CHECK­ING IN

Does your re­la­tion­ship give you ev­ery­thing you need?

In the Moment - - Contents - Words: Karen Ed­wards / Il­lus­tra­tion: Geral­dine Sy

We book in check-ups to make sure our bod­ies are func­tion­ing well, we ex­er­cise to keep our phys­i­cal stamina at its peak and we have ap­praisals to en­sure our work is up to scratch. So why, when re­la­tion­ships are per­haps the big­gest con­nec­tions we can make in life, don’t we con­sider a re­la­tion­ship health-check?

The fact is, re­la­tion­ships can be com­pli­cated, and fac­ing up to po­ten­tial prob­lems can be daunt­ing. But be­ing will­ing to ask your­self tough ques­tions doesn’t mean that you are pre-empt­ing a fail­ure. In­stead, see it as an hon­est way to be sure that you aren’t go­ing to end up in a painful sit­u­a­tion fur­ther down the line. Af­ter all, if you are hop­ing to spend the rest of your life with some­one, surely it’s best to know that they are right for you?

The most im­por­tant thing when con­sid­er­ing the health­i­ness of a re­la­tion­ship is both your and your part­ner’s ev­ery­day well­be­ing. And if some­thing doesn’t feel right for ei­ther of you, it’s es­sen­tial to de­ter­mine what that is as early as pos­si­ble. “At times like this, it is also worth ask­ing why things might not be right,” says re­la­tion­ship coach Wendy Capewell. She says that gen­uinely feel­ing com­fort­able with your part­ner is key in a healthy re­la­tion­ship, rather than con­vinc­ing your­self that you are com­fort­able be­cause the re­la­tion­ship sounds good on pa­per. “We can’t al­ways share the same in­ter­ests as our part­ners, and these of­ten change with time any­way. Build­ing a re­la­tion­ship on shared be­liefs and val­ues is bet­ter, and cre­ates a more per­ma­nent bond,” she ex­plains.

An­other im­por­tant fac­tor when ad­dress­ing your re­la­tion­ship health is un­der­stand­ing that a part­ner should be an ad­di­tion to your life, rather than that one thing you need to be happy. “We should have our own goals, dreams and as­pi­ra­tions and be able to pur­sue those within a re­la­tion­ship,” says Wendy. “Each per­son should be able to cheer the other on, act­ing sup­port­ively and be­ing there if things don’t work out as planned,” she adds. Re­al­is­ing this will mean that you won’t pile all of your ex­pec­ta­tions un­fairly onto a part­ner, which can lead to un­healthy be­hav­iours de­vel­op­ing.

Un­for­tu­nately, de­spite our best hopes and e orts, there are times when this does hap­pen. De­pen­dence, a need for con­trol and other neg­a­tive be­hav­iours can all grow within a re­la­tion­ship, es­pe­cially when sit­u­a­tions be­yond our con­trol are hap­pen­ing in other as­pects of our lives, or when we’ve had bad ex­pe­ri­ences

in the past. “There are some ob­vi­ous and some sub­tle signs to look out for. These are of­ten dis­missed as ‘just a phase’, but they are very real,” says Wendy. “For in­stance, if you nd your­self un­able to share feel­ings, if you are al­ways ar­gu­ing over the same is­sues or feel con­stantly put down by a part­ner. If you stop be­ing in­ti­mate with each other – and I don’t mean just when it comes to sex – but kiss­ing and cud­dling too, and talk­ing about your in­ner­most dreams and con­cerns. These can all be warn­ing signs that some­thing isn’t right.”

But how easy is it to pre­vent a re­la­tion­ship get­ting to this stage? “[Un­healthy traits] come down to ei­ther how you see your­self in the re­la­tion­ship or how one or both par­ties be­have. It might even be a mix of the two,” says Natalie Lue, re­la­tion­ship ex­pert and In The Mo­ment’s re­la­tion­ship colum­nist. “If one or both of you have re­sorted to be­hav­ing in ways that aren’t con­ducive to grow­ing the re­la­tion­ship, an open and hon­est con­ver­sa­tion is worth hav­ing,” she rec­om­mends. “It may lead to self-re ec­tion and growth for both par­ties, or it may prove to be the wake-up call that the re­la­tion­ship isn’t right.”

This prospect might sound daunt­ing, but if these un­healthy be­hav­iours are not recog­nised or ad­dressed they can be­come toxic over time, turn­ing into emo­tional abuse, or worse. Un­for­tu­nately, the signs of this are more easy to no­tice, but even harder to re­solve. The tac­tic of ‘gaslight­ing’ in or­der to gain more power – where the vic­tim is made to ques­tion their re­al­ity – is recog­nised as a ma­jor part of a co­er­cive re­la­tion­ship. As a re­sult, the re­cip­i­ent of such be­hav­iour may feel worn down, or as though they are imag­in­ing sit­u­a­tions or ‘go­ing mad’. Other com­mon signs of a co­er­cive part­ner in­clude a lack of com­pas­sion for others, and a grad­ual en­cour­age­ment of iso­la­tion from fam­ily or friends – per­haps by ex­press­ing jeal­ousy when you spend time with other peo­ple. Mak­ing de­ci­sions with­out con­sul­ta­tion is an­other way to un­der­mine a per­son’s worth, while also mak­ing un­der­hand com­ments that seem like a harm­less joke. En­cour­ag­ing nan­cial de­pen­dence can also be in­cluded, as it could leave the de­pen­dent per­son un­able to ex­er­cise con­trol over their life if they have to run all spend­ing past their part­ner. A more de­lib­er­ate ac­tion; ‘stonewalling’ is an anx­i­ety-in­duc­ing method of ig­nor­ing some­one, of­ten in­volv­ing the part­ner in ques­tion dis­ap­pear­ing for a few days out of the blue, with lit­tle ex­pla­na­tion.

“[This be­hav­iour] can be very sub­tle and in­sid­i­ous, to the point where the per­son on the re­ceiv­ing end doesn’t no­tice it hap­pen­ing at rst,” ex­plains Wendy. “There are of­ten lies in­volved, and there are times when [the co­er­cive part­ner] is lov­ing and even apolo­getic, lead­ing to even more self-doubt.”

In 2015, the govern­ment in­tro­duced a new law mak­ing it il­le­gal to ex­er­cise co­er­cive con­trol over a part­ner. The move was a nod to any­one su er­ing from emo­tional abuse, ac­knowl­edg­ing that their sit­u­a­tion was recog­nised as se­ri­ously as those ex­pe­ri­enc­ing phys­i­cal vi­o­lence. The di culty is, when the sit­u­a­tion has reached this level this is usu­ally the point that it is hard­est to nd the strength to leave the re­la­tion­ship, par­tic­u­larly if that per­son has been made to feel in­fe­rior through put-downs or a con­stant stream of crit­i­cism.

With this in mind, it is im­por­tant to ask your­self those hard ques­tions about your re­la­tion­ship as soon as any un­easy feel­ings arise. Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the ne­ces­sity in fol­low­ing up on those signs, and don’t be afraid to walk away if you know the an­swers aren’t pos­i­tive – the long-term al­ter­na­tive could be much worse. “It can be ex­tremely hard to take those rst steps to­wards leav­ing, for many rea­sons,” says Wendy. “You be­lieve that they love you deep down, or you’re fear­ful of what they will do if you try to leave. Per­haps you are also scared that you won’t nd any­one else.”

In these in­stances, it’s help­ful to re­mind your­self of the re­la­tion­ship qual­i­ties you de­sire and know to be im­por­tant, as well as your deep-rooted val­ues. Is it pos­si­ble to achieve this with some­one who has such ten­den­cies? If the an­swer is ‘no’, then it might be time to walk away. Re­mem­ber that, with 7.6 bil­lion peo­ple in the world, you have a good chance of meet­ing some­one else when the time is right – some­one who you can share those core val­ues with, cre­at­ing a strong, sup­port­ive and ul­ti­mately happy re­la­tion­ship.

Rosie’s story*

“By the time my two-and-a-half year re­la­tion­ship with Karl* came to an end, I was a wreck. I couldn’t help but re­play the ar­gu­ments we had and the names he called me. “Pa­thetic”, “mad”, “crazy b **** ”, “psy­cho’”. He had said them with such con­vic­tion that I had won­dered if maybe I had ac­tu­ally turned into this hor­ri­ble per­son he de­scribed.

Things weren’t al­ways like this. When we rst met, Karl was a di er­ent per­son. On nights out, he would grab my hand and pull me o into a quiet cor­ner to tell me he loved me. We pulled sick­ies and lay in bed all day. I fell madly in love – and for a short while, I felt very loved back.

We had been to­gether for six months and were plan­ning our rst hol­i­day when I rst felt that some­thing wasn’t right. “I don’t love you, maybe you shouldn’t come on this trip,” read a text mes­sage I re­ceived at work. I tried to phone him, but the calls rang out. Two days of com­plete si­lence fol­lowed, while I ques­tioned what I could have done wrong. Then, he phoned me. “I’m sorry, baby. I don’t know why I said that. I love you, let’s go to Thailand to­gether!” I can’t tell you why I didn’t walk away then. I should have lis­tened to my gut. In­stead, I put it down to be­ing a blip and told my­self it would be a one-o . It wasn’t.

That feel­ing of un­ease be­came my life for the next two years. I went from see­ing my friends sev­eral times a week to barely see­ing them in months be­cause he felt he didn’t con­nect with them. It was eas­ier to pass on a night out than cre­ate that feel­ing of ten­sion. Our evenings out be­came a night­mare of ei­ther watch­ing him irt with the bar sta or be­ing com­pletely ig­nored. When I con­fronted him, I was “para­noid” and “psy­cho”. I waited out­side count­less restau­rants, bars and train sta­tions at agreed meet­ing times, only for him never to show up.

My con dence was slowly chipped away; I felt ev­ery bit the “pa­thetic” woman he painted me out to be. Deep down, I knew that this wasn’t

me, but I just couldn’t nd the voice to ex­press it. My en­tire body ached con­stantly. I would look at my drawn face and sunken eyes in the mir­ror and won­der how I had got­ten there.

Fi­nally, af­ter a night out for my 23rd birth­day where he told me my friends were ashamed to be around me, I logged onto a women’s fo­rum. Un­der the head­ing, ‘Am I go­ing mad?’, I listed some of the things that had hap­pened. The an­swers came ood­ing in: “You’re not mad, this is emo­tional abuse, please leave him be­fore it goes too far.” Now, I had to nd the strength to es­cape.

But be­fore I could, Karl broke up with me – he had met some­one else. My body just shut down and at times I strug­gled to leave the house. Then, my friend Tom* told me he was mov­ing abroad and I knew im­me­di­ately what I needed to do. I bought a one-way ticket to go with him. Eleven months later, hav­ing trav­elled through Asia and had enough time and space to heal, I came home. Karl tried to de­stroy me, but by do­ing this he helped me to build a new ‘me’. One that was brave enough to do any­thing by my­self.”

*Names have been changed.

Natalie’s ad­vice

“Un­healthy re­la­tion­ships are cor­ro­sive to your sense of self, a ect­ing your emo­tional, men­tal, phys­i­cal and spir­i­tual well­be­ing,” says Natalie. “They also grad­u­ally per­me­ate ev­ery area of your life, of­ten im­pact­ing on your other re­la­tion­ships and lead­ing to iso­la­tion. Pain is not con­ducive to love.

“Claims of change are ex­tremely com­mon in un­healthy re­la­tion­ships and it’s not un­usual for these to be ac­com­pa­nied by what ap­pear to be un­char­ac­ter­is­tic dis­plays of emo­tion. This leads to you feel­ing guilty and be­ing charmed into giv­ing them an­other chance. Talk­ing about change isn’t enough – they would need to be see­ing a pro­fes­sional and ad­dress­ing their be­hav­iour for it to hap­pen.

“I rec­om­mend a Get Out Plan, be­cause it stops you from mak­ing a sud­den de­ci­sion that you back­track on, whether it’s due to self­doubt or be­ing charmed out of it. Give your­self a dead­line of, for ex­am­ple, three months. Use the time to slowly step back, but to also take the blink­ers o . Stick to the date. If the re­la­tion­ship is abu­sive, the time can be used to qui­etly seek pro­fes­sional ad­vice and sup­port.”

WENDY CAPEWELL Wendy is a trained coun­sel­lor and re­la­tion­ship coach. She was in­spired by her own ex­pe­ri­ences to help others. www.your­re­la­tion­ship­spe­cial­ist.co.uk

NATALIE LUE Natalie is a re­la­tion­ship ex­pert who spe­cialises in help­ing peo­ple deal with emo­tional bag­gage and toxic sit­u­a­tions. www.bag­gagere­claim.co.uk

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