When women and men are in toxic relationships, they usually behave very differently. Women tend to vent more to their friends and express themselves more often. Barring abuse where a woman is afraid, she tends to be vocal.
Our society being what it is, we have nurtured women to be able to cry but, we have squashed their freedom to be angry. Meanwhile, men have had the opposite. They’ve been taught that anger is noble, and that crying is weakness. While I could go on about the numerous problems with all of this when it filters down to the toxic relationship, this means that men are more isolated; after all, they can’t easily vent if they’ve been taught sadness and tears are weak.
Men tend to internalize their sadness, frustrations and even try to hold their anger inside. When I see men in therapy, they tend to focus on the stereotypical “fix the relationship” mode, but without expressing many feelings or being able to even access what they are feeling with clarity.
This stress in turn, can cause lack of sleep, lowered immune system, loss of ability to focus, and a stubborn loyalty that has worn out it’s welcome.
Men can leave a relationship, but they tend to go in two directions. One is that they leave so slowly that they are almost codependent, still very much there for their partner and still taking the toxic fumes of the relationship. The other is that they betray or cuttingly leave, so that dramatic responses are the next wave of toxic behaviors.
The best way to leave a toxic relationship is with a respectful exit; not because you respect your partner – because you might not at this juncture – but because you respect yourself, and you are minimizing the damages. Expect backlash but keep your eye on the prize, which is freedom.
When a man is in a toxic relationship, he feels alone and weaker. I’ve seen this over and over, where he simply feels that he is a fraud, or a scapegoat that no one would want, including his boss, clients, friends or family. He is replaying the “I told you so” mantras that he doesn’t want to deal with, and he is going through his own mourning of the relationship.
Globally, men get the raw end of this; society observes women as victims. I’ve heard men who have been treated horribly, verbally abused, used and manipulated by a women say to me “Well, she had it hard, she had a tough life….” but if a man were to be verbally abusive, use and manipulate a women, would “oh poor him” be a proper response? Men themselves create a double standard, and that needs to stop.
I think as individuals and even as role models, men need to trust that they are of value, regardless of their sexuality, that they deserve the best woman(or man) who will not be toxic toward them or trigger them to be toxic; that men should seek out therapeutic support as they are the most isolated, and should glean strategies to help themselves avoid toxic relationships and prevent heartbreak and stress.
There are so many resources dedicated specifically for women, and not much out there for me. Inherently, men are feeling, perhaps only subconsciously, that they are not valued. As I observe the self-expression in my practice from men, they feel undervalued, ignored, like an emotional punching bag, manipulated and played for a fool; when their crime might have been simply loving and trusting their partner. This can make them reserved and surrounded by protective walls.
What happens then? The more one is in a protective mode, the less the can feel human connection; they only will go for obvious “looks and laughter” from a partner then, and can easily fall into the pattern of more and more disconnected relationships which just look like “no good partners out there” mentality. They start to give up, set the bar low, and create a pattern of toxicity, when all they need is to be self-valued and guided toward compassionate love.
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