Most of us engage with someone - whether it's a partner, family, friends or colleagues - and each relationship has a different dynamic. Most of the time we take the rough with the smooth; after all no one's immune to the physical, psychological and social aspects of their life that can adversely affect their mood. So we cherish the traits and commonalities that first attracted us to that person, and we come to accept the idiosyncrasies.
But, over time, this dynamic can shift, sometimes to the point where neither party feels there is any value left in the relationship. The spark of romance fizzles out, families feud and friendships turn cold to the point where there's no enjoyment. The feeling of tension can become overwhelming and, in some cases, destructive.
Draining (or 'toxic') relationships are not uncommon - most of us will experience a friend, partner or family member overstepping the boundary or taking us for granted. So, it's important to remember that relationships are supposed to enrich our lives, rather than be a burden.
It doesn't necessarily have to take a sudden event, like a betrayal of trust, for us to feel the effects of a toxic relationship. There are subtle behaviours too that can build up over time and erode your wellbeing. Here are a few signposts:
Walking on eggshells?
Katrina and the Waves famously compared the euphoria of a relationship to 'Walking on sunshine' - but there can be darker days too. If there's more doom than bloom, you may find yourself walking on eggshells. If you're anxious about another's reaction to anything you say or do it's a clear sign that things have turned sour. You may fall into a pattern whereby you avoid sharing your opinions with them, asking them a question or even messaging them because you're uncertain of their mood. Everyone has an off day or they could be suffering from some underlying distress, but unless you can find an explanation and a (mutually agreeable) plan to address this pattern, then you're falling hostage to their moods. Don't let your happiness depend on theirs.
A game of unequal halves?
The effort each party puts into a relationship is unlikely to be the same all of the time and who wants to keep tabs on this anyway? But if you feel put upon, under pressure or uncomfortable and are pulling more than your fair share, then it could be time to step back and assess the situation. If your friend, family member or partner is going through a difficult patch by all means support them, but if you're continually feeling as though you're getting nothing in return, it could be time to pull back.
They call the shots
A person can exert control directly or indirectly. The latter is subtle but can have a powerful effect. Tactics can involve 'guilt-tripping' and when someone knows you well, they'll know your weak points and, therefore, which buttons to press to get their own way. Controlling behaviour can be difficult to recognise for what it is, but if you find you have an increasing dependence on the person involved, or you lose sight of what you really want and where you want to be, it's time to evaluate your relationship.
Remember, you're not responsible for someone else's desire to control you and you don't need to put up with it. Try to reclaim your independence and confidence. Sometimes, pursue your own hobbies and social life and remind yourself of you of who you are.
Over time, relationships - both romantic and platonic - can fizzle out. As you grow your interests and priorities change, especially as you go through life's inevitable phases. You may no longer feel passionate about the things that brought you together, or passion for each other. Not all relationships last forever, but it's a big world out there and you can find enrichment and authenticity with people from all avenues of life.
Your partner or friend may flaunt their relationships with others, making you feel jealous and perhaps leaving your confidence bruised. You can never second-guess someone but they may have insecurities. Try talking to them in the spirit of openness, rather than spiralling into an internal dialogue and a cycle of mind games.
So, don't get bogged down by a bad romance or faulty friendship...
Relationships require work. If something's troubling you when it comes to a friend or partner take a mental time out and ask yourself whether it's better to raise it with them or to let it be, and see how things progress - it could just be a 'blip' after all! Every situation is different but potentially delicate. When it comes to experiencing difficulty with partners, counselling might be a worthwhile option for you both. But listen to your head as well as your heart. Be realistic but also visualise where you want to be.
Life never ceases to offer opportunities if you invest in - and develop - your sense of curiosity and adventure. Breaking bad relationships will free you to nurture those bonds with people who value you and enrich your life - and forge new friendships with those you've yet to meet.