Dating and Relationship Advice

Dear iris,

My boyfriend and I have a very complicated relationship moving in and out of being committed and not for over a year. We agreed to be committed in December, but we’ve had many issues in the past. He sexted someone else in January but still denies that he was cheating and claims we weren’t together. He kept nudes of his ex until I deleted them and even had a photo of another ex still posted on social media and only got rid of it after I asked relentlessly. We keep saying we’ll leave the past behind us, but it keeps coming up, and I feel like it’s more on him than me. He also falsely accuses me of looking at other men and uses that as a reason not to give 100% in the relationship. I’m lost, and my emotions change all the time about him. I fear that it’s toxic, but I can’t see myself without him. The relationship can be great at times. I need help, thank you.

Signed, Tired Of Toxic

Dear Tired Of Toxic,

I’ve been in your shoes. I’ve been the woman who stayed with a toxic boyfriend, even when he did things he knew would hurt me. I’ve been the woman who thought that since there were still good times in the relationship, I should try to work things out. I’ve been the woman who thought I couldn’t live my life without him.

But now I’m the woman who realizes how happy I am that the relationship is over.

I say all of this because I get it. I really do. I know how badly you want to ignore all the signs that things are toxic. I know how badly you want your boyfriend to follow through on his promises and finally give his all to the relationship. I’m sure you have an image in your head of the relationship's potential, when you both finally leave the past behind and things become better than ever.

But I’m here to tell you that time will never come.

I'll be honest, the relationship you’re in is toxic. You explained textbook examples of manipulative behaviors and unhealthy relationship dynamics. You can hope and pray that things will change, but they usually never do. I know all too well that just telling you it's toxic is not enough to make you leave. So let’s dive into some of the examples you talked about.

Take the nudes from his exes as an example. Finding out he hasn’t deleted them isn’t ideal, but not necessarily a deal-breaker. I’d suggest to anyone in a similar situation to say to their partner, “the fact that you have these makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s not something that I want you to keep, and to me, it counts as emotional cheating.”

If your partner refuses to delete them, what they're essentially saying is, “I don’t respect you or value your opinions enough to make you feel safe in this relationship.” You created a boundary and your boyfriend refused to respect it. That should be enough for you to end the relationship.

I talk about boundary work in a lot of the writing I do. Without boundaries in a relationship, you’re going to feel unsafe, disrespected, and live with a constant, lingering sense of unhappiness. The people who struggle most with drawing boundaries are the people who don’t believe they deserve better. They don’t recognize their self-worth.

My guess is you struggle with the same. You’re willing to overlook the bad because there’s some good. But when you step back from things, you can see how poorly your boyfriend treats you sometimes. Yet you can’t stand up for yourself or your boundaries.

While my number one piece of advice is to leave the relationship, my other advice is to work on your feelings of self-worth and clarify your boundaries. Invest more time in your friends and hobbies that make you happy. Start pursuing any goals you’ve been putting off. Then ask yourself some questions to help you make sense of what boundaries you need in a relationship:

  • How do I want to feel in a relationship?
  • What actions from my boyfriend make me feel the opposite of how I want to feel?
  • What do I wish was different about our relationship?
  • What does my ideal relationship look like?

The choice is up to you whether to end things, but know that the longer you put this off, the worse it will be. You have to make choices based on how someone is acting in the present rather than hope for a different future.

Your happiness matters most in all of this, and at some point you have to start prioritizing that.

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