By Nelson Vinod Moses
Rekha Aiyyar was 21, when she married Anurag Krishnan, the couple had their first baby a year later, and had a second child five years after. Rekha may have wanted more time to experience life, but once she had her two kids, she enjoyed the warmth and love that her family gave her.
When the children started going to school, she found herself a job, and relished the independence and freedom. Over the next few years, Rekha got busy with her job as a teacher and Anurag was busy with his business, which involved travelling, and meeting clients. With the two children taking centre stage, and both of them busy with their jobs, there was not much time for romance. Things moved from love, to a period of love and indifference, and finally, to no love. “I thought this is how a normal marriage operates. I didn’t complain because I had what I wanted in terms of having a family,” adds Rekha.
To rekindle the romance, Anurag suggested a threesome with a friend, whom Rekha had met once, but didn’t know too well. She said no, but after he kept insisting, she reluctantly agreed. When they finally engaged in a threesome, Rekha froze and did not respond to the stranger in the bed. “I wasn’t turned on and felt violated. His friend raped me while my husband watched. I was humiliated, ashamed and angry,” recalls Rekha.
Things took a turn for the worse when Rekha found out that he was having an affair with a colleague. When she confronted him he denied it. “He got into a fit of rage and hit me across my face and told me to shut up,” says Rekha. His beating left physical scars, and everytime she would confront him about the affair, he would hold her tight, and hit her.
She felt trapped, desperate, anxious, depressed, angry, and ashamed.
Toxic relationships and how to recognise them:
Rekha’s story is not unique or new. There are millions living in romantic toxic relationships. The person who’s the primary perpetrator does so due to various reasons, including: deriving pleasure from treating others badly, suffering from an early childhood social development issue, being deeply insecure, having an undiagnosed personality disorder or having unresolved emotional conflicts bubbling under.
Recognising a toxic person is not easy, as toxic persons are not necessarily bad people, are not always toxic, and may display their toxicity only with their romantic partners. Anurag is a good father but a terrible husband. Also, they may be loving and caring most of the time, except when they can’t have their way, or when their partners try to exert their independence and freedom.
The most important way to recognise a toxic relationship is to ascertain how your romantic partner makes you feel. Do you feel safe, nourished, taken care of, loved and filled with positivity? A few feelings of your partner making you feel negative is a given. Concentrate on how you feel overall rather than on one specific incident or one feeling. If you feel drained, miserable, sad, angry ashamed, uncared, scared, scarred or unappreciated most of the time then you know that you are dealing with a toxic person.
The toll that a toxic relationship takes:
A toxic relationship causes stress, emotional pain, mood swings, erosion of confidence, lowering of self-esteem, trauma, physical abuse, and can even adversely affect our other relationships and professional career. Our bodies being battered continuously by the stresses of a toxic relationship take a knock. Immunity gets lowered. This can lead to illness and disease.
Research suggests that a toxic relationship can increase risk of a recurrent heart related complication by threefold among women. Humiliating marital episodes (HME) of infidelity like the ones suffered by Rekha leads to a six time increase for the likelihood of being diagnosed with an major depressive episodes among women. Men suffer as well, as the quality of their relationships affects the health of their hearts, stressful relationships increased chances of coronary heart disease.
The effects of a toxic relationship can affect low-esteem leading to a slowdown in career paths. And the long-term fallout of physical and emotional trauma can lead to panic attacks, affecting future relationships, and perhaps, even writing off being in a relationship with another person altogether.
Finding support at this distressing time is crucial. “It is important to reach out to a friend or a close family member. Mental health professionals play a key role in helping clients with this process. It is also prudent to involve the other partner and to let him or her know as to why this step is being considered. If the other partner is not kept in the loop, things may go haywire at times,” Dr. Alok Kulkarni, Consultant Psychiatrist, Seraniti.
Deciding to exit and getting out:
Once it is established that this is a toxic relationship, one needs to take a decision, and weigh the pros and cons. Is the fear of being alone outweigh the mental torture being suffered now? Are there financials to be considered? Are there kids who are growing up and a divorce will damage them? Is there a support system that is strong enough to help deal with the crisis? Is there are chance that the partner might be willing to change? Making this decision is complicated.
A lot of people just accept a toxic relationship as their reality. Even though it is baffling there are reasons for this. “Some people stay in a toxic relationship because of the responsibilities and the commitments that the individual has taken up in the relationship: the fear of staying independent and managing the financials, and a hope or belief that there might be a change in the individual for the future,” says Hemasri Ravisundar, Associate Integrative Therapist, Seraniti.
Rekha stayed in the marriage because she felt Anurag was her husband, the father of her children, and felt that he loved her and that he might change. “It is never easy to let go of a relationship especially if it’s a long-standing one. However, if things have hit rock bottom, then it would be wise to consider other alternatives. Taking a break from the relationship may help. It is important to have a good support system to fall back upon so that moving on becomes less difficult. It is also vital to pay attention to one’s nutritional and sleep habits during this time,” says Dr. Alok Kulkarni, Consultant Psychiatrist, Seraniti.
Veena Nobbay, Integrative Therapist, Seraniti, understands that despite knowing somebody is in a toxic relationship, it is often very difficult to gather the courage to leave. She suggests seeking the help of a therapist, who can help empower the person in such a relationship, so that they can take steps towards leaving.
What after letting go?
This is the tricky part, when there a chance of a relapse, of going back in a weak moment of regret, fear or guilt. The toxic partner might threaten, cajole, seek forgiveness, beg to be taken back, display love or manipulate the feelings of the other partner. Things will get a lot worse before it gets better.
Speaking to an expert in relationships and marriage counselling will work wonders. Therapy will help speak about the bottled up feelings, thoughts, and unknot emotions trapped for years. Seeking support from friends and family will help assuage fears and doubts. Sometimes the love for the partner still exists. It is important to acknowledge that this feeling won’t go away soon and that coping mechanisms will be required to fight the urge to go back.
Jumping into another relationship is also a bad idea because it is important to unload the baggage from the last relationship and also identify if there’s a pattern of seeking out toxic partners. Again a therapist will prove useful in sorting this out and helping untangling the mess. This is the time to let go, heal and nurture oneself back to good mental health and emotional wellness.
(Disclaimer: The names, location, and some personal details have been changed to protect the identities of Rekha and Anurag)