A Poisonous Relationship

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Name: Clare
Gender: Female
Age: 40
Location: St Louis
My best friend can’t bring herself to sever her ties with her ex-boyfriend. Even though their last attempted reunion ended in a very violent fight. My friend has this weird nostalgia for the relationship she had with her ex at the beginning. Back then, before he started drinking and drugging, they did have a couple of good years, but that was a long time ago. I’m very concerned for my friend. She’s often depressed and she is pulling away from her friends. I think she is seriously considering getting back with her no-good, two-timing ex. I know that my role as a friend is to love and support her, but her ex is not to be trusted. I fear as much for her safety as for her heart. What’s a friend to do?

So many things are going on here, Clare. It’s hard to know where to begin. Your friend can’t sever her ties with her ex because she doesn’t want to. Even if she wanted to end it once and for all, it’s not an easy thing to do.

Anyone who has been there will tell ya that quitin’ a bad relationship is as difficult as quitin’ booze or dope…maybe even harder. Most folks in poisonous relationships can’t extricate themselves because they are part of the toxicity. Bad relationships, like the good ones, are completely dependent on the participation of both individuals in the couple. Each one feeds off the other and each one’s bad behaviors rewards and facilitates the pathologies of the other.

crying girl

There is no such thing as a good, psychologically healthy person in a bad relationship. There may be one in the couple that is less culpable, or less abusive, or less self-destructive, but there is never one that is without blame.

Like all junkies, your friend is hooked. Her depression and withdrawal are outward signs of the pathology. Nothing is gonna change this for her until she acknowledges that she is caught in a downward spiral. Domestic violence — and we ought to label the nature of your friend’s relationship for what it is — will escalate. It always does. Will your friend get out in time? There’s no guarantee. Is there anything you can do? Well that, Clare, is a more difficult question to answer. If you do too much you are at risk of supporting her habit. Or worse, you could be co-opted into the pathological dynamic of the relationship.

The best you can do is to tell your friend how you feel about her predicament. Speak your mind in no uncertain terms. If you decide to confront your friend with an intervention, I suggest that you have some well-considered resources to hand her while you are doing so. For example, you could do some legwork and find some local domestic violence resources — a hot line, a shelter, counseling referrals and the like. Once you make this intervention and it’s over, drop it. Drop it for good. This is the hardest thing a friend has to do, but constantly badgering someone in your friend’s condition is counterproductive. If you can’t stand to witness the self-destruction, take your leave of the friendship and hope for the best.

However you play this, don’t hold your breath for a happy ending. They happen sometime, of course, but real life is so not like the movies.

Good luck

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