Surviving a toxic relationship

Emily Christie honestly discusses what a toxic relationship is like, and how she survived.

I once tried to pin down the exact time that my relationship became toxic. Now I know that it wasn’t a certain event, but a slow slip from us working together, to it being unbearable. What had started as a healthy, romantic relationship started to change when I noticed a dip in my partner’s interest and communication. We had always talked and discussed any problems, so the sudden silence and being ignored came as a shock. He claimed it was down to being in class or busy and became angry and sullen whenever I brought it up, so I backed down and accepted this was just a change in the relationship.

However, these changes became more frequent. When we talked, my partner became critical and began to make fun of me. When I opened up about what was stressing me out or cried in front of him, he’d act as though I was a burden, telling me I sounded crazy. Sometimes he’d make fun of how I pronounced words, or the phrases I used. I felt like my whole personality was wrong. So, I began to hold things back, thinking that if the person I loved most felt that way then my friends and family must too. I plastered on a smile and pretended I wasn’t hurting, even though I had a constant sense of terror eating away at me. Terror at losing my partner, at not being enough, at the quirks in my speech, and the thought of destroying a relationship I’d spent three years building and protecting.

As the contact and communication dwindled I decided it was all my fault. I wasn’t interesting enough, I didn’t try hard enough. I scoured his social media and asked him questions, finding what styles he liked, what music he was interested in and what films he was watching. What was once a fun conversation topic, and a chance to bond, became an obsession. I’d read up on everything I could, trying to make myself valuable to him, dropping facts and opinions that weren’t my own. I constructed a persona, an always-smiling, never argumentative encyclopaedia of his interests.

Of course, it didn’t work. The mocking continued, the arguments worsened, and even as I sat apologising constantly, I felt I was never going to be right again. Eventually, as it was always going to, it fell apart. He left me, and where I expected to crumble and fall I stood strong. Alone. The weight of a relationship I’d tried to single-handedly keep up, and was nearly crushed by, had collapsed and I had nothing to lose. I looked at myself and my life and realised the shadow I’d been under, how small I’d made myself, trying to be correct, trying to be pleasing, when in reality I never could have been what he wanted.

I started to live for myself. Now I am as loud as I want; I share my opinions, I cry and hurt and talk about the pain. The worst thing I had ever imagined, losing my partner, had turned out to be the best thing possible. Without the crushing weight of staying in line I was free to grow.

I even talk to my ex-partner now. We’re friends, and we talk about how toxic and damaging our relationship had been. If you’re in a toxic relationship, feeling like you’re never enough, trying desperately to stop fights you never started, and struggling with constant criticism: there is a way out! One day, you will be you again.