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What A Toxic Relationship Can Reveal To You About Yourself

Just about everything can reveal us...to us.

Love & Relationships

Married at First Sight, boy. Every season, I say that I'm not gonna watch another one. However, I've shared before that the last pastor that I've ever had is Pastor Cal (life is a trip, ain't it?). Plus, this season, Ryan is someone who went to a church that I used to attend back in the day. So yep—got reeled back into the constant "wall hitting" of the show…again (who does some interesting recaps is The Bald and the Beautiful podcast). Because of that, I have witnessed, firsthand, the colossal mess that is Chris and Paige. Let me tell it, Chris definitely needs to be on Lifetime…just not that particular show. Yet…I digress.

Anyway, as I've read articles, blogs and a certain amount of social media comments about Chris and Paige's marriage, one thing that has triggered me a bit is how often I've seen folks call Paige "stupid" for trying to make her marriage work. While I will say that if you have traditional views about marriage (or if you take the Bible even halfway seriously when it comes to what it says about marriage…and divorce; I Corinthians 7 is a bit of a heavy hitter), taking the social experiment route may be a bullet that you should dodge (literally). Still, I do appreciate that Paige didn't treat Chris like some random or even a boyfriend. She viewed him as what he was/is—her husband. She took her vows seriously and tried to honor them. And, at the time that I'm writing this, she handled things with a lot of grace. Some might even say a miraculous level of it.

At the same time, that doesn't mean there weren't some profound learning moments, right? Even when I watched Paige speak on her own thoughts of herself not too long ago, she said that (not paraphrased) she realized that she needed to have a healthier perspective on relationships. And indeed, a lot of us have the same hindsight kind of wisdom. Right? Hmph. Speaking of wisdom, someone on Black Twitter said this:

That tweet? It's one for the ages because, although most of us don't choose to get into toxic situations (I say "most" because some folks who are addicted to drama do; that's another article for another time), the reality is, as one of my all-time favorite quotes reveals, "Everywhere you go, there you are." And so, whether you're just coming out of something unhealthy or you're someone who constantly gets into these kinds of relational dynamics, let's take a moment to stop looking at the person that we've been with as the sole issue and takeaway. In order to avoid toxic relationships in the future (or to end the one that you're currently in), it's essential that we put a mirror up to see what it can show us about ourselves. Let's do that today.

Do You Suck at Setting (and Keeping) Boundaries?

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One of the main roles of a parent is to teach a child how to cultivate healthy boundaries. Unfortunately, for a lot of us, because our first introduction to toxicity was our relatives, we never learned how to set good limits. What are some signs that you really could stand to improve in this particular area? Do you speak up for yourself, not just when you're not treated right but when you don't want to do something? Are you the only one who's doing the giving in your relationships? Are you a passive aggressive kind of person (you use it as a form of control or a way to get attention because you don't know how to ask directly)? Do you meet others' needs to the extent of not meeting your own? Do you "fall in love" quickly (more on that in a bit)?

While these examples merely touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring if you set good limits for yourself, they are a great way to set the tone for where we're going with this piece because, the reality is, no matter how much you love, care for or desire to be with someone, it shouldn't be to the extent of not loving and caring for yourself and/or desiring to be in something that will bring out the absolute best in you. In other words, if you're prone to let a guy just say and do…whatever, that's not even a little bit good.

A healthy relationship encourages and supports mutual self-respect. If you're lacking that, something is off. Way off.

Are You Codependent?

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In the article, "How To Stop Being 'Ms. Fix It' In Your Relationships", something that I touch on is codependency. So, how do you know if you're a codependent kind of person? People pleasers are oftentimes codependent. People who aren't clear on what their personal wants and needs are tend to be codependent. Those with a low sense of self-worth are usually codependent (at least on some level). Folks who are highly dependent on others (almost like a child) are typically codependent. Those who become whatever any given person wants them to be are sho 'nuf codependent. Needy people are codependent. Those who will stay in half-assed relationships because they are afraid of being alone? They too lean towards being pretty codependent.

The thing about codependent individuals is narcissists can see them from a mile away, almost like prey. Because narcissists are pretty charming individuals (more times than not), they will initially make a people pleaser (for example) feel like them doing any and everything for the narcissist is merely a sign that they care when really the codependent person has simply signed up for being used—a lot and often. You can't really know how to be in a good relationship until you know what you want out of one. Otherwise, an unhealthy person will take the reins and literally run all over you. If there's a part of you that wonders if this is your struggle, there are several online codependency tests/assessments that you can take. One of them is right here.

Do You Live in a Fantasy World?

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A series that I used to watch back in the day was a show called The Client List (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Loretta Devine). If you're not familiar with it, it's a series that was based on a movie that was based on a true story about a massage spa that provided happy endings to high-end clientele; eventually, they got busted by the cops and it turned into national news. Anyway, when some of the patrons would get caught up and think that "it" was more than it was, the massagers would say, "It's a fantasy. Not a fairy tale." Hmph. To tell you the truth, I really wish folks would let go of both. A fairy tale is a story told to children or something that is misleading. That's why, when I hear women say, "I'm living for the fairy tale", more often than not, I roll my eyes. For now, let's deal with fantasies, though.

By definition, a fantasy is "imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained". Is it wrong to imagine, wish or daydream? No. At the same time, focus on what comes after "especially". Something that is unrestrained is something that is out of control. There are a lot of people who end up in absolutely ridiculous relational situations or they are taken advantage of to the utmost extreme and it's all because they live in a fantasy world. Rather than deal with reality—the truth and facts about a matter—they allow their imagination to convince them that things are—or will be—the way they want them to be rather than what they are.

I think this is a lot of what happened with Chris and Paige. The show. The wedding. Whatever Paige told herself about the show and the wedding, got her to focus on her wants more than Chris's actions. And, if you've been watching, you know how that all played out.

Whenever I think of a fantasy, a mirage often comes to mind. When people are parched in the dessert, sometimes their mind can play tricks on them and cause them to think that a pool of water is right ahead when nothing is actually there—that's how badly they want to be quenched. People who live in fantasy worlds can be very similar to this. Ben Franklin once said, "If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins." When it comes to not letting what you fantasize about "him" and your relationship getting out of control, no greater words have been spoken.

Do You Not Take Time to Heal Between Relationships?

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As a marriage life coach, I think it's pretty close to insane that some people will date other people while they are separated (contrary to popular actions, separated is not divorced). Then, if they do decide to go ahead and end their marriage, they turn around and get married again, to another person, within a short period of time. When you read that back, what about that sounds like a wise thing to do? What about that doesn't sound like they are using someone else to get over their spouse or issues within the marriage? Lawd. No wonder the divorce rate only continues to go higher with every marriage (it's 67 percent for second marriages and 73 percent for the third go around).

Remember when I said that everywhere you go, there you are? I personally believe that a huge reason why second- and third-time marriages fail so often is because a lot of people will end a marriage, thinking that it was only their spouse's fault. So, they never make the time to do some serious self-work. They don't own up to their own mistakes. They don't try and figure out how to become a better individual. Shoot, they don't even ponder if marriage is the best thing for them—now or ever. They just treat marriage like break-ups and go from person to person without really taking the time out to heal.

I don't care what the cause for a divorce or end of a romantic relationship is—there is some time that needs to be taken out to process, grieve and heal oneself before moving forward. A healed person has reconciled issues so that there is some level of peace. A healed person doesn't hold any resentment or bitterness. A healed person isn't afraid of being alone. A healed person looks back on their relationship and what it's taught them and uses words like "restored" and "improved". A healed person is whole.

It really is, probably an epidemic, the amount of folks who don't make the time to heal before getting involved with another individual. Yet don't let "the norm" keep you from being the exception in this way. Healed people are better in relationships—point blank and period. If you're constantly in toxic relationships, be honest with yourself if not taking out the time to heal could be why.

Are You a Love Addict?

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Whew. Back when I first started writing for this platform, an article that got published was "6 Signs You're A Love Addict". Remember how I said earlier that one sign of sucking at establishing personal boundaries is you fall in love quickly? That alone is not healthy because, just think about it. Do you call someone "friend" in under three months (if you do, check out "Allow These Things To Happen Before Calling Someone 'Friend'")? Don't you need some time to get to know a person, to watch their character and patterns, to go through some things with them before you honor them with that kind of title and role in your life? Same thing should go with romantic relationships. No doubt about it.

The reason why a lot of people get caught up in love addiction (oftentimes, without even realizing it), is they think they are simply someone who has a lot of love to give. This is why they move so fast and push so hard when, usually the actual issue is there is such a void in their life that they are giving in the hopes that someone will come and "fill their cup", so that they don't have to deal with internalized pain and fear. Something that can help a love addict to work through a lot of their stuff is a little self-love journaling (check out "Self-Love Journaling & Why You Should Be Doing It"). Something else that I recommend is coming up.

Listen, addictions are things that have gotten so out of balance that they've become super unhealthy; love addiction fits that bill. Nothing great comes out of addictive tendencies. If you sense that you are a love addict, get some help from a professional. It can help you to put love—and relationships—into their proper perspective.

Have You Never Gone to Therapy Before?

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Semi-recently, while doing an interview, someone asked me why I personally thought that there was such a stigma—even still—about Black people going to therapy. I believe a lot of it has to do with church culture. Folks can have some bona fide issues or addictions and yet will partake in, what I call, "altar call therapy"—you know, going down to the altar for prayer, believing that is all that they need. For instance, I know someone who was diagnosed bipolar and refused to take their medication. For years, they were doing all kinds of destructive and even suicidal stuff, yet they refused to see a professional under the guise of "they went to the altar about it".

I'm a bible follower. I also believe that church has its place. Know what else? When the Bible says, "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise" (Proverbs 12:15—NKJV), I wholeheartedly believe that reputable therapists, counselors and coaches fall in with that. The reality is, an altar call may help us to recognize that we've got an issue/problem and restore our faith in finding the strength to address it; however, make no mistake that some things call for a straight up series of therapy sessions.

If you keep making destructive choices and all you've been doing is "praying it away", please consider booking an appointment with a therapist. They are trained to look at things from an "outside in" perspective. And that? That could literally save your life (even if it's just the quality of your life) in the long run.

Are You Looking for Someone to Love You More than You Love You?

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I have always found it interesting how much some people want to pushback on the saying, "You are what you attract." If you're one of 'em, here's a way to look at it. If you've ever been involved with someone who treated you like trash, have you ever processed what drew you to them in the first place and then, what caused you to stay? See, a lot of the times, when we hear that we are what we attract, we think that means, for instance, if they are a liar and a commitment-phobe then we must be too. Eh, that's not always or automatically the case. The bigger point is if you really loved yourself, do you think that you would be able to spot red flags sooner and definitely would end things quicker, once you saw what that person was all about?

To me, learning about what it means to truly love someone is a constant mission. Based on what I know about love at this stage of my life, aside from my late fiancé, I believe I've loved four men over the course of my lifetime. And you know what? The crap that I tolerated from all four—on different levels and in different ways—you couldn't pay me to entertain now. Not even a lil' bit. The reason why is because I love myself more. The reason why I did take their stuff at the time was because 1) I loved them more than I loved myself (there goes that codependency thing) and 2) I wanted them to love me more than I loved me.

At the time, that's what I thought love was about—if I give you all of the love in the world, you will recompense me by loving me so much whether or not I love myself enough will cease to be an issue. That's not the way love works, though. A healthy relationship happens when two people, who have a healthy understanding of self-love, reflect that soundness back to one another in a relationship—a relationship that is full of nothing but good things because love existed…way before they met each other. It existed because they loved themselves first.

Toxic relationships are hard. Very much so. The only thing harder is to not use them to see what you need to learn about yourself so that you don't have to experience things the hard way anymore. Sis, you deserve to be in something that is the very opposite of toxic and working on yourself is the key to making that happen. Please, from the bottom of my heart, make sure that you do.

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