Ah, I love the smell of self-destructive relationships in the morning.
We have all supported our friends when they fell for “the guy:” The Guy your friend just can’t say “no” to; the Guy who could literally sleep with someone else in your friend’s bed and they would still crawl back into that bed with him. It’s as if the strong person you once knew has suddenly left the cockpit of their own life and forfeited control to someone else.
Think of it like a plane ride. When a plane flies really high, gravity lessens, and the feeling is exhilarating.
On the way down, oxygen depletes, and your oxygen-deprived brain begins to become delirious until you slip away entirely. The cure? Level out. Leveling out is the only way to balance the pressure from the highs and lows.
How do you help them learn that it’s okay to save yourself? That leaving isn’t admitting defeat; instead, it’s taking back stolen power? That it’s okay to put on the oxygen mask and acknowledge that the plane is crashing?
Countless friends and countless men have shown me that there are three kinds of denial in toxic relationships: ignorant denial, conscious denial, and codependent denial. After identifying that you or your friend is in a toxic relationship, identifying which stage of denial you or they are in is a crucial first strike in helping to pull up from a nose dive.
Ignorance can be bliss if you buy a house and stay awhile. Sure, we want to believe that the person we are with loves and respects us as much as we love and appreciate them. That, however, is not always the case.
Ignorance, defined within this context, is the equivalent to wearing horse blinders. Friends may come at you left and right with receipts and accusations about the person you are with, but this denial won’t let you see or hear any of it.
Refusing to acknowledge the potential of problems existing in your relationship is different than there being any. Whether or not issues exist is neither here nor there. The fact is, if you can’t see through the illusion that your relationship might not be perfect, you will never really know if it is or isn’t.
The way to save yourself from this is preemptive: remember that you are (hopefully) dating a human. They make mistakes, whether you want to believe them or not.
Ignorant denial is arguably the most comfortable stage of denial to live in because no matter what, you are going to be happy. Come rain or shine, you will only ever allow yourself to see shine. But if you ignore the rain too long and let it build up, you will drown.
I’m the friend who always helps people through this stage of denial, and I’ve lived through it personally too, so I can safely say that this stage is the most frustrating to deal with. Your friend is well aware of the flaws in their relationship now. You would think that knowing your significant other (SO) is verbally or physically abusive, cheating on you, etc. would be enough reason to leave. This denial says: not so.
You or your friend cop to issues in the relationship while subsequently rationalizing them away. Some classic chart-toppers include: “I know, but we are working on it,” “it’s not as bad as it looks,” “he/she just made one mistake it won’t happen again,” etc.
You can go back and forth with your friend or vice versa until the cows come home, but nothing seems to get through. Just know that everything you say is being heard, it just takes time fully sink in.
Unfortunately, the only remedies for this type of denial are shock and time. Your significant other has to cross the line in a way that even the cruel mistress denial herself has to look and go: “Damnnnn.” Only this level of shock can jolt a person out of this. Escape via time takes as long or as short as it needs to.
Love is not rational which is why this stage can be so frustrating to see and more so to be in.
Conscious denial may be the most frustrating to deal with, but codependent denial is the saddest to see. A person in this stage of denial has ignorant and conscious denial in the rear-view. With full awareness of the issue, the person will take whatever malice or abuse their SO is giving them without rationalization. They understand what is going on, that it's toxic, but continue to be the relationship. Why?
The real victims of this state will tell you that they stay around for the highs. My friend, who is at this stage right now, displays almost addict-like behavior. If love is a drug, someone can get hooked on it, and they do. Nothing upsets me more than seeing a person I love take a gauntlet of abuse, of all kinds, for a compliment or sex. Trading self-worth for a bump or confidence for an hour of ecstasy (and that is a generous estimate) leaves you just as broken and empty as an addict off the wagon.
As a friend, the way only way out of this denial is through it. Real friends will ride the highs, the lows, and be there with a methadone needle of love.
Love them until they can love themselves enough to break free, and love them after.
In the case of my friend and many other people, they cater to the person next to them; making sure that they get oxygen. If you are always helping someone else feel better at the expense of yourself, where does that leave you? Will the fleeting highs ever be enough? How can you expect to save someone else when you refuse to protect yourself?
If the person next to you is worth saving, they'll want you to be safe as much as you want them to be safe.
So strap on and breathe in cause sometimes, the only way to make it out alive is if you secure your own oxygen mask first and help the person next to you second.
Are you in a healthy relationship worth building on? Check out some tips from a real, full-blown sexpert!