The Happily Ever After Trap

October 6, 2023

Most of us grew up with the stories of fairy tale love. The prince charming’s, coming into our lives, sweeping us off our feet. The damsel in distress that needs to be saved. You fed into this fantasy of happily ever after, as if once you find the one and fall in love, the rest is smooth sailing.

You bought into this false sense of reality, and because of that, you kept finding yourself in relationships where you felt like you were not enough or, in fact, the problem. You may have started to feel as though no one could ever love you like you needed; you were, in fact, unlovable. You may have fallen into a depression, a constant state of anxiety, and struggled to trust anyone, especially yourself. You wondered why everyone else got to experience joy and happiness while you worked yourself into exhaustion, striving to become this epitome of perfection. 

In this blog, we will talk about toxicities that can arise within intimate relationships that have the desire of a future, life partnership. However, be mindful of all your relationships within all aspects of your life and that they all should be put through the filter of safety, health, and wellbeing. Today, we will go into what these types of toxic relations look like, that this jeopardizing type of love we grew up believing is a facade and inspire those to gain courage to question the actions and behaviors of those causing us harm to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing rather than being a part of our growth.

This Isn't Fairytale; It's Reality

Many mental health professionals will agree that the hardest relationship you will experience will be those that are viewed as a committed, intimate relationship with life partnership in mind. When you decide to commit to someone, you continue growing love for this person and within each other; this
is where the real work begins. A strong, sustaining, and safe relationship is one where all parties involved work together to maintain and strengthen the bond that they share. This occurs through experiences and support, together and individually, which forms respect. No healthy relationship is
sustainable without mutual respect. The Gottman Institute broke down six categories to consider when evaluating relationships to help gauge areas we excel in as well as areas we need help and support in: accountability, safety, honesty, support, cooperation, and trust.

If real, intimate love was this fantasy of a "happily ever after," then why would self-help books on relationships, with specialized subsections of mental health for couples, be a multi-million-dollar industry? This perspective of love is a false sense of security and understanding that many of us are shaped into believing, are often times perpetuated when in a toxic relationship. It leaves many victims feeling like they are the problem. Unfortunately, this kind of early, distorted belief of feeling like the problem, cascades into them fixating on the fact that they, in turn, have to fix everything going wrong. This is how the toxicity of "happily ever after" keeps us bound to the very person causing us harm. Jeopardizing the six areas mentioned above on what forms respect.

We are Not the Problem

There are several toxic traits and tactics abusers can use to cause victims to question their abuser's next moves and motives. Though there are several ways to be affected by toxicity, here, we will discuss the two most common; gaslighting and projecting. These two tactics are used to manipulate, control, confuse, and/or jeopardize their victim's mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health and wellbeing. With these two tactics, the blame is switched from the toxic person to their victim. They are incapable of admitting that they are wrong or part of the problem. They refuse to see the relationship as a team effort of partnership, where ironing out the setbacks and struggles are meant to grow you, not stunt, and shame you. Instead, they turn the spotlight on their victims and make sure they're aware of all their shortcomings. This leaves victims feeling as though they deserve abuse because they start believing they truly are the cause of the downward spiral within the relationship. Victims try doing more or better, and nothing ever seems to lessen the feelings of not doing or being enough. The toxic partner will always try having the upper hand by pointing out imperfections that inflict guilt, shame, and worthlessness. On the flip-side, a healthy person will help and inspire the one they love to change things that don’t serve them or their growing partnership.

Gaslighting is a term used to mean “questioning ones reality.” Merriam-Webster quotes it as, "To psychologically manipulate, usually, over an extended period of time so that the victim questions the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and experiences of confusion and self-esteem, and doubts concerning their own emotional or mental stability." Again, this is something that happens over time, gaining momentum and platform. This is used by getting victims, by their perpetrator, to believe what they thought they said or did, along with what they thought their abuser
said or did, is mixed up, confused, or simply absolutely wrong. They use the fact that we all, at some point, in any time frame, mis-remember, mishear, or misunderstand things. They calculate and store them in their memories in order to trick their victims and get out of the blame. In turn, being misled,
with ill intentions and using the victim's mixed-up and confused thoughts, feelings, or actions, the victim may start to feel like they're going crazy and that they are obviously the problem. They stop believing in themselves, their abilities to discern themselves, as well as those around them. Experiencing gaslighting in situations and environments in which we should feel respected and shown avenues of prosperity, tend to rather leave victims with the mindset of respect is earned, not the bare minimum we deserve.

Projection is another means of toxicity that exacerbates this ideal of a "happily ever after." Projection is when a victim, unconscious through manipulation and control from their perpetrator, takes unwanted emotions, beliefs, actions, or traits they DO NOT like, yet attribute them to themselves or others because the perpetrator decided and convinced the victim to do so. Consequently, this can leave them to feel unlovable, to accept disrespectful and hateful behaviors from others, as well as walking on eggshells and/or people pleasing. The longer they stay in the relationship, the more these feelings and ideas becomes a part of what they believe about themselves. This often times leads to them withdrawing from the people that truly care about them, feeling caught between a rock and hard place. Choosing to stay with the toxic person and protect everyone from yourself and the relationship isn't safe, and it isn't healthy.

Removing Toxicity

If you find yourself resonating with what is being said in this blog, and question if there's an outlet, you are not alone. People find themselves in toxic relationships and feel stupid for falling for it, but these types of people are experts in manipulation. It is not your fault. That is the first place to start in removing the toxicity. From there, educate yourself on their tactics, distance yourself from them, seek therapy if it is available to you, and take your power back by setting boundaries and being compassionate with yourself. You don’t have to accept the abuse, you don’t have to fix the relationship, and you don’t have to be perfect. Toxic people pick individuals that are strong, caring, compassionate, and forgiving, this is not your weakness this is your strength. We need to learn to discern who is safe and who is toxic. During this journey of discovery and healing, remember to continue to give yourself grace and remind yourself that you are worth fighting for.