Lessons that my string of unhealthy relationships taught me

Just because I learned the hard way, doesn't mean you have to.

Lessons that my string of unhealthy relationships taught me

Considering I grew up on an unhealthy dose of romantic comedies, I always dreamed of ending up with the perfect man. But every time I thought I had found my Prince Charming, he turned out to be Dracula in disguise. After numerous unhealthy relationships and pity pirates, I came to a realisation I should’ve had much, much sooner—real relationships, unlike romantic relationships, are complicated and finding something real and holding on to it is tougher than portrayed in any of those movies. 

Once I came to this conclusion, I swore off dating completely. I convinced myself it was easier to be single than put myself out there and risk another heartbreak. Not only did I turn into an emotional zombie, but I also blamed those unhealthy relationships for my emotional baggage (instead of looking for ways to heal my wounds). I didn’t have a phobia of commitment or intimacy, I just didn’t know what it felt like to be in a relationship where the other person was stable, consistent, and didn’t judge me or mock me for my quirks.

Here’s the thing—these failed relationships might’ve caused immense pain but when I line them all up in my head now (several years later), it forms a blueprint of everything I don’t want in a partner. And that is valuable information. But that’s not all. There are so many Easter eggs hidden in those relationships that ultimately turned into lessons that I wish someone had told me when I was younger. 

But just because I had to learn the hard way, doesn’t mean you do, too. Below, I’ve listed a few insights I gathered from my string of unhealthy relationships. And while not all may apply to everyone (because everyone’s story and journey are their own), it doesn’t hurt to keep these in mind. 

Red flags can be spotted early on and should not be ignored   

Here is an opinion you don’t hear every day—the honeymoon phase is the time to spot the red flags. Don’t dismiss the siren-like signs you see in the first few months of your relationship. While this is the time everyone is on their best behaviour, you can spot red flags from a kilometre away. All of us, at one point or another, have gone as far as to defend them under the assumption that this behaviour will change with time, but it doesn’t work like that. It never has and it never will.  

So, if you see a glaring red flag early on, put your foot down and communicate your concerns. If it’s workable, make sure you see actionable steps from your partner’s end, else, cut the chords right there. You can have feelings for someone but don’t let those feelings blind you.

Love and lust are not the same thing   

Another lesson I learned the hard way (thanks to my poor men-picking skills) is that love and lust are two very different things. Understanding this can save you from a lot of heartache. A relationship is marked by shared respect, friendship, experiences, and trust. You accept your partner (warts and all) and can be your authentic self without fearing judgement or manipulation. And vice versa, of course. Both of you are comfortable around each other, and there are no walls. And yes, sex is a very important part of this equation but if it’s all that you’ll do and talk about doing, tread carefully.

Don’t dismiss what your loved ones are saying about your partner  

All through my college years (and even after that) I would constantly complain to my friends about how they never liked anyone I was dating. It felt like every time I would start dating someone new, they would nitpick and tell me everything that was wrong with him. But now, when I look at it in retrospect, listening to them would’ve saved me from a lot of days of ugly crying. The thing is, since your loved ones know you inside and out, there is no better judge. They have a clearer perspective and can pick up on things you can’t because you’re neck-deep in infatuation. So, the next time your best friend tells you why you shouldn’t date this person, keep an open mind and don’t get defensive.  

Listen to your gut   

After my string of green-bubbling toxic relationships, one of the most important things I’ve learned is to always trust my gut. I don’t know if it’s science or just a super power, but when something is going wrong, your gut knows what is up. And once you’ve been in that position and you know how it feels, you know you should never take that feeling lightly again. Don’t ignore your spidey senses when you feel a tingling! 

Set boundaries and prioritise yourself    

Considering I used to be a textbook people-pleaser, in the past I would always put my partner's needs before mine. I was terrified that if I didn’t, they would think I was not the girl for them and would leave me. They left anyway and that taught me the value of self-love. I started prioritising myself (even when I was in relationships) and set up strict boundaries. When you have a healthy relationship with yourself, you can shield yourself from the toxicity that might get thrown at you in a relationship. 

Relationships often turn sour when boundaries are overstepped or disregarded. And so, setting them early on and enforcing them over and over again without wavering can stop you from falling down a toxic rabbit hole.  

Lead image: Representative image // A still from 'To All The Boys I Loved Before'

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