Kumar: Your partner is not your therapist

The recent tragic death of rapper Mac Miller emphasizes the fact that no one is obligated to stay in an unhealthy relationship.



Mac Miller performs on day three of the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival on March 5, 2016 in Okeechobee, Florida. Miller was found dead in his home on Sept. 7, 2018 of an apparent drug overdose. (Rolando Otero/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Michelle Kumar, Opinion Columnist

Rapper Mac Miller unfortunately died because of a drug overdose. His ex-girlfriend Ariana Grande was blamed for not staying with him, as if somehow her being with him would have prevented a situation entirely out of her control.

We’re all responsible for our own actions, and no one should ever be obligated to stay in an unsafe, toxic, or unhealthy relationship. It’s no one’s job to “fix” a person.

Sometimes it’s hard to discern what can be toxic, unsafe, or unhealthy. Linda Stewart Kroon, the director of the Women’s Resource & Action Center, suggests reflection. Every relationship has its rough patches, but before you were in this relationship, how were things going? How are things going now? How do you want things to be?

Those are few questions that can help form a clearer picture. Relationships are supposed to improve a person’s overall well-being, not decrease it, which is a red flag.

Unhealthy relationships aren’t just those that involve one partner being engaged in substance, verbal, physical, or emotional abuse. Often in college we see it manifest in other forms that we aren’t even aware are toxic. Sometimes, it’s self-destructive or risky behavior, overwhelming apathy, controlling or manipulative behavior, or even mental-health issues the person refuses to acknowledge and you are now responsible for.

“… when we get to the point of something truly being toxic, we see a dynamic where one person is behaving in a way that creates a power imbalance in that relationship or controlling or manipulative kind of dynamic,” Kroon said. “It’s very difficult for the other person to extract themselves from that for a whole complex set of reasons. That’s not to say that it’s solely that person’s fault; sometimes a dynamic between two people is unhealthy.”

When people find themselves in these situations, it’s hard for them to have a chance to process what’s happening, because often they feel obligated to stay or feel accountable for the other person. Blaming them for the actions of someone else is the complete opposite of what we should do.

Kroon suggests that instead we should turn our attention to the person who is causing the problem, harm, or making the relationship less than healthy.

In the United States, we have a culture of socializing women or people who identify as women to be responsible for emotional labor that reinforces the idea of obligation. When women leave a relationship or are having trouble “fixing” the other person’s toxic behavior, they are depicted as failures.

What happened to Miller is anybody’s worst nightmare who has left an unhealthy relationship. People begin to ask why the unproblematic person didn’t do more, as if that person were in control of the other’s actions. We shouldn’t treat Grande, or anybody else for that matter, as if they are less than for making an extremely tough choice. Just because people leave doesn’t mean they don’t care or don’t support the problematic person getting better. Their mental, physical, and emotional health is just as valid and important to take care of as the person causing the issue. 

If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy, toxic or unsafe relationship, there are numerous resources on campus and in Iowa City: WRAC, RVAP, University Counseling Service, Domestic Violence Intervention Program. The Dean of Students Office can help you as well if you find that the relationship is affecting your academics, finances, or living situation. Everyone is worthy of having a good and happy life.

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