by Hira Uddin
As a mental health professional, I provide therapeutic services and skills to many patients who struggle in the context of familial, professional, academic, and individual life choices.
By far, the most common and most requested topic of discussion with teens and adults whom I counsel is the subject of romantic relationships and how to effectively practice healthy interactions with others. While an in-depth analysis of each individual’s experience is beneficial in assessing whether or not someone is engaging in a healthy vs. unhealthy relationship, the following list comprised of road signs is an effective means in getting across that message in a more concise manner.
Most therapists and counselors will tell you that the use of creativity is often required to get a message across and using this list of simple, yet insightful, road signs is the perfect way to translate effective relationship advice to anyone – without them resisting the advice. So next time you’re on the road, see if these seven common road signs can help you to dodge your next toxic relationship and avoid heartbreak.
1. Do Not Enter
Attention all hopefuls trying to kindle a connection with someone who is freshly out of a long-term relationship. This territory is especially sensitive and it’s going to take them some time to adjust to a new reality full of uncertainties and questions.
Ending a long-term relationship can be draining not only because of losing the presence of another person, but also because it often requires an individual to redefine her/his self-worth, priorities, and goals on an individual level apart from being an “us” or “we.” So how can you show them that although it’s difficult, they just made the best decision of their life?
Start off by allowing them to be comfortable with being an “I” and “me.” Your role at this moment is to respect personal space and be mindful of setting boundaries – this gesture will not go unnoticed and it will let the person who you’re interested in know that you recognize their vulnerability. More importantly, it serves as a healthy starting point not only for the other person but for you as well.
2. No U-Turn
If you are currently trying to recycle a toxic relationship, this sign goes out to you. This advice is particularly near and dear to my heart for personal reasons and because I find many patients trapped in the cycle of abuse – whether that is verbal, physical, or psychological.
Especially in South Asian cultures, society tends to excuse unacceptable abusive behavior towards women. All forms of abusive relationships are dangerous and a cause for serious concern. Psychological abuse tends to be ignored because it does not leave physical wounds, yet this type of verbal and emotional bashing can result in the most debilitating of consequences for the abused.
Although it is difficult, I urge anyone caught in a toxic relationship to have more respect for herself/himself and recognize that you deserve a relationship in which you feel valued and loved. Stop making that U-Turn for that person who constantly leaves you with an achy-breaky heart and only recognizes your worth when you refuse to put up with their inexcusable behavior.
3. Do Not Pass
Let this sign serve as a wake-up call to reconsider the “nice guy/girl” you just friend-zoned.
For those who are hopelessly drawn to the people who will abandon them in a heartbeat, let this sign remind you to invest some time in the nice guy or shy girl who would count your heartbeats and treasure your presence.
Many people, both in my line of work and beyond, have shared the qualities and features their ideal significant other would possess. This is usually a laundry list of highly unrealistic expectations like “my future wife will be a hybrid of Ashwariya Rai and Giselle Bundschen” or “my future husband will have the face of Hrithik Roshan and the accent of David Beckham.”
As they describe their perfect (non-existent) love, there is usually someone in their life who has 90 percent of the meaningful qualities they are looking for; however, they only consider this person as a friend. Instead, they tend to make accommodations for the obnoxious others who may only be 10 percent compatible with them based on physical appearance alone.
The “Do Not Pass” sign is especially poignant for those individuals who are in search of the perfect person but too oblivious to the kind and awesome people they always friend-zone.
4. Dead End
It’s all in the name. This sign applies to those relationships where neither party wants to make sacrifices for the other, or for the sake of growing as a couple.
You may have reached a dead end in your relationship if both parties find themselves constantly arguing, unable to enjoy one another’s company, and making more accommodations for one’s ego than one’s partner. We might have seen couples who appear to be going through the motions of having a relationship, but is devoid of compassion or concern for the other person. Culture often plays a substantial role in allowing an unhappy marriage to exist as opposed to setting up a check-and-balance system to ensure that both individuals are benefitting from the relationship.
If there is an absence of healthy communication and mutual respect for one another, then a relationship will most likely suffer from experiencing a “dead end.”
5. Danger – No Trespassing
This sign applies to those friends who just cannot stay away from people in committed relationships. There are plenty of (available) people to choose from, so why trespass on someone else’s relationship?
Trespass, in this case, includes being physically flirtatious or sending suggestive Facebook messages. The constantly growing outlets of social media continue to play an ever-increasing role in connecting people who otherwise may not organically meet. This can be a great advantage if used for amicable connections, but it can also be a source of romanticizing the “what if’s” and “what could be’s;” essentially leading people away from the mundane into a life they convince themselves would be better.
However, in talking with individuals who have taken this route, many of these behind-the-scenes relationships are a direct cause for emotional, familial, and physical stress for the people involved. That is why it is in your best interest to reevaluate your options.
6. HOV 2+ Only
This sign is trying to tell you that the person you’re interested in is already juggling multiple relationships. So don’t be surprised if their grandmother falls ill every other day or there’s an unexplained amount of “family emergencies” they need to cancel plans for – constantly.
Most of us have known people who are intertwined in romantic relationships with more than one person at a time and are often left thinking “I can’t even find one person, while this girl/guy has two!” While you cannot control the choices of your friends, you can be proactive in avoiding a situation where you are unknowingly sharing your relationship with multiple people.
Help avoid heartbreak by practicing effective communication skills and don’t be afraid to ask questions when your instincts are signaling red flags. Often people are too scared of being alone and to compensate, they ignore many obvious signs of infidelity or betrayal.
People who are accustomed to being romantically involved with more than one person at a time capitalize on that feeling of vulnerability, unless you refuse to be taken advantage of (Sorry! I’m not sorry for exposing people that play with people’s emotions).
7. Wrong Way
Revisiting the concept of friend zones, this sign is a warning for everyone who misinterprets a friendship for a relationship. There’s nothing more embarrassing than planning your future wedding to a person who “likes” you the same way they like their goofy little sister or considering a life with a girl who refers to you as “a big brother.”
Chances are you’re heading the wrong way if you think your crush is contagious – just because you have feelings for them, does not mean they’ve caught the feels for you. While this can be tough to acknowledge, it’s better to realize it sooner rather than later because imposing your feelings on another person may be damaging to a valuable friendship.
In order to avoid sending romantic signals the wrong way, be in tune to how the other person refers to you in conversation (i.e. “he’s like my big brother”) and how they carry themselves around you (i.e. friendly vs. flirtatious). Granted, this territory can be confusing and at times misleading, but once you are more conscious of these feelings, you will be in a better position to judge whether your feelings are headed the wrong way.
The next time you’re on the road, I hope these literal signs will serve as figurative reminders to invest yourself in healthy and meaningful relationships that take your happiness and well-being into consideration. If there is a takeaway message from this practical list, it is to understand that love is not meant to hurt, nor is it meant to harm.
As a community, South Asians tend to shy away at times from the topic of discussing romantic relationships for fear of shame; therefore, when emotional, verbal, or physical mistreatment is gradually introduced by an abuser, the abused convinces oneself that she/he has no choice but to accept that pain. On the contrary, romantic relationships have the potential to serve as a source of great joy if there are mutual compassion and respect for both individuals involved.
Here’s to wishing all the experience of a kind and nurturing, passionate yet gentle love.