Oops, Where’s the Exit? When a Relationship Goes Bad

by Mental Health, Resilience, Trauma and Recovery

Have you ever taken a wrong turn and found yourself shaking your head, utterly flabbergasted that it’s a dead-end? Have you ever been in a debate only to realize that you’ve boxed yourself into defending a position that you don’t agree with? That feeling of being trapped washes over you like a cold shower, your thoughts stop and there’s a sense of being abandoned at a drop-off point you didn’t expect. Looking back, in a moment of reflection, you glimpse the journey of how you ended up in this current situation, but the feelings remain and then the struggle begins to extricate oneself.  This is what happens when a relationship goes bad.

The emotional high has worn off, the excitement of the new and shiny has become tarnished, the courtship has been replaced by the reality of a person or situation that is far more nuanced. The promises made have not been kept. I don’t mean to make this sound as abysmal as it may be coming across. Relational manipulation is not all about nefarious impulses, we all are subject to the desire to put our best foot forward for the purpose of creating acceptance and appreciation while engendering reciprocal behavior. Culturally this behavior manifests in all manner of ways. We wear our best clothes to church, companies set dress codes and do inspections so stores and employees present a better image, and we watch our language in front of family when we would speak freely in another social context.  

There is nothing inherently wrong with living this way. It becomes problematic when we are blinded to seeing the outlying behaviors associated with a person or situation, including ourselves. That job we so desperately wanted suddenly becomes a sinking ship as we realize the company’s numbers weren’t as realistic as presented; the clothing we tried on, that looked so good, in the dressing room suddenly becomes unattractive, exposing parts of ourselves we’d have rather kept hidden, and that relationship we were so enamored of suddenly doesn’t feel as safe, secure or beneficial as it once did.

I use “suddenly” here but honest appraisal leads us to acknowledge that the variables of the other side were there all along, our awareness simply didn’t acknowledge them. Had we turned our head or broadened our conscious deliberation we’d have seen that object barreling at us, actual or metaphorical. We do ourselves no good by becoming incensed at our lack of sight, literal or mental. We blithely go about our lives in conscious ignorance of many variables that by and large have no deleterious effects.

Unfortunately, our lives are not like our stone-age evolutionary ancestors. We do not merely have to concern ourselves with the rustling bushes or the scattering of rocks from above, there is all manner of existent variables in life that can catch us unaware. Whether our fight/flight/freeze response is ultimately helpful by illuminating a legitimate threat, it still may create a problematic situation. The problem arises because we exist within an interconnected web of life, where we are not causal agents, but only one variable among many in the cosmic interplay of forces.  

Certainly, we are an important variable, but the notion of viewing the “external” world as impinging upon us and with our “magical free will,” we can select from an array of infinite possibilities the action we shall take, is in line with the idea of a flat earth. The cosmic-relational perspective provides a means of viewing ourselves as within the world, not apart from it, where external and internal are simply biological delineations, not declarations of metaphysical import. What we have as opposed to rocks and trees is the ability to broaden our conscious awareness and thus through the power of intention focus, on those other variables, to affect ripples in the web of existence.  

This has profound importance when it comes to relationship creation and the selection of people in our lives. When we cease looking at ourselves as autonomous context-free agents, we come to realize that the situations we are in, the history of our experiences and the memories that closely approximate them, and the people we are connected to are all variables just like us providing paths of potential outcomes. Our personal narratives are formed from the ground of our familial attachment to the ever-increasing array of environmental connections we form in our lives. This includes both the internalization of projected stories from others and our own projections out of that symphony of possible stories.  

When we enter into a new connection, whether it be romantic or professional, it behooves us to halt for a moment a take a look at the context of our situation. If the person in front of us is dismissive of our inquiries or mocking in their appraisal of our desire to know more then we can rest assured that this is not someone we want influencing our journey. This studied inquiry is a meditative reflection that can be done at any time though clearly there are moments when it is more difficult than others. It is there where the excitement of pleasure and the enticement of mystery should be mitigated by the joy of increasing reflective understanding.

To discover that a relationship one is currently living with is not beneficial for personal growth or safety is not to declare one’s innate foolishness or stupidity, but an opportunity to acknowledge the interconnected web of which humanity is a part and gain an impetus for change.

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