Guilt, guilt, guilt. The underpinning to eternal unhappiness and insecurity. In a normal, happy relationship guilt should play a very small role, if any at all. Of course we all do things that aren’t ideal, and behave in ways that aren’t very fair, but we’re all human. We aren’t perfect and shouldn’t strive to be, because that way leads to madness. It’s often hard to recognise when a relationship has turned toxic because it rarely happens overnight, it’s small, insidious things that build up and build up until suddenly you’re doubting yourself and your role with your partner. Feeling that guilt is being heaped on you is a sure sign that your relationship is not running as it should. It’s perfectly normal to doubt yourself every so often, but once it’s becoming a daily occurrence it’s time to step back and take a long, hard look at your relationship because it might be time for those scales to fall from your eyes.
Picture a nice, sunny day, you’ve finished work early and on impulse you book a table at your local pub to have supper with your partner. You message them with the plans and put a few happy/smiling emojis on the message for good measure. That’s a nice thing, right? Of course it is. Even if it’s impractical for whatever reason, the thoughtfulness and care is there.
- NORMAL RESPONSE: “That’s a nice idea, shall I meet you there?” Or “Ah, that sounds great but I’ve actually got a late meeting. Another time?”
- WRONG RESPONSE: “Why have you done that without asking me?” Or “Did it occur to you that I might not want to? Why are your choices always more important than mine?”
Or, you organise an impromptu night out with your friends. It’s a bit last minute, but you know you haven’t got anything on with your partner so you go ahead and make plans.
- NORMAL RESPONSE: “Oh, OK. Have a good time, I’ll see you when you’re back. Message me if you’re going to be really late.”
- WRONG RESPONSE: “That’s typically selfish of you. You never think about anyone but yourself.”
Or if something like this happens. You’re in a supermarket and you pass a security guard, your eyes meet for a second and you give him a quick, absent-minded smile, as you would any stranger that you met eyes with. You are then accused of flirting with him, fancying him and being disrespectful and rude. You will be vilified for having a normal, basic human response and their anger will be palpable.
Or, you face constant criticism. At first it often happens insidiously. Saying things like “Shall we choose a different shade of lipstick that will suit you better?” to downright telling you to take those trousers off because you’re looking fat in them, that your clothes are too provocative and you deserve negative attention, that your hair should be shorter because it doesn’t suit your face. And every bit of positivity that you feel is slowly replaced by guilt because you should have realised it didn’t suit you more quickly, or you should have paid more attention when you bought it, that you’re eating too much, etc., etc.
You’ll know when serious levels are reached because your partner will not only point out all of the things that are unacceptable to them, and that you’re being selfish about, they will then go even further by saying that you’re doing it deliberately to make them respond how they are. This behaviour then goes from inflicting guilt upon you, to downright abusive, gas-lighting.
The truth of the matter is that it’s only normal to feel guilty sometimes in a relationship. And those times should be clearly recognisable to you. If your partner is pointing out these shortcomings every day, or making accusations on a regular basis, then you are going to have to re-evaluate the relationship. Because the answer is that it’s not you who is the problem, it’s your partner. They are inflicting their insecurities onto you and using you to justify how they feel. It might be that they are hurt if you make plans without them, but the right way to approach it does not include piling guilt upon you.
If you recognise some or all of these signs, then don’t despair, there might be a way through things – if you want there to be.
Repairing a toxic relationship takes diligence, time and patience, especially because the problems are often based on things that have happened previously in the relationship. But if both partners are committed to making it work, there are a few steps they can take to ease things along:
- Couples therapy. This is a solution trotted out more often than not, but it really does help to offload your issues onto someone impartial who can see things in a new light and guide you towards what is right for you.
- Don’t dwell on the past. Reflecting on what has gone wrong in the relationship in the past forms part of the repair, but don’t constantly bring up all the negativity.Your focus should be on a positive move forward.
- Find support. This is vitally important so that you always have someone you can talk to. It can be as part of a couples’ group therapy, your sister or a close friend. Or maybe someone who doesn’t know you very well, often they can be the best because of their impartiality.
What you should definitely not do is put up with the relationship and hope that it will change on its own over time – it won’t. It will almost certainly get worse. There’s an old adage that you can only help someone who wants to be helped – so make sure that your mind is focused clearly on what you want.