Before I married, I was a confident and carefree woman. I was working for a large newspaper as a circulation manager with employees under me. I was moving my way up in the company, that appreciated the work that I was doing. And although I had some normal female insecurities, I wasn’t really worried about what people thought of me, what I looked like, or what I was doing. I knew I had worth to the people in my life and easily ignored those who didn’t accept me.
Then toxic relationships change you!
After my divorce, I realized just how much I had changed in those years as a stay-at-home mom and wife. Especially after the first affair, my focus became more about pleasing him and trying to “keep him” than anything else in the world. This especially included caring for myself. As I shared before that’s why my physical health slowly started to decline.
We often don’t realize a relationship is toxic until we separate or leave the relationship. Many describe the relationship with a psychological abuser like putting a frog in tepid water and slowing turning up the heat until he dies. The frog doesn’t jump out because he doesn’t perceive the danger that he’s currently in until it’s too late.
This is why most women stay in toxic relationships. They don’t actually see the boiling pot that they’re sitting in until they’ve lost themselves and changed in order to keep the relationship.
5 Ways Women in Toxic Relationships Change Over Time
1.) Your world revolves around the toxic person.
Your focus is on keeping things peaceful and keeping the toxic person happy. If he’s unhappy, you know that means the house is less peaceful and you might be retaliated against. Anyone else’s happiness comes after that fact.
When I was growing up, I was told that because my mother was financially “supporting me” that my job was to take care of everything else. Even before that, because of my mother’s bipolar disorder, I became more of a parent to her, than she was to me. That’s when my “caregiver” and “peacekeeper” roles were established.
I carried those same roles into a toxic marriage. And slowly over the years, the temperature was turned up with the expectation that my only purpose in life was to take care of my husband and make sure he was happy – both physically and emotionally.
2.) You develop a lower self-esteem and no self-worth.
You’re dependent on the abuser to tell you that you have worth, that you’re doing things right, that you’re attractive, or that you mean something… in his world. His opinion of you at any given moment is your worth. If he’s not happy, then you’re not good enough, pretty enough, and you must be doing something wrong.
When he seeks sex outside of the marriage or he uses you just for sexual gratification, you slowly realize that you have no value beyond a being a toy for him to play with (a piece of meat) and believe that you’re not good enough. Why else would he need to stray?
At this point, many women tell me that they’ve begged their husband to come back. That she’ll do anything to get him back and keep him happy. Their worth has become 100% tied to being his wife and doing as he pleases.
3.) You take the blame and responsibility for keeping the relationship together.
The toxic person will say, “If you hadn’t done that, then I wouldn’t have done this.” This is how he projects the blame of his actions onto you. He got angry and showed his rage, because you cried or because you forgot something, bounced one check by accident, or said no to his sexual advances. He thinks he is justified in his inappropriate and unkind responses and you end up apologizing.
I know there were times when I was very upset at how hurtful and degrading I was treated. The apologies included a “but you…” and I just closed up even more inside. Then when I didn’t appreciate the roses he brought home in the correct way, he stopped bringing them. I was trying so hard to be the perfect person he wanted me to be so that he would treat me kindly and stop retaliating for every perceived slight.
You walk on eggshells and start to feel like you have control over the good and the bad of the relationship, always trying to keep it good. Trying to keep from rocking the boat. Prove to him that your motives are pure. But slowly you realize he holds the power and control of the relationship. Your feelings and needs mean nothing.
4.) You don’t feel entitled to assert healthy boundaries.
While mentoring still married women, I often hear… “Well, I can’t say that to him because it will set him off.” Read that again. You can’t say anything truthful to him because he can’t control his own words or actions after hearing the truth?? That’s the slow process of breaking down your boundaries to the point that you don’t have any. While you live in fear of what he might do or say if you tell him what you will and won’t put up with (in your own life).
Even in Christian marriages, even with the one-flesh union, there need to be boundaries. Boundaries are healthy ways we get your needs met, live in peace with others, and you’re able to give more of yourself because there is freedom to do so. A toxic abuser feels that you belong to him, he provides for you, and so you owe him. A narcissist always wants more than he gives and is never satisfied with what he has… so you’re always giving and he’s always taking.
5.) You don’t feel deserving of care.
This is something I plan to talk more about in an upcoming blog post, but after years and years of being the caretaker of everyone else, you find it hard to accept care. You don’t feel that you deserve it. Everything and everyone else, especially a husband and children, seem more in need of care so we put ourselves on the backburner and accept when others do so too.
You were devalued so much that you can’t even accept God’s loving-kindness towards you. You’ve lost your worth and feel guilty when you need to care for yourself. (We’ll come back to this in a couple weeks.)
You may also become jaded after divorcing a toxic person and find it hard to trust people. This, as well as all the other points, are ways we change because of the toxic relationship. But thankfully, when we get away from these toxic people, we can learn to become emotionally healthy and put that all behind us.
Are there other ways that you’ve changed because of your toxic relationships? How are you getting emotionally healthy today?
May God bless your healing journey,