I should have known we were in dangerous territory when I didn’t want to call my sister or my friends. I didn’t want to tell them what was going on — all the drama, the arguments, the impossible issues that kept surfacing, and how he was treating me. It was ugly, it was unhealthy, and I knew it. I also knew if I told my best friends, they would give me straight advice: Get out. It’s not good, and you deserve better.
At the time, I wasn’t ready to hear that because I was terrified of losing what we had. Now that I look back, I wonder why I wasted so much time. The truth? I was addicted. The emotional rollercoaster of our relationship was giving me intense lows, but highs too. It took me a long time to break out of that addition. But if I did it, you can too. Here are the signs to watch out for—if these sound like your relationship, this is the voice you’ve been avoiding. It’s time to save yourself. Quit mistaking love for addiction and run to the nearest exit.
- He holds back important stuff you should know about. It’s hard to come clean when we’ve made a mistake or done something shitty. It’s normal to hesitate and be awkward when you need to apologize, or talk about something awkward or intense. But a little hesitation is very different than repeatedly hiding important things, avoiding important conversations, or telling half-truths. Are you the one who has to initiate all the important conversations? Does your partner hide things unless you sniff them out? If he withholds information, gives vague answers, or makes it hard for you to know what’s going on, it’s a sign that he’s not being honest and he doesn’t respect you.
- She accuses you of having negative traits you’ve never had. This is projecting—and it’s especially damaging because you might end up believing things about yourself that are totally untrue. My ex used to accuse me of being secretive, of hiding things, and of being dishonest. At first, it really confused me. I blamed it on misunderstanding and poor communication. I started over-explaining everything to make sure I wasn’t “accidentally hiding something.” What a mess. Turns out (no surprise) he was the one hiding things, being secretive, and lying to me. But I still feel guilty about keeping things private and I have to stop myself from over-explaining things all the time. It’s a work in progress.
- She does not accept it when you say No. Negotiation is part of a healthy relationship, and so is compromise. But when your partner refuses to take No for an answer, it’s not healthy. In fact, it’s a sign that she does not respect your autonomy or your feelings, and is only interested in getting what she wants no matter how it affects you. So pay attention: if she keeps asking for the same thing even after you’ve given her answer, if she threatens or whines until she gets what she wants, or if she thinks you saying “No” means that she should push harder until you say “Yes,” there’s a problem.
- He plays the victim and expects you to go along. What’s the storyline? Are you always hearing about how he’s been mistreated at work? Passed over again? Taken advantage of? Are simple tasks and errands somehow always more difficult for him, a major obstacle that he has to conquer instead of a normal, daily life thing to do? If every hardship is exaggerated, and any conflict is always someone else’s fault, get your running shoes on. You need to get away.
- She has a way of turning a small issue into a bigger issue. Have you ever noticed that the people who claim to hate drama are the ones who end up creating it? Think back on the latest issues that have come up, for you or your partner, or in your relationship. How did they start? What were they really about? Do you ever find yourself wondering what the argument is even about? If your partner is always making simple issues into complex problems that suck all your energy and attention up, it’s unhealthy and you’re getting pulled into a manipulative vortex of drama-making craziness.
- He can’t handle not having your attention. I used to feel like I was caught in a competition all the time, and I could never figure out why. It was exhausting. I felt like no matter how calm things were, as soon as I relaxed and got into my own stuff—like a good book, or a movie, or time with a friend—something came up and interrupted my time. While my ex wasn’t doing that consciously, he was doing it: he was jealous of the attention I gave to anyone else, or to anything he couldn’t be part of. He even competed with our kids for my attention. I didn’t know why I felt so exhausted all the time. Now I do.
- You end up filtering your feelings and editing your thoughts to make things okay. Your partner isn’t willing to really listen to your feelings and opinions. You constantly think about how to say something in a way that won’t make him feel rejected, or lead to a big fight. You hold a lot of things in—not because you want to, but because it doesn’t feel safe to be open. You’ve tried it, and it’s always turned back on you somehow. You hate the drama, but you hate having to hide so much of yourself. And when your partner accuses you of being dishonest, you start to wonder if they’re right.
- You feel like you have to defend your partner. Are you always defending your partner to your family or friends? Maybe you feel like no one else sees him the way you do… if only they understood. If only they saw his true nature. The problem is, most likely, they do. You’re the one being suckered. If the people who know and care about you all have a problem with your partner, guess what? He’s the one with the problem.
- You keep spotting weird social situations. Maybe you didn’t get an invitation to an event you knew you would be part of. You got cut out of a friend group. You’ve noticed that all the stable people kind of drifted away. You’ve been the subject of gossip. The drama keeps increasing. Maybe you feel ostracized and alone. If you feel like your social life is unstable and odd, and you don’t understand why, it may be because your relationship is unstable and odd. If your friends couldn’t get through to you, they might be giving you space till you figure it out.
- Your relationship feels like a rollercoaster. This is what keeps you addicted. The ups and downs, the emotional turmoil, the crazy stress-making, adrenaline-pumping chaos and drama followed by the sweet bliss of making up and feeling so connected. It’s an emotional addiction, and listen: I know how hard it is to detach. You’re going to feel awful, and you’re going to have to go through withdrawal. But the truth is that addiction is no substitute for love. You deserve the intimacy and fulfillment and fun of a good relationship without the unhealthy behaviors that keep undermining your sense of self.