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Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
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When you quit that relationship you increase your chances of meeting someone with whom you will have a happy and healthy relationship, writes Christine Allen.

“MAMA DIDN’T RAISE no quitter,” says Baz Ashmawy, as part of a radio promo for the second series of his show ’50 ways to kill your Mammy.’

While said in jest, it’s an example of how we view the act of quitting – as a sign of weakness or failure on ones part.

There are exceptions however. Government funded health campaigns encourage viewers to quit smoking on a nightly basis, while we are forever being urged by RTÉ’s Operation Transformation former GP, Dr Eva Orsmond, to cut back on our portion sizes.

Yet there is something as equally detrimental to our health that many of us struggle to quit, despite encouragement and affirmation from both friends and family.


Yes, chances are, a good chunk of those reading this piece have experienced, or are currently in the midst of, an addictive toxic relationship – whether it be platonic or romantic.

If you make up the support network of someone who is currently in such a predicament, you are undoubtedly frustrated with your friend or loved ones decision to stay in contact with the individual who causes them such distress.

I speak from experience

For almost a year I lent a sympathetic ear to a male friend who, at each of our Starbucks catch ups, would complain about his boyfriend’s controlling and manipulative behaviour.

As good friends do, I offered a litany of reasons as to why he should break up with him, bore the brunt of the occasional mood swing and re – assured him that he had done the right thing in walking away whenever he found the strength to.

And guess what?
Nothing changed.

“When things are good though, they’re amazing,” he would reason, as I rummaged in my bag for two paracetamol following another short – lived separation.

That was until, somebody did call it quits. As almost a farewell kick in the teeth, it was his ex who called it off.

And ironically, despite the constant and unfounded accusations of unfaithfulness which had plagued their relationship, it was his ex who left him for someone else.

To make matters worse, the other day he informed me that he had reached out to the ex in question via Facebook, suggesting that they remain friends.

shutterstock_176941343 Shutterstock / JaysonPhotography Shutterstock / JaysonPhotography / JaysonPhotography

His ex agreed, and so the cycle of toxicity continues.

Now while I’ll admit that I initially assumed my friend to be a glutton for punishment, having since been unfortunate enough to get caught up in the vicious cycle that is a toxic friendship (being undermined, lied to, on the receiving end of jealousy – you get the drift), I am aware of just how difficult it is to walk away from a person or a situation that is making you unhappy.

After all, in many instances, you deduce that the happy aspects of the relationship far outweigh the negative. You make excuses for the other person. You find yourself caught up in lengthy arguments via Messenger which are suddenly resolved without the other party acknowledging their wrongdoing. Essentially, you let negative behaviour slide and allow your mind to be thoroughly wrecked.

However, if stories that have been relayed to me by friends are anything to go by, myself and my guy pal are far from the only people to have found themselves stuck in a negative relationship with another person.

In fact, abusive and unhealthy relationships are now all too common. Disturbingly, Europe – wide research has found that girls from age 15 onwards have reported experiencing violence in their own relationships.

Five indicators

So, what is an addictive toxic relationship, and why do we struggle to quit them?

Detailed in Psychology Today, there are five indicators that you are in a toxic relationship – (any one of which, in my view, are reason enough to remove yourself from said situation.)

  1. You are constantly put down or undermined
  2. Everything is about them and never about you
  3. They attempt to control your behaviour
  4. You’re uncomfortable being yourself around said person
  5. You’re not allowed to grow and change

According to Howard Halpern, psychotherapist and author of ‘How To Break Your Addiction To A Person’, the continuation of such relationships is down to “attachment hunger.”

In his book, he lists three identifiable symptoms of an addictive relationship.

The compulsive quality – you’re driven to merge with a specific person, even when you know it’s not healthy.

You panic at the thought of losing them as your identity, self–worth and survival depend on them, low-self esteem here is a major factor.

When the relationship finishes, you experience withdrawal symptoms. These include depression, intense physical pain, particularly in the chest and stomach.

In fact, Halpern writes “A person who has just ended an addictive relationship may suffer greater agony” than a heroin addict who has just gone cold turkey.

shutterstock_164886194 Shutterstock / lightwavemedia Shutterstock / lightwavemedia / lightwavemedia

Initially coined in the context of economics, the ‘Sunk Cost Fallacy’ has been stipulated by many to be one of the main reasons (aside from the very physical withdrawal) that we avoid quitting an unhealthy relationship.

The SCF theory stems from people’s natural tendency towards loss aversion. It is often the case in relationships that people will look at their history and conclude that too much time, effort, and energy has been invested in a relationship to end it.

Yet we tend to forget that time does not equal value.

‘Winners quit all the time’

Other reasons for not ending an addictive toxic relationship can include embarrassment at the failure of the relationship, fear of loneliness and fear of the other person’s reaction (threats – either towards themselves or others.)

“Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.” The Dip, Seth Godwin.

While there is no avoiding the inevitable grief that accompanies the resulting loss of a quit, knowing when to quit can have big physiological and psychological benefits, as psychology professor Carsten Wrosch noted when interviewed as part of Freakonomics co–author Stephen Dubner’s bi-weekly podcast, the ‘Upsides of Quitting,’

“People who are better able to let go when they experience unattainable goals suffer less depressive symptoms, have lower Cortisol levels and experience lower levels of systemic inflammation – a marker of immune functioning.”

In other words, they develop fewer physical health problems over time.

Looking at another positive side – effect of a quit, detailed in a This American Life podcast , dated 29th December 1995, Evan Harris, author of ‘The Art of Quitting: When Enough is Enough’, discusses both the physical feeling of euphoria upon quitting and the practical gains upon making that decision to quit.

“There is an incredible charge to quitting that is like a drug. It’s being in love with your decision,” claims Harris.

In the context of an addictive toxic relationship, I’m reminded of the ‘I’m done!’ declaration, made famous by Audrina in MTV’s reality TV show The Hills – (when it came to Justin Bobby, sadly she was never ‘done.’)

“The more things you quit,” Harris continues, “the more things you’re going to do and the more things you do, the more potential you have for success.”

And so ultimately, when it comes to an unhealthy relationship, the only solution is to walk away. To stop second guessing, to stop hoping that the other person will change and to ride out the inevitable pain that will unavoidably stem from the cessation of the relationship.

As Harris points out, by making that quit, and freeing yourself from such a negative situation, you are opening your world up to other possibilities, thereby increasing your chances of meeting someone with whom you will have a happy and healthy relationship.

Christine Allen is 27 and has just completed a three-year IT course at DCU. Her writing has been published by Gay Community News and DIVA magazine.  You can follow her on Twitter here

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