How to know when working on your relationship is toxic

Are You “Working Hard” on Your Relationship? Maybe You Should Stop

A guy friend of mine I’ve had a crush on for a year confessed to me the other day that he is “working hard” on saving his relationship. He’s thinking about leaving his girlfriend (no, I’ve never met her and don’t know who she is). He and I both work in mental health and have gotten to be pretty close in the last year we’ve worked together. I’m not going to lie– obviously, I’ve got a vested interest in the outcome in this scenario, but since they live together AND they’ve been together like a decade, I assume it will end with them staying together and a marriage proposal, so I’m just trying to be a good friend.

However, that being said, he went on about how he’s “lost himself” in this relationship and had recently begun to take better care of himself and even going back to the gym. And apparently his girlfriend is not happy about this and this has created friction. Now I don’t know him super well and don’t know all the details of things going on, but the few things he told me made me sit down here tonight to write this.

I can’t help but put my therapist hat on as I’m listening to him and I’m thinking how insecure she must be to chastise him for taking care of himself.  She accused him of being “selfish” because his time at the gym takes away from him spending more time with her. And he feels guilty about it, trying to “figure out” how to meet his needs and hers, which clearly (to me) are mutually exclusive. So I surmise the reason he’s “lost” himself is because over the years, he has placated her time and time again, relinquishing his needs in favor of hers, to the point where he feels guilty for having any needs at all. And, he’s suddenly grown a backbone and getting pushback from her.

It’s the proverbial “smoke and mirrors”. Whenever one partner starts to feel threatened at the others’ growth, it’s time to take a step back and examine this person’s motivations. There appears to me to be a power imbalance in her favor, and he is now attempting to assert himself and take his power back, and she doesn’t like it. 

Now if he was going to the gym for 3 hours a day, that would be excessive for anyone working a full-time job as it woudln’t leave time for a partner or really anything else. But that’s not what he’s doing. But what stood out to me is, HE’S the only one doing any “working” on this relationship. He’s not asking her to “do” anything, except maybe change her expectations for what a healthy relationship is supposed to be like.

And this is the crux of this blog post–when you’re the only one doing any work in a relationship, this is a HUGE red flag. Don’t relationships take two? Isn’t it supposed to be 50/50? You each give and receive equally? It’s not supposed to be one person doing all the giving and the other all the receiving

From my trained perspective, I see a codependent relationship, and one in which one partner (my crush) submissively gives in to her demands on a consistent basis. It got me thinking about what else about him bugs her that he’s “working on” to try to make her happy. Perhaps she peppers him with questions about where he goes, what he does, how he spends his time and who he’s talking to such as,”Who was that text from?’ “ Why did you tell your sister you were free Sunday?” ”Are you really going out with your friends on Thursday night?” “ What am I supposed to do while you’re gone?” 

If you’re in a lopsided relationship like this, please, stop working on it and work on yourself. Because the only way to please this type of partner is to subjugate all your own needs for theirs. It’s controlling and abusive to treat your partner this way. This subtle form of abuse can be passive-aggressive and gaslighting. “What, no, don’t be silly, I’m not jealous I just want to spend more time with you that’s all” “Do you really have to call your mom/go to the gym/have coffee with your brother/go for a run/play poker with your buddies/watch the Superbowl without me”—fill in the blank. If this resonates with you at all, please take heed.

If it feels like it’s always them, them, them, it’s because it is.

He actually told me their sex life hasn’t been good for awhile either. Now I’m thinking whoa, is he flirting with me? And then he says how he’s been trying to “spice things up” but she’s just not interested. Again, therapist hat on, safely in the friend zone, I say “hmm, well over time things can get routine.” Which is true. But taken as a whole, to me it’s just another symptom of her selfishness. I may be totally wrong, but maybe this resonates with you. Someone who’s consistently getting their own needs met at the expense of their partner’s is probably not very giving in the bedroom either. They could just be sexually mismatched, who knows. But I’ve been with selfish men, and it feels shitty. It’s all about them, their needs, they come and you don’t, and it doesn’t even occur to them you might be feeling pretty unsatisfied and used. They like what they like, and don’t want to try anything new, and so we feel ashamed that we have any sexual needs at all that don’t match theirs. Surely, we are the problem.

Why do we allow this?  We are grown-ass adults. When you consistently put your partners’ needs ahead of yours, the relationship is no longer 50/50. So “working on” your relationship is basically you just saying yes to keep the peace all the time, and losing yourself in the process. If only it were so obvious, right? It’s not. It’s insidious. And you don’t owe your partner 100% of your time. Or even 70%. If you’re in a relationship where you’re the only one giving up anything, this is the definition of toxic.

So, my guy friend is “trying”. He is trying, basically, to become someone completely different than who he is, to please her, and to keep the relationship. There’s a world of difference between working WITH your partner 50/50 on serious relationship issues such as figuring out how to practice your faiths (if they’re different), parenting challenges, financial matters, dealing with friends and siblings, career choices. When someone says they’re “working on their relationship” what exactly are they working on? The point here I’m trying to make is “working” takes two. It is not one person giving up things they enjoy for self-care, their mental health, and other healthy relationships and activities in order to keep that partner from being “mad” at them. Do not be fooled. It is NOT the same thing. This is psychological abuse. These controlling partners are TOXIC with a capital T. I highly recommend you begin to advocate for yourself and set some healthy boundaries. If you get pushback, and you will if you’re in this type of relationship, then I highly recommend you start working to end this relationship as fast as you can, before you lose yourself even further.

Author: acaligirltalks

Hi there, I will graduate with a double masters this May 2023, LPC-IT and SAC-IT from UW-Milwaukee. I'm the mom of two amazing adults who make me a better person every day. My twin flame is SpongeBob Squarepants.

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