I’ve read a lot about this subject and I’ve witnessed so many of my close friends remain in unhealthy relationships, so I wanted to get to the source of what’s really going on here. What is it that keeps people on the hook of a relationship that isn’t serving them or allowing them to thrive?
Because I’m a woman and have a lot of female friends, my inclination was to look at this issue from that perspective. Women are innately nurturing and therefore, we are predisposed to want to heal, to love and to nourish. However, that assessment doesn’t address why men stay in these very same relationships which are tumultuous and toxic. Men, by nature, are problem solvers. Perhaps the male desire to fix things and make them work was playing a part behind the scenes as a motivator. But I just don’t think that’s the whole story.
In examining the role of our humanness, above and beyond what it means to be a man or to be a woman, there’s a greater force at play here. The ego.
When a relationship isn’t working, many of us tend to experience that as a personal failure. We think that we’re doing something wrong, or that there’s something about us at the source of that unworkability. We may find ourselves thinking that we aren’t good enough, strong enough, successful enough or any other self-deemed inadequacy. The relationship not working becomes our failure. So what do we do with failure?
What happens for us all in the face of failure is that the ego kicks in to protect us from shame, guilt and accountability. The ego exists to save face. And it’s an incredibly powerful phenomenon. Ego is so good at what it does that we’re often unable to even identify our failures. Instead, we automatically project blame onto others for our faults, and we don’t even know that it’s happening. The ego has us believe that we are innocent, and the victim of others’ poor judgment or behavior. The presence of ego invites an automatic defense mechanism. Yet, despite all of that survival responsiveness, deep down our ego doesn’t want us to be powerless. Ego wants control. So defensiveness is also attached to an innate will to exert power and dominance.
Imagine how this plays out in a relationship that simply doesn’t work, for two people who are unable to be with their own failure or get present to the role of their ego. And, in many cases, this failure-ego response is actually the source of unworkability of the relationship. When we experience, albeit subconsciously, the interactions of a relationship that isn’t working as our own failure, the ego is naturally present. We become defensive, attacking our partner without the willingness to self examine, which creates more toxicity within the relationship. And the bigger the problem, the stronger the ego’s need to fix it. It becomes a vicious cycle that neither person is willing to end because the experience of failure and the egoic drive to be powerful are running the show.
If you find yourself in a toxic or unhealthy relationship, what there is to get is that the unworkabilty of the relationship is not your failure. It simply means that who you are doesn’t work for another individual in the context of that relationship and, likewise, who that person is does not work for you. Nothing is wrong. Nothing is broken. There is nothing to fix. It is merely a situation that lacks integrity, in the sense that it’s not whole and complete. It doesn’t fit together as something whole and complete fit together.
Don’t exhaust yourself trying to be someone that does work for another human being and don’t impose an expectation that another individual should become someone else to work for you. We all have the right to be who we are and when we are robbed of that, we experience frustration, anger and resentment. All people have the capacity to transform who they are, but it must come from a willingness within. Transformation will never occur out of forced change. Give people the grace to be who they choose to be and, most importantly, allow yourself that same grace.