"If you were warned that a perfect day at the beach would end with you soaking wet and miserable, under dark storm clouds, would you still pack your bag and go?No one expects perfection to end in gloomy weather—especially when it comes to love.
Love stories gone bad can be addicting. I have a growing to-do-list and a neglected pile of laundry to prove it. The infamous Amber Heard and Johnny Depp defamation trial has left many people around the world hypnotized by testimony warning us about the dangers of entertaining toxic love too long.
In over 27 years as a therapist and mental health educator, I have not seen anything tie human beings into more complex knots than love turned ugly.
A former client stated, "I'm a shell of what I used to be. I'm fighting to get back to normal." He talked about his divorce as if it were as fresh as farmer’s market organic milk. Surprisingly the divorce had happened over seven years ago. Yet he was still having flashbacks about the emotional abuse that took place in the relationship and problems sleeping some nights. He commented, " Sheila, I follow her on social media. She is living with this guy and looks no worse for the wear. I haven't been right since it ended."
I invited him to step into a deeper level of healing during several therapy sessions. He confronted himself and acknowledged there were a number of signs that pointed to a doomed relationship from the start. He recalled, "She had a nasty temper and could ignore me for days without flinching. I suffered when we fought. It bothered me when we did not talk. She seemed to revel in the dysfunction."
When I asked him why he ignored what was happening, his answer made sense—in a dimly lit way. He shared, "She had a sweet side and I wanted things to work out."
The desire to see a relationship work out despite clear signs that it may not leads many people to turn a blind eye to information that could be the difference between finding happiness or fleeing misery.
In nearly three decades of supporting men and women through healing journeys, brought on by the fallout of traumatic relationships, I’ve counseled individuals to be mindful of the five following behaviors that may predict a relationship will go dark:
1. Cheating early in the relationship. Cheating, particularly early on in a relationship, is an indication of poor boundary management and signals a lack of self-control. Looking the other way when your partner cheats is a form of reinforcing disrespectful behavior.
2. Taking no responsibility when the relationship derails. Relationships hit rough patches. When a partner says or does something that is hurtful to their significant other, the ability to say "I’m sorry" and assume responsibility for the injurious behavior is part of healthy communication and establishing trust. When someone lacks the ability to do this, he or she is announcing, "I can do what I want, and don’t expect me to apologize when I’m wrong." This relationship dynamic can be emotionally damaging because genuine healing is not possible absent trust and accountability.
3. Cruel fighting, that hits below the belt. Words are powerful and they can be almost as painful as physical injuries. I recall a former client sharing, “When we argue he brings up deeply painful and personal things I’ve shared about my past. He mocks me and makes jokes about my suffering.” Cruel fighters lead with the intention to use what they know to emotionally wound their partners. It’s a dangerous dynamic that can lead to long-lasting psychological scarring.
4. Abandonment in times of distress. Emotional security and grounding inside a relationship is made possible when you feel as though your partner has your back. Emotionally unavailable people often leave their partners to fend for themselves in times of distress, such as losing a job, the death of a loved, or illness. When cycles of abandonment continue unchecked, the relationship erodes and becomes toxic due to stress and high levels of resentment."