Here’s the Thing About Shitty Relationships

by J.C. Hannigan

Here’s the thing about shitty relationships — when you’re in one, you don’t always know it, at least not right away. You can’t see it. You can’t see how damaging the relationship is to you, and you live in denial about it. You minimize the bad things because the good things, well…they’re good, and nobody’s perfect…right?

It happens slowly, so slowly that you don’t even know it’s happening until you’re left in the fallout of a particularly bad row wondering when things changed for the worst. One minute, you’re in love. The world around you seems brighter and full of hope. Then with every cruel word, every malicious act, every muttered insult, each time you’re told that you’re “too sensitive” and “overreacting” — that hope dies a little. And it keeps dying until there is no hope left, until you feel hopeless and lost and a shell of the person you were before.

It turns you ugly too. Losing that hope, losing who you were before — you become riddled with resentment and bitterness. You catch yourself acting in a manner in which you’d never dream of acting before, and you pause and think; this isn’t me. This isn’t who I am. I am not this jaded, hurtful person that lashes out at other people just because I don’t want to suffer alone.

If you confide in other people, they’ll tell you it’s not you but you can’t help but wonder…is it me? Did I do something to evoke this?

After all — you’ve said and done despicable things too. You’ve used words to maim and hurt, in some backwards attempt to show the other person how much it hurts you. It’s almost second nature now — lash out and hurt before you’re hurt. Somehow, it doesn’t work though. Even if you get in the first verbal punches, you still hurt.

Sometimes, you flirt with the idea of leaving. But leaving isn’t so simple. You want to salvage what you once had, because once upon a time it was beautiful and you still feel that way — you’re still in love with that person, for who they were back then and for who they are in those moments when everything isn’t ugly — and it’s not always ugly. Far from it, actually. When it is ugly, it damages your heart and soul beyond repair. But by leaving, by ending it…you’re afraid that you’ll lose your chance at forever. So you stay, praying that things get better but unsure how you can make it better. Most of all, you stay because the want is still there — the want to make it better, the want to change.

It’s a cycle, and I don’t know what the right answer is. I don’t know if love can continue blooming in a garden full of weeds, tended to by hurt, spiteful people who are stubborn and broken and imperfect. I don’t know if love can prevail, if old wounds can heal and if people can change the course of their actions to not harm again.


J.C. Hannigan lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, their two sons, and their dog. She writes contemporary romance, through which she brings to light awareness of mental health and social challenges. Like any good Canadian, she loves hiking and carbs. Collide is her first novel.
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5 thoughts on “Here’s the Thing About Shitty Relationships”

  1. This is great, and so right. I remember talking to a friend about what it’s like when you are finally in a healthy relationship – it’s only then that you realise how crap and destructive all the shitty ones were!

    One good thing, though, is that if you’re a writer you have plenty of material :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. omg how true is that! You never think about it but it does turn you ugly too. But let me tell you from experience, it can change and it starts with you. It is as simple and as hard as deciding to stop the patterned response. It doesn’t always work to change the whole dynamic but you do feel better about yourself for not falling into the trap of responding in a way that perpetuates the ugly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this piece. I work as a DV Survivor advocate, and this piece just so perfectly captured why people stay in shitty (abusive) relationships.
    Re: despicable actions by the survivor, one of the things we say over and over is that in shitty situations no one can be expected to behave optimally at all points in time. All survivors have done actions they regret it if which they are ashamed. Surviving is hard work, and sometimes sacrifices have to be made.

    Liked by 1 person

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