Ghosting and blame-shifting in relationsships
Is ghosting solely an online dating phenomenon? By no means. Ghosting, this term refers to the sudden, radical, and often incomprehensible cessation of contact, which proverbially comes out of nowhere. Psychologists say that behind it usually lies an insecure, conflict-avoidant person who prioritizes their own feelings over those of the other party. And what about the “ghosted” partner? Is it a reason to despair if you’ve been a victim of ghosting yourself? I don’t think so. I agree with Miley Cyrus and her Grammy-award-winning song “Flowers”: “I can love me better than you can!”
Am I in a toxic relationship?
First, let’s clarify and introduce a few terms from psychology. In recent years, some psychological terms have entered everyday language. Unfortunately, this always carries the risk of diluting the original scientific definition. Perhaps the most prominent term is that of the narcissist, which has been used excessively. The same goes for the term “toxic relationship.” Not every connection is toxic just because things might not be going well. However, there are indicators of a close but unhealthy relationship, one that is indeed toxic. One of the most striking phrases might be this: “In a toxic relationship, your wishes are not fulfilled or enforced. The ‘toxic’ partner is radical, even uncompromising in their views.” The partner’s unhealthy behavior often comes in combination with so-called “blame-shifting.” As the term implies, in this case, one partner always blames the other for everything, with the motive of avoiding their own responsibility.
What lies behind this pattern? Primarily, the blame-shifter doesn’t want to take responsibility for their behavior. They are likely conflict-avoidant with low self-esteem. This person wants to avoid unpleasant feelings. The main emotion of this character is anger. They engage in manipulative power games and want to punish their counterpart by deliberately harming another person, by avoiding their own responsibility, or simply by disappearing.
This behavior is not only irritating but also very hurtful. And ultimately, it’s about limiting the damage to your own personality and health. You might be wondering why I’m telling you all of this. Well, from personal experience. As my grandmother used to say so beautifully: “We learn from our mistakes, that’s why one is not enough.” And that’s exactly it.
The heart of the story
Two days after New Year’s, everything was still fine. We returned from the “between-Christmas-New-Year” vacation. I’m severely congested and suffering like a dog on the train ride home. My nose is running incessantly, I can hardly breathe, and I’m counting the minutes until we arrive at our hometown. When we finally do, there’s still the bus ride home. It’s pouring rain, just to add to it all. My boyfriend wants to walk home. When the bus finally arrives, I get on. I feel so miserable that I’m only capable of a brief “goodbye.” Little did I know that this would be our last contact.
The next day, I send my boyfriend a text message. I’ve transferred money to him for the trip and inform him of that. No reaction. That doesn’t surprise me at first – he’s not particularly communicative. The following Saturday, three days later, we’re supposed to have dinner with my neighbors. My boyfriend knows about it. There’s still radio silence. I also don’t make any contact because I already know this game and don’t want to engage in it this time. By Saturday, when I haven’t heard from him, I already suspect that his punishment – for whatever reason – will be simply not showing up for the dinner with the neighbors.
I contemplate how to deal with it. Should I cancel the appointment with a flimsy excuse? But why? Because I’m embarrassed that my boyfriend is letting me down? But why should I be embarrassed, I wonder. Isn’t it rather him who’s embarrassing himself? I decide differently. Suddenly, a thought occurs to me that illuminates the situation for me and makes it clear where I stand, namely at the threshold of “overcoming inner pain.”
Overcoming Inner Pain
I think, I reflect on the past few weeks, and indeed, now everything makes sense. It’s still before Christmas. I’m sitting on my couch in the evening, musing to myself. As if by intuition, my thoughts are unexpectedly drawn to my tarot cards. It may sound strange at first, but in that moment, I knew that I hadn’t yet overcome my inner pain. The wounds from childhood had healed well by now, but the detachment from my boyfriend, who is also part of my past, was still pending. And that’s exactly where I stood on January 6, 2024. As strange as it may sound, in that moment, it felt as if a burden was lifted off my shoulders. A feeling of freedom and openness came over me. Suddenly, I knew that I could go to the pizza dinner and that I didn’t have to be ashamed to go alone. And that’s how it was. The neighbors were tactful enough not to ask any further questions initially. They also had their thoughts, as I later found out.
The calm before the storm
You might still wonder if the end of this 40-year on-off relationship was foreseeable. Was there something like the calm before the storm, as described by Tina Soliman? I think yes, there certainly was. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have had the thought described above on the couch. Did I want to perceive the signs immediately? Perhaps not. In the end, I let fate decide for me. I still remember a question from an acquaintance: “But didn’t you try to contact him? Weren’t you curious about the reason for the cutoff?” The answer is: no. I feel like all my questions were already answered by the past.