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Is it Better to Divorce than Stay Unhappily Married? An Interview with Sloan Sheridan-Williams

Unfortunately the new year is known to be a peak time for divorces - the Christmas holidays are over and people look ahead to what they want to achieve over the upcoming 12 months. But what about those who are unhappy but decide to remain in so-called 'toxic relationships'? We asked celebrity life coach Sloan Sheridan-Williams - who in the past has been interviewed by everyone from Fox News and The Daily Telegraph to The Daily Mirror and OK! Magazine - to tell us more about toxic relationships and their significant impact on those affected.

How would you define a 'toxic relationship'?

A toxic relationship can take many forms - not all of them are visibly unhealthy on the surface. What makes a relationship toxic is the unhealthy interaction between two people which denies one or both of them of happiness, security, growth and the basic rights of an individual. 

Anyone who is made to feel less than by their partner could be in a toxic relationship, as could a couple who only function by lurching from one emotionally charged drama to another. However partners who consistently enable their loved ones by overcompensating and over-protecting them out of a sense of misplaced love or concern are just as toxic as the more tangible domestic violent partner. This is often seen in relationships where one partner is an addict.

Therefore a good definition would be a relationship where one partner’s actions and behaviours negatively impact their loved one, supporting unhelpful limiting behaviours or creating an unhealthy emotionally or physically damaging environment.

What are some of the signs that someone might be in a toxic relationship?

Obvious signs would be any form of physical or mental abuse. Less obvious signs would be if they choose the clothes you wear or make you feel guilty for seeing friends without them being present. One partner might take the role of caretaker, martyr, victim or self-appointed hero in the relationship rather than developing an environment where both partners are respected equals.

If your partner makes you feel bad or belittles you, this is another sign of toxicity. Another less obvious sign is if you find yourself joining your partner in risky or dangerous behaviour to avoid an argument, or avoid being labelled as boring. Enablers can be a bit trickier to spot, so look out for signs such as:

  • Avoiding conflict at all costs

  • Denying that there is an obvious problem or minimising how bad things are

  • Forcing their opinion or expectations on to you or displaying other controlling behaviour with strict limiting expectations

  • Assuming your responsibilities and not allowing you to take ownership

  • Protecting you from a perceived risk of pain that isn’t really there

  • Treating you like a child or expecting you to be submissive and not voice your opinions

  • Telling you what you did and did not experience contrary to your experience - also known as gas lighting

What are the negative psychological effects of remaining in a toxic relationship?

The biggest negative psychological effect is low self-esteem and low self-worth. You may also start to believe the warped view of the toxic partner and allow these negative opinions of yourself to become a self-fulfilling prophecy and affect your self-belief. 

Self-doubt and paranoia are also possible depending on the form of abuse or toxicity. Anxiety and depression are also likely, as is an increased risk of suicidal thoughts or actual attempts to take one’s life. These psychological effects can last long after the relationship has ended, impacting on future relationships and the person’s ability to form healthy attachments.

In what other ways might those in the relationship be affected?

A fear of abandonment may develop from being in a toxic relationship. This emotional trigger is one of the greatest fears in the mind of someone who feels they must be in a relationship to feel fulfilled and they will stay with even the most unsuitable partner to avoid feeling rejected.

Denial is also a powerful factor in unhealthy relationships, as the person lives within denial of the truth about the relationship, the truth about what their partner is really like and the truth about themselves. Living in denial perpetuates the unhealthy patterns of behaviour and continues the cycle of emotional dysfunction.

How could a relationship like this affect others? 

Toxic relationships tend to cause concern in friends and loved ones who can see the damage being done much clearer because they are removed from the situation and have a sense of detachment. 

Children can be affected in a number of ways, from increased levels of anxiety to manifestation of phobias and shyness or social anxiety.

In terms of nurturing, children may be conditioned into believing that toxic relationships are acceptable and go on to repeat these unhealthy attachments in their own relationships as they move into adulthood.

Do you have any advice for people who are in a toxic relationship and don't know what to do?

  1. Learn to be less dependent on others for your happiness and look at ways you can make yourself happy without external validation.
  2. Don’t allow the unacceptable to become acceptable by having strong personal boundaries and demand the same respect from others that they expect from you.
  3. Take personal responsibility by being accountable and authentic in your behaviour. Don’t allow others to make you feel responsible for something that you are not accountable for.
  4. Blame is not helpful. Let go of beating yourself up or blaming others and remember that unhappiness is a signal that you need to change either your circumstances or your belief system or both.
  5. Practice the law of attraction and emulate the behaviour of those in relationships that work to attract positive relationships into your life.
  6. Focus on constantly moving forward towards a future rather than being held back by the meaning you have attached to the past. Everyone deserves to be in a happy, healthy relationship, regardless of what has happened.
  7. Find purpose in your life by focusing on what you can do to contribute to others and increase your self-worth.
  8. Use setbacks as lessons to learn from and make positive changes from the insight and knowledge you acquire

Do you have any advice for people post-divorce? How can they help to make the process as smooth/amicable as possible?

It is important to avoid blame or label the other person negatively as a liar, a cheat or a bad person. This is especially important if children are involved as they will take their cue from how you behave towards the other parent. 

Also move away from negative behaviours such as ruminating on the past, bitching about your ex with your girlfriends or obsessing about what they’re doing without you. Instead move towards positive behaviours focused on moving forward with your life, be it taking up a hobby, learning a new skill, becoming healthier and fitter, or anything that supports personal growth and healthy connections to others. 

It helps to always focus on the positive to pull you towards the future, so if you find yourself thinking negative thoughts, flush these out of your mind by either changing your psychology by thinking about things that make you ecstatically happy, or by changing your physiology by doing something energetic like dancing around the room to your favourite music or going for a brisk walk in the fresh air.

It may also help to shift your focus away from loss post-divorce by concentrating on giving. Being generous with your time is more fulfilling than just donating money to worthwhile causes, although this has its place. Contribution is one of the six human needs and by satisfying this you will feel better about yourself and gain a healthy sense of significance.

Categories: Divorce & Family Law
Tags: Divorce

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