All of us have our moments of insecurity. You probably recall that time you cyber-stalked an ex after a breakup or when you were jealous of her talking to another guy at a party. These unhealthy behaviors and feelings pop up every once in a while in one’s relationships but are, usually, eventually calmed by reason. The further you find yourself on the spectrum, the more frequent and intense these behaviors become. All of us have needs, which can and should be meet by multiple people, but some people have what are all called anxious-attachment styles, which can feel suffocating, and even scary, to their partners. Here are the signs that you’re in an unhealthy relationship, romantic or otherwise:
Wanting to Never Be Away From You
One of the best predictors of a failed relationship is excessive time spent together. Although this seems romantic, and most people in the honeymoon phase of their relationship want to spend every waking minute together, there’s, normally, a reduction point where the couple realizes that too much of one another is detrimental to their union. So, as the infatuation stage wanes, they return to spending more time with their friends and family.
In an unhealthy relationship, one partner does not want to be alone without the other. So, you’ll get texts saying things like, “I already miss you” after spending the day together and be expected to constantly be available whenever the anxiously-attached partner needs to feel secure. This manifests in incessant texting, passive-aggressive and/or aggressive responses at perceived disinterest, and guilt-trips, where the anxiously-attached partner attempts to cause their partner to feel guilty for hurting them.
I’d Be Devastated If You Left
Being heartbroken and sad when a relationship ends is normal. We’re often wounded after break-ups and feel awfully about ourselves. But, an unhealthy partner takes this to another level. Rather than disappointment and heartache, they experience devastation. To them, you are their breath, that object (and I use this word purposely) which gives them the ability to feel good about themselves. When the foundation of their self-worth is lost, they take extreme measures to regain it.
This, again, appears romantic, but is a bastardization of real love. Someone once said to me that it’s okay to be selfish when you love, but that notion is far from true affection. True love wants happiness for its beloved; true love doesn’t chain its object (again, I use this word purposely) of affection to maintain its self-esteem. “I’d be devastated if you left” doesn’t mean, “I really, deeply love you”; it means, “I desperately need to use you, regardless of how you feel about it.”
This is a classic manipulation strategy. This is where you convince, or try to, your partner that what is happening actually isn’t or visa-versa. “I’m not being emotionally abusive; I’m not even angry.” “I never said that; your memory is off.” “Since you can’t tell me when I belittled you, it didn’t happen.” Gaslighting is an effective way to cause your partner to question her sanity. The point is to get them to see the world through your eyes, or rather, to see it as you wish for it to be. Those who struggle with trusting their own perceptions and conclusions about reality tend to fall prey to this maneuver.
I thought that this tactic deserved a section of its own. And, like gaslighting, it’s often a hard one to sniff out. Because they really do mean it when they tell you how awful it would be to lose you, it’s easy for your softer side to capitulate; these people really do suffer. But the question is: does their suffering ever warrant their abusive behavior?
I use this thought-experiment with my clients. Imagine you were walking along a lake and saw someone drowning. That person is screaming and begging for your help, yet you can’t swim. So, you have two options: you can either try to save them and subsequently drown with them as they take you down or you can accept it. The latter choice is much more difficult for most to tolerate, but it’s the only option that allows one to live a healthy life. When narcissists drown, they try to take others down with them. In essence, they try to spread their misery to feel less isolated in their sorrow. But, it’s up to you whether or not you choose to suffocate with them.
Healthy love doesn’t feel like a chore, or a perpetual duty to take care of another. Love is love because it wishes to be so. And those who seek dominance fail to realize that. But, at the other end, those who feel connected to these individuals fail to learn that they can’t save them; for, in reality they can’t swim.
Real love is knowing what another needs and giving it to her to make her happy; real love allows for growth, affording your partner the chance to walk away if they believe they need to, despite how difficult it would be; and real love doesn’t suffocate or make you feel like you’re drowning.
Relationships shouldn’t be a tit for tat, where I give you so now you owe me, but they should be relatively equal. If you find yourself giving too much and/or being emotionally abused/manipulated, then you have to walk away, because your own life depends on it.