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Unhinged: Can a Bad Relationship Make You a Bad Friend?

The toll on our friendships is an under-discussed aspect of being in a toxic relationship

I lied about my ex. Stretched the truth. Withheld info.

During my relationship with a former partner, I pulled away from friends so that I wouldn’t have to open up about what was really going on—or, at the very least, I’d leave out the worst parts so that it never seemed as unhealthy as it was. 

“When things are good, it’s amazing,” I’d say, not admitting that our bad moments were nearly unbearable, sometimes too traumatic to recall. To be honest, this didn’t work anyway. They still knew we didn’t have a good relationship, except now, they felt hurt by me trying to mislead them. 

I loved him. I thought I was protecting us—protecting him from being disliked by the people closest to me. If I shared that he spent two hours yelling at me for ruining his day or called me names while I cried, my friends would never want to hang out with us again. 

It’s not uncommon for people to look to their friends for approval of their relationship. Studies show that their support—or lack of it—affects our partnerships, no matter how much we might like the person we’re dating. What may be less discussed is how our friendships can become strained when we stay in unhealthy relationships.

During times when my ex and I were technically broken up, I made up stories about where I was going and who I was hanging out with so that no one would know I was running back to him. 

I remember toeing the line with my best friend, telling her thoroughly edited stories while trying to convince her that she just didn’t know him like I did. My cortisol levels during those years were pretty high, and I began having nightmares that she was upset with me. (In real life, she and I never fight.) 

My subconscious knew. 

I recalled all of this while chatting with a friend—let’s call her Sarah—this weekend, telling her about the new man I’ve been dating. “Unhealthy relationships can lead to unhealthy friendships,” she said, gently giving me a glimpse into how she might have felt when I was with my ex. 

When friends feel the need to lie about their partner, it ultimately chips away at the trust that you have built with each other over the months or years you’ve been close. Suddenly, you’re having to remember which lie you told which person. The first lie has to tie into the second and fifth and so on… for eternity.

I don’t think I really grasped until recently that part of the healing process after a toxic relationship involves rebuilding trust with friends. It’s difficult to admit that my actions—my choice to stay with someone who wasn’t right for me—came at the expense of my friendships. I was hurt in that relationship, but so were my friends.

Now, as I navigate my new relationship, I have to take accountability and make sure I don’t make that mistake again. If I need to fabricate the truth in order for my friends to like him, then chances are this isn’t a healthy situation. (Obviously, our friends will have different dealbreakers and priorities for what they’re looking for, but I’m assuming your confidants will want what’s best for you and won’t lead you astray with their own agendas.) 

Telling Sarah about my new partner, I realized, is easy. Fun. I don’t need to lie or stretch the truth. There’s no withholding. I feel happy as I tell her about how he plans intentional date nights and calm as I discuss times we’ve had to work through difficult conversations. 

My friends who have met him like him—without me having to do damage control on his reputation. It’s freeing. And, man, does it feel good to have nothing to hide.

If you’re joining me on this dating journey, I’m hoping that my missteps will help you avoid a few of your own—especially when it comes to the people in your life who love you the most. Moving on from a bad relationship is one thing; having to rebuild trust with those who’ve been by your side for years is a whole other beast. And really, what one person is worth giving up your friends for? Hint: No one.

If you’re new to Unhinged, catch up on all the dating chats you’ve missed here and follow along at @monicles and @sandiegomag on Instagram to know when a new article drops each week.

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By Nicolle Monico

Nicolle Monico is an award-winning writer and the managing digital editor for San Diego Magazine with more than 15 years of experience in media including Outside Run, JustLuxe and The San Francisco Chronicle.

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