causes this thing called CTRA which is Conserved Transcriptional Response to Adversity, which is sort of a survival mechanism. A gene expression that's associated with inflammation.
Cortisol is also an inflammation sort of thing that also suppresses the immune system that put those resources in other places. This is a very similar thing. It's proinflammation and lowers the immune system to direct things toward short-term survival.
This being activated too often and sort of more prolonged can cause chronic inflammation and increase your risk of health problems especially like heart problems but also things like adrenal fatigue. Which is, adrenal being like adrenaline that because you are getting these levels of these survival hormones constantly, that you are actually kind of wearing out that part of your body because it's not being used the way it's supposed to. It's kind of always on instead of being this thing that just gets injected when you really need it.
Dedeker: Right. In contrast, I mean there's a lot of evidence and studies that show that good relationships in our lives boost our health and not only increase our quality of life, but also extend our life as well. There is a 10-year-long study in Australia that show that specifically, people who have solid friend groups were 22 percent more likely to live longer. There has also been a lot of studies in the States that show that people who have solid romantic partnerships also tend to live much longer and are much less risk for particularly heart disease or stroke or any number of diseases, especially those that are often set off by cortisol hormones.
Jase: I like this Australian study though because it does focus on friend groups. Because some of the criticism of the one saying married people live longer than single people is that those studies were done with people who were unintentionally single, like people who had a spouse who had died or who had gotten divorced or something like that, rather than focusing on people who choose to be single.
Dedeker: Happily single.
Jase: Right, and so this one I like that it's focus more on the friend group and 22%, I mean that's a significant amount to live longer.
Dedeker: That's actually a good transition because of the fact that a toxic relationship, we're not just talking about romantic relationships in on this episode. It can show up in a wide variety of relationships in your life.
Jase: Yes, for example a friend, if you have a toxic friendship. I find friends and romantic partners actually have a lot of the same symptoms and solutions as or. As a friend who, for example, might constantly make you feel lesser, feel less than who you are or who monopolizes all your time but doesn't give anything back. They'll just blurt out criticism and can make you feel like you're the one who needs to change. Not valuing you as a person as you are. Those are just some examples.
You could have a toxic metamour and this is one that there's not a lot of literature about because this is something that people in non-monogamous relationships get how important these relationships can be but the rest of the world hasn't caught up yet. This could be someone who is trying to limit your relationships as a metamour by trying to restrict the amount of time that you get with your partner or someone who tries to communicate through your mutual partner rather than communicating directly, if they have that option to do it.
Often in a negative way, like causing that other person to be the go between or trash talking their metamour, feeling like, I'll get more love from my partner by talking shit about the other person that they're seeing. Which I think has a lot of similarity.
Emily: This reminds me of our drama episode. Just like somebody who brings the drama into their lives.
Jase: Yes, that has a good point.
Dedeker: I guess it makes sense that that would totally fall into the drama triangle of [inaudible 00:13:28].
Dedeker: Again, in any particular role or configuration, the metamour who's talking shit could feel like the victim or they could be the persecutor, or they could feel like they're the rescuer in this situation. It could just rotate through any of those roles, for sure.
Emily: Absolutely, people who are toxic in a romantic partnership, it usually shows up when someone is constantly trying to change you when they're not happy with the person that you are, with the things that you're doing. They just want you to be someone completely different or if they belittle you. Also, even in more extreme situations, a toxic partner can be someone who you really don't feel safe or secure around. Again, that can be for a multitude of reasons, not just on physical abuse which is the one that leaps to mind for me, but also potentially emotional abuse as well.
Then finally, something that we wanted to add was about coworkers or a boss relationship. This could come about in a snide remark way that maybe your coworkers or your boss makes a snide remark about you. That's either directed at you or directed at other workers. There could be abuse of power that happens in a multitude of ways. Obviously, we've heard about this a lot with the Me Too movement, about the huge abuses of power that occur in a lot of relationships with coworkers or bosses.
Any type of relationship that you have with anyone whether it be romantic, friendship, your metamours, or your coworkers or even your boss. Any of those relationships can be toxic. It is something to look out for sure.
Jase: Another one we hadn't mentioned yet was family. There can be a toxic parent-child relationships, sibling relationships, cousins or aunts and uncles. There's lots of different ways that these can show up.
Dedeker: I think the tricky thing with family relationships is that sometimes, it can take so many years before you even realize that it's toxic, especially if you grew up with that. If you grew up thinking, "This way of communicating is normal," or, "This way of relating to someone is normal," or, "This is just the way that we express love." It can take 10, 20, 30 years before you realize, "Actually this is really toxic." It can definitely be tricky in that way.
Jase: Before we get into ways to actually determine are you in a toxic relationship and what you can do if you do realize that that's the case, we want to take a quick moment to say that this is the last day of our exclusive promotion that we're doing with Patreon. This is the last day to get an exclusive multiamory lapel pin and an unapologetic sticker if you join or upgrade at patreon.com/multiamory. Patreon, in general, has been an amazing community that has grown up around this. By joining at our $5 level, you get access to our private Facebook group as well as our private discourse discussion group.
We also recently started to discord group for people who are gamers and just want to talk with other multiamory fans about video games. There's this whole community that you get access to, but for this, if you join as a new patron or upgrade to the $7 level, then, we will send you one of our multiamory lapel pins and one of our unapologetic stickers that we had.
Emily: They're really cool.
Dedeker: That's on top of the normal benefits that you get at the $7 level, which is not only access to our private Facebook discourse discord communities, but also to all of our many communities but also, it means you get our episodes a day early. You get to be ahead of the curve. You also get them ad free as well.
Jase: These lapel pins and stickers, we had on tour and the only way that you can get one is either to travel back in time and go see us on tour and buy them from us then, or--
Emily: Let us know how you did that, we want to get in on it as well.
Jase: Yes, seriously, or to sign up for Patreon at that $7 level today or to upgrade to the $7 level. If you join at the $15 level or upgrade to the $15 level, we'll send you the pin and sticker as well as a copy of Dedeker's book.
Dedeker: A physical copy.
Jase: An actual real copy. The Smart Girls Guide to Polyamory.
Emily: How cool is that?
Jase: If you were thinking about getting that book anyway. That's a pretty good deal.
Dedeker: That's why it's a pretty good deal because you get our special lapel pin, the unapologetic sticker, a copy of my book, and all the normal benefits of being a $15 level Patron which is--
Jase: Includes like the monthly video discussion groups.
Dedeker Exactly, access to the discussion group, the video discussion group.
Jase: You get in on the discourse, you get cool swag that shows you're a $15 elite patron. You get a little badge that you can put on your profile.
Dedeker: That's awesome. Last but not the least, this is the very last day that you can do this. We're only running this offer for a short time so again, go to patreon.com/multiamory and either join at the $7 level or the $15 level to get all that free swag that we're going to send you. If you're not a place where you want to do that yet, that's totally okay, another way that you can really help to support our show is to leave us a review on iTunes. We just finish up our special promotion where we were fundraising for the Ali Forney Center.
Thank you so much to all of you who wrote reviews in the last two months or so. We got a ton of reviews which means that we're able to send money to the Ali Forney Center. Definitely check our social media for post about the final amount that we were able to contribute. We'll keep you posted on that. If you just want to help us out, it takes literally less than two minutes to go to iTunes or go to Stitcher and just leave us a review. You could also leave us a rating as well.
The reviews and the ratings, they help us show up higher in search results which means that more people are able to find our show. Particularly people who are brand new to having healthy relationships, non-monogamous or otherwise. Again, just take a few minutes out of your day, go to iTunes, Stitcher or wherever to see o view our podcasts and leave us a review, it would really help us out.
Emily: Finally, our sponsor for this week is Audible, like I said before, I was just in Durham, Maine which is where Steven King grew up. It reminded me very much of the book It, which is set in the fictional town of Derry, Maine but I'm pretty sure there are some parallels there.
Dedeker: Is it just me, because I feel like, because HP Lovecraft I think also grew up in Maine or at least he set a lot of his stories in Maine? Is Maine just really creepy or produced creepy people?
Emily: There is basically less than a million people who live in the entire place. I'm in New York right now, you guys are in LA, just seeing how different it is from one location to the other. Just how few people there are and what an expanse there is, that I think is maybe a little bit creepy.
Dedeker: I've always wanted to go as a writer. I've always had this dream. I want to take a month and rent a beach, a spooky, foggy. Rent a beach, rent a cabin.
Emily: You could rent a beach.
Dedeker: There's no one around. Like a spooky, foggy beach in Maine and get all my spooky writing out.
Emily: For sure. I think that that would be a perfect place for it, but if you want to get in on the spooky action, you could read a Stephen King books such as It on Audible, so if you go to Audilbletrial.com/multiamory, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial and a free audiobook so that one I highly recommend, it is phenomenal, my mother read it via Audible and it's very long but it kept her busy for a lot of days, and that was lovely. Yes, definitely go to Audibletrial.com/multiamory, and even if you choose to forgo it afterwards, you can still keep that free audiobook which is awesome, and it gets a little kick back to us so we would really appreciate it.
Jase: Yes, and that Audible will support us, even if you only do the trial, right. Really, you can help support the show for free and get a free audiobook.
Emily: You ain't got nothing to lose.
Jase: Win-win, and you'll probably end up sticking with Audible because it's great.
Emily: How do you know that shit is toxic.
Jase: [laughs] Right, we wanted to go through some key things to look for, and we'll discuss this a little bit as we go because there is a nuance to it. It's not so black and white as just like, "Oh well, if there's this, then it's toxic." Even though all of the articles on Bustle or Medium or whatever are going to try to sell you on that idea, so we want to go through this.
The first thing that we wanted to get out there is that it's important to understand that because a relationship is toxic does not mean that either of the people involved are a bad person. This is something I see come up all the time of, someone else like a good friend might be saying, "Hey, I feel like this relationship is unhealthy or may be toxic," and the response is like, "No, but they're really good person," you know, "He is a good person, he is not a bad person." Because we have this assumption like our movies teach us that there are clear heroes and villains and that a villain is just bad all the way through, everything about them is bad, and that's not actually true of real life.
It's possible to be in a toxic relationship with someone who still is a good person, so just keep that in mind as we are thinking through this. We are not trying to say this person is bad, or even that they're doing these things intentionally to hurt you, maybe they are, but not necessarily. The other thing is it's not going to necessarily feel bad all the time. There's going to be good moments too and that's also what keeps people in toxic relationships.
All right, first thing to look out for is check in with your gut, and ask, do you feel like you're always on guard or you spend a lot of time being on guard around this person. Are you kind of walking on eggshells, not to set them off, not to do something that's going to upset them because at any moment, they could respond nastily or yell at you, or there's different ways that could manifest, and by checking with your gut, I don't mean like as a metaphor for your intuition, I mean literally do you have that feeling in your stomach of like, [makes noise] right because that's where we experience. That's where we can feel the stress hormones that we talked about earlier.
Dedeker: I was going to say like talk about having a constant cortisol release all the time, if you don't feel like you can 100% relax around someone, if you're always anticipating like, " I might do something wrong," or, "I might make a mistake," or, "Who knows what mood they're going to be in when they come home from work, like I don't know." That's definitely a sign that things may be toxic.
Jase: Yes, or if you are often being compared to others in an adversarial, competitive kind of way. We talk a lot about on this show about trying to avoid competition for yourself of like, "Well, don't try to compare yourself to your partners, other partners or their friends or their ex's or anything like that." That's one thing because that's in your head but if the other person is doing this, being like--
Emily: Sheena doesn't do that, or whomever.
Jase: Exactly. That's a big warning sign that there is a problem here, and again, they might not be meaning to do it badly but that's a toxic situation for you to be in.
Dedeker: Kind of connected to that, another sign is if you feel like you are being manipulated or coerced into doing things, and manipulation and coercion can show up in a number of different ways. That comparison thing could be a manipulation tactic, it could be, "Well, my other partner acts this way, and you don't act that way," and that's an attempt to try to get you to change your behavior or to change what is that you do. It could be guilt, it could be like, "I sacrifice so much," or, "I've paid for so much," or, "I've given you so much and why won't you do X, Y, and Z," so it could be guilt as well in order to coerce.
Another hallmark of toxicity is gaslighting. We could do a whole entire episode on gaslighting. Anytime you feel like you get through a conversation and you're like, "I am not sure exactly what happened there, like I feel like we started out talking about one thing and I don't understand how it ended up with this other thing." If your partner is constantly questioning your experience or insisting like, "No, that's not how things went down, you're remembering things wrong," or, "You're feeling the wrong thing," or, "No you shouldn't be feeling that way." Basically, questioning your personal experience and thoughts and feelings constantly.
Jase: I think that's the big way that one shown up for me is that coming out of a conversation just being like, did I remember-
Emily: "Am I crazy?"
Jase: "Did I remember something entirely different from what actually happened," or I'd come out of a discussion, kind of going into it feeling like, "This is what it happened and this is how I felt," and coming out of being like, "Did I completely misunderstand everything," that sort of questioning of--
Emily: Is my reality altered in some way?
Dedeker: Do I have a grasp on reality?
Emily: Totally, absolutely.
Dedeker: Another sign is if there is ongoing negative effects on other people and other relationships in your life, like your family relationships or your friendships or your other partners. This can also look a number of different ways, it could be that you find yourself isolated from a bunch of other relationships in your life, and that could either be that this partner or this person, it doesn't have to be your partner necessarily, this person has been really shitty to all these other people in your life and they don't want to be around them anymore, and by extension they don't want to be around you anymore as long as you are associated with this person.
It can look that way or it could look like this person, again, kind of trying to trash talk the other relationships in your life, to encourage you to self-isolate from those relationships. Definitely, I would encourage people to always be checking in on like, how are the other people in my life, feeling about this relationship.
I think, like we said with our last episode again, taking it all with a grain of salt, just trying as best as you can to take a little bit of step back and seeing like how is this particular relationship affecting all the other relationships in my life. Usually if it's a toxic relationship, there is a fallout. It's actually relatively hard to keep it contained without it affecting the other relationships in your life.
Jase: Right, it is going to affect them.
Emily: If your moral, ethical or personal boundaries are pushed against or violated then that might be a sign that you're in a toxic relationship as well. Even if it's something as the, or like, I want a specific amount of time with you because we've been seeing each other the longest but you do not employ hierarchical relationships in your life, but if that person really is pushing that or really pushing for something else, then that might be a sign that this is not okay. That this is something that you want to stress against.
If you're not accepted for who you are, which we've talked about before, again, if someone is really trying to change you constantly, whether it be a friend or even your family member or your significant other, then that absolutely can be toxic for you. Then, also if you're feeling just really drained emotionally, or depleted after interacting with this person every single time you're with them. You come home and you feel like, "I have a weight lifted off of me because I'm not with them anymore," then that could be a big sign that you're in a toxic relationship.
Dedeker: Well, even more dangerously though is if you feel drained and depleted, like four out of five times that you've spent time with this person and one time feels good. That's what we see a lot with especially romantic partnerships that are toxic is because that one time feels so good, it becomes really hard to objectively see all the rest of the time that feels really crappy and really draining and depleting.
Jase: Like we talked about in our episode 123, gosh, that was a while ago, about the science of happy relationships is that even four out of five being bad, that's obviously very bad, but even 50-50 bad to good is still not good. That's still not a healthy relationship, and in that science of happy relationships, it'd be the other way around. If one out of five is bad, and the other four good, that's even not really a healthy relationship.
It's actually much more extreme than that, and I think that we are often taught that it's more normal to have this 50-50 kind of thing, either because we saw that with our parents or it's what modeled to us on TV shows and movies and things like that. It's definitely something to be aware and then, the other one is check out episode 131 which is on dumpster fire relationships which is a little bit similar to some of the stuff we're talking about today.
Then, going along with that is also if the other person is unwilling to acknowledge or consider your needs or your feelings or your welfare and this would be something where maybe you would bring a concern or something that is a need of yours or something that's difficult for you that you want support on or feelings you're having and instead of trying to find a way to work with those and accommodate those and be supportive, it's explaining why you don't actually need those things or you don't actually have those feelings or know that's not something I can do because XYZ.
Doesn't matter what the reasons are but just being like know the welfare of you whether that's the things you want to do with your life like your ambitions or it's some emotional support that you need or some behavior that's triggering to you that you need to not experience, being like, "Well no that's not something you get to ask for."
Emily: Finally, what can we do about all this? How can we clean this shit up? How can we make this toxic dump go away?
Dedeker: Well I mean gosh toxic cleanup is already just a controversial issue. It's a big job.
Emily: Yes it is. Absolutely. Something near and dear to my heart. First of all, recognize that you are in a toxic relationship. See the signs. Listen to this episode and be like, "Man, these things are sounding like a relationship that I'm in. Maybe I should do something about that."
Really, another thing that you should realize is that you are worthy of being in a relationship with someone that's healthy and that adds to your life that treats you with love and respect and this toxicity shouldn't be a part of your life. Definitely, first see that this is something that maybe I'm in and then believe that this is something that I probably shouldn't be in. I'm worthy of better than this.
Jase: I think that step is worth talking about for a second because I feel like just that of like believing that you actually deserve something better than that and that it's possible to find something better than that, I think that step right there is often the biggest hurdle.
I know from conversations that the three of us have had over the years that all of us, to varying degrees, have had that experience probably several points in our lives of staying in a relationship that's not healthy because of this thought of like, "This is probably the best I'm going to get, so I need to stick with this one or else I end up with nothing." I think that message is very much driven home to us and really again from movies and from sort of conventional wisdom and stuff like that this sort of over-romanticization of holding onto a relationship.
Dedeker: Or fighting for a relationship.
Jase: It's somehow fighting for a relationship is worth more than an actual good relationship. I know it sounds absurd when we say it like that but like I said, all of us have been in that situation, of staying in a really not happy and not healthy situation because it's like, "Well but it's better than nothing."
I would actually argue it's not better than nothing. It's worse than nothing because there isn't really a nothing. Like that study we saw about having positive friend groups that that is in itself something that will make you live longer and even if just focusing on those positive friend relationships, that's still going to be a net gain in your life and the truth of the matter is if this is a romantic partner, there are others out there. You're going to find others. I know it's easy to think you've won't ever but that's not actually the case.
Dedeker: Definitely. Doing something like finding therapy or counselling, it can definitely help to identify the toxic behavior that's going on. If you suspect that you're in some toxic relationship, again family, friend, metamour, romantic, whatever, doing some individual counselling can help to give, not only an objective sense of like whether this behavior is toxic or not, but also, it can give you permission to take action.
The last time that I found myself on the cusp of leaving an abusive relationship, I went to individual therapy not because I was in this place of like, "I want to save the relationship or I need to know how to change myself or I need to know how to cope with this," but it was just this place of like, "I just need someone to tell me that it's okay like to tell me that like hey this behavior is toxic and it is okay to leave."
That was like so incredibly empowering for me just to have that permission from a third party, essentially. You can also, if you don't have the funds to go to therapy or to go to counselling or if you can't find a counselor where your insurance covers it or if you can't find a counselor who will do a sliding scale for you, even just talking to a supportive friend or family member or someone that you trust around you like maybe they can't give you like fully guaranteed professional advice but again, they can be that person who's outside the situation you can just acknowledge like hey this behavior is toxic and it is okay for you to do something about it.
I do want to put in a quick caveat about couples counselling because sometimes people realize like, "This relationship is toxic let's go find a counselor for both of us so we can work on our relationship," and sometimes that does work. It depends on the situation like sometimes that is helpful.
However, my therapist did it for me I was really surprised to hear this, that actually especially when there's some form of abuse involved, they actually discourage couples from getting counseling together because sometimes, it results in the person who's being abusive or toxic just getting better at in as in, able to do it in a way that's not quite so triggering but still causes like a negative impact or like able to do it in a way maybe they'll look like they're behaving in front of a therapist but then actually at home, they're able to like pull off some more shady or manipulative or gaslighty stuff.
I think that I would encourage you if you suspect you're in some toxic relationship before opting for couples counselling, do some individual counselling of some kind first to help you I guess, make a better-informed decision about that.
Jase: Yes, I think that's so valuable.
Emily: That was really interesting when you brought that up, Dedeker, about the couples counselling. That's probably not something that people would think to think about or to be wary of but absolutely, that could be the case.
Dedeker: I know I've definitely read, I've definitely had this experience since I started working with people but I've also read that like a lot of therapists essentially say that like by the time people reach couples counselling, it's often like six or seven years too late. That they should have been in counselling a long, long, long time ago and now it's gotten to this point where like it's so entrenched and their communication is in such a rut, like they may have these like toxic dynamics that are just like have been so practiced and rehearsed and it's just that much harder to even break out of it and sometimes even impossible because it's gone on for so long.
Jase: That is like we saying if this is something you suspect or maybe see some signs of, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's gone so far that there's no repairing it or that this person is a terrible person or that they're abusive or something like that. It could just be some toxic elements slipping into this relationship and the sooner you can start actively addressing that, the better.
The better chance you have of actually seeing if there is a good relationship at the core of this. This is how we're going to get it is by actually dealing with this head-on as early as possible rather than waiting that six or seven years too late and then trying to repair something that's maybe not reparable anymore.
Something that I did want to point out. When we're talking about the different types of relationships like the friend or romantic partner, a metamour or family or co-worker, these sort of fall into two different categories. There's the category that is where I would say a friend and romantic partner definitely fit into which is a relationship that's possible to just leave entirely and then, the other category is like family, metamours, to a certain extent, and co-workers to a certain extent, or a boss a work related relationship, where you don't quite have the same amount of freedom to just be like, I'm just out completely.
It might not be so easy to just find another job maybe for you it is, but for a lot of people, it's not that simple. It's same with our family. Well, some people do have situations where it's like no I need to cut off this family relationship entirely. For most people, that's not really an option or doesn't feel like that's really an option.
Then with metamours, there's also like well you do have the option to leave the relationship that attaches you to this metamour. Again, that can be a tricky one same with in-laws, is another one that's not your own family but your partner's family. I think metamours and in-laws are kind of similar in that way. Anyway, with all of this is to consider that certain solutions can work in one situation and maybe not as well in the one where you can't totally leave that.
However, it is still possible to create some distance both mentally, emotionally as well as actually physically in the amount of time you spend with those people. Again, something I think that a counselor could help with that if you're just like, "I can't find a way to separate myself from this situation." Anyway, just something I wanted to throw out there of that distinction between the relationships you can totally leave and the ones that you can't.
Another way to put it is the elective relationships and the required? Mandatory relationships? Non-elective relationships? I don't how to-
Dedeker: General Education relationship?
Jase: Right your General Education relationships versus your elective relationships. [laughs]
Dedeker: I don't know about that one.
Jase: When we were going through this and we were looking at the different types of advice about how to deal with toxic relationships, what was really interesting is that essentially it boils down, there's little subtleties but it boils down to there's really only four choices that you have if you realize you're in a toxic relationship. Option number one is to accept the relationship as it is and just be okay with it.
Honestly, in certain situations, that might be a good answer of just being like, "I'm going to stop trying to change this person and just realize you know what, it's actually not as big a deal and I'm okay with them being who they are and I'm not going to let certain things affect me as much." That might be a good solution for you. If it's a really toxic or abusive relationship, definitely that's not a good solution. If it's really just not that bad, that could actually be good. Number one is to just accept it and be at peace with it.
Number two is to change the relationship. This could be by creating boundaries for yourself, remember you're not putting boundaries on other people, you put boundaries on yourself about, "I'm not going to be in this sorts of situations, I'm going to find a way to remove myself from them." Remember, you can't change other people but you can change how you react, you're putting those boundaries on yourself.
Again, like family relationships, I think this could be a good solution where you can't extract yourself entirely but that can be a way to put these mental, physical, emotional barriers in place between you and the other person.
Emily: The third one is leave the relationship. We've said before and we'll say it again, if that's the best course of action, if the relationship is intolerable to you in a variety of ways, especially if it's abusive in a variety of ways, then maybe the best course of action is just to leave that shit. The fourth way, the fourth option for you is just to continue on the same path that you're currently are on and just feel miserable and continue to have the stress cycle keep happening in the way that it's currently occurring.
Something that I wanted to bring up before, and I forgot about it until just now, is that often in toxic relationships, the same types of arguments will occur over and over again or you'll have a moment in time that happened where you were not truthful or something and then, your partner may bring it up to you again and again and again. I got good advice once from a couples counselor that was, "If it's happened in the last two weeks, you can talk about it but any longer than two weeks, you're not allowed to talk about it anymore."
I think that that kind of goes along with this feeling miserable action because you can continue to feel miserable and use that same thing that occurred in the past over and over again or you can do one of any of the previous things that we talked about those three. Either accept it, change it and say okay these are the things that are not going to happen again and we're just not going to talk about it anymore, we've figured it out and we're moving on. Again, if it's like the worst thing ever then you can leave the relationship.
Jase: I'm going to cut you on that one, I would say it doesn't have to be the worst thing ever to leave the relationship.
Emily: No, you're right. I just mean in your head if you're like "I can't live with this thing that occurred."
Dedeker: Yes if I can't let it go. If I can't let this thing go.
Emily: Metaphorically the worst.
Jase: I can't change it. Either they're not willing to or I don't feel like that's possible for me.
Emily: Yes totally.
Jase: What's really interesting about including that fourth option that your other option is to feel miserable and to just continue feeling shitty about it, is I think for me at least, when you look at it this way, where it's like you are making one of this four choices even if you don't make a choice. That it's not like, "I could choose one of those but I'll choose not to." It's like no, you are making a choice. You're making a choice to continue feeling shitty and that's not a good choice, right? That is the one you're making.
You are always making a choice. I think that, to me at least, was a big wake-up call when I had that realization some years ago about a relationship that I was in of that it's just like you are making a choice by not making a choice.
Emily: Yes that is a choice. You always have a choice.
Jase: Even if you don't want it, you're making it.
Dedeker: Well we will definitely love to hear from you. I mean, we want to know how have you dealt with toxic relationships in the past? Are you in a toxic relationship right now or are you having trouble figuring out if it's toxic or not or do you know that it's toxic and you're not sure how to get out of it? Definitely the best place to share your thoughts on this or your questions about this is with other listeners who've also listened to today's episode on this episode's discussion thread which is going to be in our private Facebook or Discourse forums.
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