Episode 133: "Why does my friend keep going back to their toxic ex?"Support the show
On today’s episode, we’re answering a question from local teens about friends going back to abusive or toxic ex-partners.
This is Jessica Skultety, Outreach and Prevention Manager at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic and sexual violence response organization, providing services at no charge to survivors for over 40 years.
Today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, Why does my friend keep going back to their toxic ex?”
It can be hard to watch your friend go back and forth between being with their ex, especially if the relationship is toxic or abusive. The reality is that it takes adults an average of 7 times to leave an abusive relationship. While we don’t have research on teens, we can assume that it also often takes many attempts to leave. That’s what we’re going to look at today on the podcast.
About the word toxic: we know a lot of teens and younger folks like using that word, but keep in mind that a lot of toxic behaviors are abusive. So we want people to take toxic relationships just as seriously as they would abuse.
So, why do people go back to their toxic or abusive exes? This is going to be different for every person. Remember that although your friend doesn’t owe you an explanation, you have a right to be concerned for their safety and wellbeing. Here are just a few common reasons people go back.
1. They go back because they love the person, plain and simple, even if that person has been making them feel unsafe.
2. Financial need. Some teens report that they enter relationships with others because they need or want money. This takes another turn in abusive relationships between adults. A lot of times, people will stay in abusive relationships because they live with their partner and possibly children, and they depend on that other person’s income.
3. They have a history with the person, and once they leave, they realize they don’t want to see that go away.
4. They’ve been threatened or blackmailed by their ex. This is something we hear a lot about from teens in our community
5. Your friend thinks that if they go back, any abusive, toxic or stalking behaviors their partner does will go away. Unfortunately, that usually isn’t the case – abusive behaviors tend to get worse. It’s not your friend’s fault, though.
6. They want to try to heal their ex and make them a better person.
If you’re the friend watching this happen over and over again, here are some things you can do. Keep checking in with your friend. Notice any behaviors that change, between either your friend or their partner. Is your friend withdrawing from activities, or spending a lot less time with you, or refusing to talk about their partner? Do they seem anxious or scared when you talk about their partner? Do they have bruises or marks, and make up excuses for them? This last one doesn’t always happen, but it can.
If you notice any of these warning signs, talk to your friend about their partner’s behavior. Give them different options and the information they may need to make the best decisions for themselves. We can’t force people to break up and stay apart, but we can tell our friends when we’re worried for their safety. Maybe your friend can safety plan to stay in a relationship. They can call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset helpline or check our website, www.safe-sound.org, for more information on safety planning.
You can also contact our helpline for support as the friend. You are not alone, and you are doing important work.
To speak with an expert about relationship or sexual violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning.
Want to “Ask Ava” a question? Visit our website at www.safe-sound.org/ask-ava. Thank you for listening today. Join us next time here on Ask Ava.