Have you ever had to redefine the rules when you felt a relationship was becoming toxic?
The best example of successfully redefining the rules I can personally give comes from the period of time that my husband and I were giving our relationship ‘one last try’.
As I’ve already mentioned we had a very rocky year in Cambodia and came home to the UK separately. We quickly found jobs and flat shares and started living life as singletons. Our future looked non-existent but neither of us were prepared to properly walk away. Without anything changing we started seeing each other again about two months after returning, and I moved in with him and his flatmates few months later.
By then we were already back to the old routine of drinking until all hours and partying hard at the weekend. I treated him horribly. We argued loads and I fought with his flatmates. It was an ugly time. One of the only periods of my life that I look back upon and feel utterly ashamed of. Within three months I’d decided enough was enough; we were to break up ‘for good’. A few weeks after we went our separate ways I hit rock my rock bottom. This is when I woke up to myself and realised that I had thrown away the one person who truly loved me, and always had my best intentions at heart.
I spent the next three months working hard on all the self-improvements I’ve spoken about here in this book, and was adamant to get back together with my then ex-boyfriend and make our relationship work. He was less enthusiastic. I had burnt him badly and he wasn’t going to be as free and easy with his heart. If we were to give things one last try it would be on his terms; he would call the shots. If I was serious about making it work then I had to respect his wishes.
It turned out to be the best thing that happened to us, because I was no longer in control and able to make more bad decisions. Above all else he said we had to take things slowly. We had been living together from the day we met, and he wanted us to remain living apart for the foreseeable future. We would only see each other at the weekend and concentrate on work and other commitments during the week. We would not waste our time drinking all night and being hung over. We would spend quality time together and do interesting things such as take trips out of London, visit exhibitions and go to nice restaurants.
The key to our success was that we both wanted it to work out as much as the other. Within a few months we had redefined the rules of our relationship, and six months after getting back together we moved into our first home without flatmates. It was the making of us, and the rest as they say is history. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we would not have had a future together had both of us not been willing to change.
Other relationships where you might have to redefine the rules
Scenario: Your parents divorced while you were young and both remarried while you were in your teens. You get on well with one step-parent but have never particularly warmed to the other one and vice versa. Now that you are an adult they exclude you from family gatherings and you feel you don’t get to see your parent as often as you would like.
Solution: If you want to have a better relationship one of you needs to be the bigger person and hold out the olive branch so it might as well be you. If you want your parent to be an active part of your life it is vital that you get along with their partner.
Start winning over your step-parent by being conciliatory and doing nice things for them. Invite them out to lunch or cook for them. Make it clear that you’re sorry for your history and want to make it better by getting to know them. Be willing to accept responsibility for your part in the problem, and leave the ball in their court. Most people want to get on with their family and will relish the opportunity to make amends.
Scenario: Your relationship with a good friend has become very one-sided. You feel you are always doing the things they want to do, on their terms. You are always going out of your way for them, but they are nowhere to be seen when you could use some support.
Solution: It sounds like the other person is behaving quite selfishly. They genuinely might not have realised they have hurt you, so in the first instance try and talk to them about how you’re feeling. If you want to continue with the friendship then start seeing them on your terms instead. Make it abundantly clear that you aren’t going to only do the things they want to do anymore. If the other person doesn’t cooperate then you might have to ask yourself whether the friendship is worth salvaging.
Scenario: You have become close to a work colleague and often go out socialising together. Secrets get divulged over drinks and this information could be used against each other to get ahead in the workplace.
Solution: Firstly it’s important to always maintain your integrity by doing the right thing. As tempting as it might be, you must never use this type of information to further your own career. If you suspect the other person is doing so then ask them outright and see what they say. If trust has been lost then it’s wise to stop drinking together, because leaving yourself so vulnerable when it comes to your professional life is too risky. If you feel you could have an out of work friendship then go for coffee or lunch instead. It will be obvious pretty quickly whether this person is a friend or just a drinking buddy that you could do without while you are going through this process.
Choose your friends wisely and you won’t have to redefine the rules
The best thing about friends and partners is that we get to pick who they are – unlike our family where we have no say in the matter. I strongly believe that the people we meet on our journey through life help to determine our fortune along the way. As long as you have good people around enhancing your happiness, your life will always be a success in its own right.
If we really are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, then you’re unlikely to get very far by spending your days with people who sit in grotty basement flats smoking weed, eating junk food and playing computer games.
If you spend your time wisely, working on becoming the best possible you, then you’ll attract good people into your world. To break the cycle it is absolutely imperative to surround yourself with the most fantastic people you can. They will help keep you on the straight and narrow when times get tough, and stand on the side-lines cheering you on when you need encouragement. Once you have established who the decent people in your life are – the true keepers – ensure that your conscience is always clear by being a great friend to them. Listen attentively, never gossip and be a good secret keeper. Do everything you can to keep hold of them because surrounding yourself with amazing people will help keep you on track. Having good influences around will also help you to recognise the bad influences that make your life harder work than it needs to be.
Have a look at the list below and see if you have some people in your life that do these things. A genuinely good friend would NEVER do any of the following things:
– Gossip behind your back and share your secrets
– Steal your boy/girlfriend, money or possessions
– Encourage you to make bad choices
– Turn their back on you during a crisis
– Stir up trouble with other friends
– Intentionally set out to cause you pain
When partners bring you more heartache than happiness, family aren’t being supportive, and ‘friends’ aren’t being very friendly, it’s advisable to put some distance between you.
How much you miss them once they aren’t around will be an indication of how long you need to stay away from them. We cannot change people, but we can change the way we interact with them in the hope that they realise the error of their ways and make necessary changes themselves. If they want a place in your life they need to earn it.
Lets assess your inner circle
We are going to carry out an exercise to pinpoint the people in your life who perhaps do not have your best interests at heart. Please ensure that you are alone, in a quiet peaceful place.
On an A4 sheet of paper write down all the people you frequently have in your life. List everybody from your parents to your partner, family members, friends and colleagues. Draw a line down the middle, write names on the left and leave the right side blank. Give yourself an inch of writing space per person.
– Now write down how each person made you feel the last three times you saw them:
Very happy, Happy, Indifferent, Sad, Miserable.
– Now write down how much you argue with these people:
Every time you see them, Often, Occasionally, Never.
– Now write down how much respect you have for them and their opinions:
Lots, A Little, None.
Faced with a result that looks like this: [insert name]: Miserable, Often, None – can you really justify keeping them in your life as is?
Now lets reassess your inner circle
I don’t know about you but over the years I have had numerous relationships with people that have made me miserable. Family, friends, lovers, bosses, work colleagues. What I’ve learnt the hard way is that we cannot control another person’s thoughts or actions. We do, however, have complete control over how we allow them to make us feel. If change needs to happen for your relationship to thrive then it’s up to you both to do things differently.
Absence can make the heart grow fonder, so you may just need a little distance from the other person. Be completely transparent from the very start and explain to them that you need time to clear your head. It could be as little as a few days or as long as a few months.
If they love you they should understand and be supportive. However, if they make your life difficult while you are going through this process, their behaviour could answer the all-important question: Are they a keeper? If the answer is yes then it’s imperative that you redefine the rules of your relationship by telling them that things cannot carry on as they are if you are to have a future together. It’s not so much a set of rules, rather clear-cut boundaries.
Here are some suggestions:
– See and speak to the other person on your terms. If they call you all the time simply stop taking their calls and phone them back when it’s convenient for you. Ditto texts, email and social media.
– If the other person is argumentative and picks a fight every time you see them tell them that you aren’t in the mood and have to leave the room. Creating distance when things get overheated will allow you both to cool down.
– Start meeting on neutral territory. This means that you aren’t always doing what the other person wants to do. It also means you can leave any time you want.
Redefine the rules by saying NO more often
Sometimes we need to push back a little in order to work out what we really want. Whether it’s in a social capacity, the workplace or within your own family, saying no is empowering. People often take advantage of those they know will say yes to everything but rarely give them the respect they deserve. Working to anyone else’s schedule but your own will make you feel miserable long-term, so start saying no. There are many ways we can politely say no, while at the same time offering the other person a solution to the dilemma.
Here are some examples:
– I’m so sorry but I can’t come out tonight, I’m absolutely shattered after a hectic week at work. How about lunch on Sunday instead?
– I’m afraid I’m unable to lend you any more money. I am flat out broke! In fact I could really use you paying back what you already owe me.
– I won’t be able to come over to your house this weekend; why don’t you come to mine instead?
A suggested plan of action to help you redefine the rules of a toxic relationship
– If after assessing your inner circle you feel that some people do not have your best interests at heart, put some distance between the two of you. Ensure you are completely honest with the other person from the start, that way you will know that your conscience is clear and you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s only through secrets and lies that things become messy.
– If after your time apart you both want to try again then great, but take things slowly. Don’t rush straight back to where you just were. Take your time and rediscover why you love this person and can’t live without them.
– If after your time apart you feel the relationship does not have a future, consider a longer-term break from them. We will talk about toxic relationships in the next chapter.
– Bullying in the workplace is completely unacceptable. If a colleague is making your life a misery then consider reporting them to Human Resources.
– You should never stay in a relationship that is damaging to your physical or emotional wellbeing. If a partner, friend or family member is abusive in any way at all they should be reported to the appropriate authorities and dealt with accordingly.